If you spend a lot of time poking around science fiction sites such as ours, you’ve probably seen ads or trailers for the movie Branded, which opened in theaters today. Here’s how the film’s official Facebook page describes it:
BRANDED is a dark and mind-bending sci-fi thriller into a surreal, dystopian society where mega corporations have unleashed a monstrous global conspiracy to get inside our minds and keep the population disillusioned, dependent and passive. One man’s quest to unlock the truth behind the conspiracy will lead to an epic battle with the hidden forces that really control our world.
Wow! Sounds like it’s got some serious potential, am I right? Conspiracies, evil corporations, the words “mind-bending.” And if that synopsis doesn’t sell you, just check out the trailer!
Did you see that? What are all those weird floating creatures? Was that a giant mutant Coke bottle climbing a skyscraper? Dude, I would totally pay to see that movie.
And I totally did. Unfortunately, what I got for my five bucks (at least it was a matinee) was a meandering, poorly paced fantasy allegory about the evils of advertising. Was it a bad movie? Not necessarily, not if you know what to expect going into it. Unfortunately, the trailers and marketing are selling you a movie that doesn’t exist. I wish it did, because it looks like it would have been a lot more fun than the real thing.
In retrospect, there are just a few things that bother me about that synopsis up there. “Dark and mind-bending?” Yeah, I’ll give them that. “Thriller?” Eh, I guess, but it’s a pretty low thrill count for something latching onto that description. “Sci-fi?” Not even a little bit. Sadly, Branded is just another case of something being tagged as science fiction when it doesn’t remotely fit that description. Because none of the strange happenings in the film are at all based in anything even generously described as science. It’s operating much more in a mystical realm than a science fiction one. Hell, the closest this thing gets to science fiction is a few holographic billboards. And while we’re at it, “dystopian” is stretching things quite a bit as well. If this movie’s set in a dystopia, it’s the least threatening dystopia I’ve ever seen.
The other problem is that the trailers are selling Branded as this action-packed thrill ride, with the protagonist trying to survive in a world filled with monsters only he can see. But here’s the thing: those “monsters,” and I’m not going to spoil anything by explaining their nature, don’t even show up at all until the last 45 minutes or so. Up until that point, it’s just a straight-ahead satire/condemnation of manipulative marketing and consumer culture. Except for a few tiny details like the holo-billboards, Branded could easily be playing out in a slightly exaggerated version of our normal, mundane world. To have the film make a sudden, jarring left turn into something out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas seriously undermines the movie. And given the “leisurely” pace of the bulk of the movie, Branded feels like writer/directors Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulerain got to the hour mark and then realized, “Shit, we still need to have all this crazy stuff happen! Just squeeze it in!”
The sad irony of a movie about the evils of marketing being completely mis-marketed isn’t lost on me. While Branded is still an interesting and sometimes funny film, it’s suffering much the same fate as last year’s Drive. That movie was advertised to look like a Fast and the Furious spinoff, when it was instead a slow-burn, often insanely violent character drama. Branded is being made to look like some hybrid of Inception and a David Fincher thriller. Sad to say, that’s simply not what Branded is.