Barbie or no Barbie, it’s not intrinsically that good a film. It’s uneven, disjointed, the plot makes no real sense — and the dead hand of corporate America weighs heavily upon it.
Monday evening, 6.15pm, Leicester Square, London. The place is packed with tourists, office workers, hawkers, pickpockets, a cacophony of sights and sounds. And a queue.
A giant queue of people, snaking all the way around the cinema past the Lego store, past the lurid M&M shop, all the way to Wardour Street.
I've honestly never seen anything like it. It felt more like the queue for some sell-out teeny-bopper concert than the press night for a film about a plastic doll. There were security men with wires coming out of their ears, bright pink influencers preening for social media, officials with clipboards handing out embargos for us all to sign.
A protester with a megaphone was heckling: 'Why are you doing this? This is embarrassing. You are women — you should be ashamed of yourselves for going to a film like Barbie.'
Nervous giggles all round.
'We're here for work,' retorted the woman behind me. 'Then get another job!' he replied. Touché.
Every one of the screens in the place had been commandeered by Barbie
. I took my daughter Bea, 20, with me — partly because she'd nagged me half to death about coming, partly as an unsullied Gen Z counterpoint to my grumpy mummy stance on Barbie
Despite the tagline — 'If you hate Barbie, this is the film for you' — I didn't really think I was likely to be the target audience. And so it transpired. She loved every second; me, not so much.My main criticism, actually, has nothing to do with the subject matter. Barbie or no Barbie, it's not intrinsically that good a film. It's uneven, disjointed, the plot makes no real sense — and the dead hand of corporate America weighs heavily upon it.
For sure, Mattel is superficially mocked in the shape of a bumbling CEO and his be-suited sidekicks. But the opening scene, in which a group of little girls smash their boring 'old‑fashioned' dolls' heads in, with alarming violence, at the appearance of their Barbie messiah, is actually quite sinister. As is the appearance of the 'ghost' of Ruth Handler, Barbie's inventor, as some sort of God-like figure.But my main objection is that Barbie is not really a film about Barbie at all. It's one hour and 54 minutes of extended misandry, dressed up with a few fun dance routines and one or two (granted fairly decent) jokes.It's a deeply anti-man movie, an extension of all that TikTok feminism that paints any form of masculinity — other than the most anodyne — as toxic and predatory, and frames women's liberation not as a movement based on achieving equality between the sexes but as a cultural revenge vehicle designed to write men out of the story altogether.Every male character is either an idiot, a bigot or a sad, rather pathetic loser. If the roles were reversed, and a male director made a film about how all women were hysterical, neurotic, gold-digging witches, it would be denounced — quite rightly — as deeply offensive and sexist.
In a nutshell, Barbie and Ken set off on an adventure to the real world to discover the source of Barbie's sudden and uncharacteristic anxiety. Barbie gets a nasty shock — she's not as universally popular as she imagined. Ken, on the other hand, has a tremendous time, plugging into the macho culture of LA and discovering that there is such a thing called the 'patriarchy'.He then turns into a 'real man' (again, sketched in the most one‑dimensional of cliches), goes back to Barbie Land, organises the equivalent of an incel uprising (quite literally, given Ken's lack of tackle) — and brainwashes all the Barbies into becoming his willing slaves. Strong Andrew Tate vibes, put it that way.Queen Barbie, aka Margot Robbie, must then mobilise a counter-revolution, which she does with the help of her human friends — mother and daughter duo Gloria and Sasha. Using their Barbie wiles, they put the Kens back in their boxes. The film ends with her checking into a gynaecology clinic, presumably so she can become a 'real' woman.
Don't get me wrong: there are some very funny moments. 'Weird' Barbie (played by actress Kate McKinnon) is a great premise, a sort of wisecracking Barbie-savant; Ryan Gosling inhabits the character of Ken with an infectious gusto and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek campness; and Margot Robbie is, as ever, a joy to watch on screen, utterly authentic and suitably endearing.
America Ferrera as Gloria, the Mattel employee whose own struggles with her teenage daughter (played by Ariana Greenblatt) summon Barbie to the real world in the first place, is also fantastic. But even the combined talents of all these people can't make the thing hang together. There are just too many inconsistencies.
The plastic fantastic world of Barbie is portrayed as dull and shallow and devoid of real emotions — and yet when things start to get real, all the action goes into restoring it to the way it was.We're told the Barbies are all about empowerment, yet they weaponise their sexuality in a most unedifying way — when it comes to tricking the Kens, they do it by batting their eyelids like dumb dollies. Everyone mocks the Kens for being useless and impotent, but when they try to be anything else, they're put down.
It's all just a bit of a poorly thought-out soup. Did it make me love Barbie
? Of course not. But it did make me feel a little sorry for those who subscribe to this nonsense — and for the young men growing up in a world that tells them they're worthless.