Plastic, fantastic, and slathered in dream-like candy-coated pinks, it seems that box-office weekends have been saved, thanks in no small part to a doll with some serious longevity.

In the noble narrations of Helen Mirren, we’re reminded of the gratitude we owe to the once pointed-toed Barbie, as all the challenges faced by feminism and equal rights across the world are solved: huzzah! Barbie can be the president, a doctor, a physicist, or the supreme court, and you too can equivalate a sense of achievement in the realms beyond Barbieland.

But we know that isn’t true. That something rather terrible has gone wrong along the way.

One half of the now infamous pairing of cinema audience resurgence, Barbie may be the kitschier, less serious of the pair when held against Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. But its less-than-nuanced strides towards existentialism and patriarchal authority work towards Greta Gerwig’s Barbie being just as subversive with its meta-comedic takes, speaking to legions of Barbies (and fingers crossed plenty of Kens) through a strikingly humorous and clever script co-written with Noah Baumbach. A story which pushes Barbie into facing her mortality, failures, and persistent tiredness in a repetitious world: and once the cellulite kicks in, well, some things have to change.

Under the sage-advise of the “weird Barbie”, played by who other than Kate McKinnon, it’s revealed that a tear in the fabric of Barbie’s world is the source of these manifestations of thanatophobia, as Barbie’s original ‘player’ is channelling their dread through the real-world doll. And so, with a plucky and vapid-headed Ken stowing away in her sports car, Barbie departs for the real world. And Mattel have mercy, she’s in for a culture shock.

Littered with more than a few of Hollywood’s most famous faces, such as plot-major players Will Ferrell, playing Will Ferrell as the Mattel CEO, and America Ferrera passionately pursuing the film’s principal grip of how hard the fight is for women, pushing to the extremes, merely to land safely on the ordinary. As a corral of Emma Mackey, Issa Rae, Hari Nef, and Sharon Rooney live their idyllic lives as Barbies, along with their ideal ‘accessories’ Ncuti Gatwa, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Scott Evans, and a magnificently thick-skulled but peculiarly endearing Simu Liu as the various Kens.

But this film works due to Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie. And that isn’t a dig – that’s what she calls herself; the Barbie you visualise when someone speaks the brand’s name. Robbie handles the eruption of anxiety, depression, and flat feet in the bewildered manner Barbie would – having never experienced these before. They fit ideally into Gerwig’s wry parable of liberation away from what the patriarchy (and the Kens) desire, allowing Barbie and Robbie’s performance to be whatever the hell they want to be, evolving from initial expectations. And while this is key to the film, is detrimental to those looking for a more Lego Movie character caper.

A touching, even hurtful exchange with Ariana Greenblatt’s angsty teenager who refuses to hold back in the damages Barbie has done to their self-esteem and limiting progression leads to glitter-brick subtlety with men ogling Barbie, dismissing her, and the crushing realisation of just how different our world is to the Barbieland utopia. But in this world where businessmen and poisonous ‘Alpha’ Youtubers can make a killing, Ken might find a purpose.

More than Kenough, co-star Ryan Gosling stands tip-toe-to-toe with Robbie’s leading role – certainly as regards the film’s comedic edge and outlandishness. For Barbie, every day is a great day. For Ken, a day is only great when Barbie looks his way. And as much as the humour pours from the over-the-top delivery, there’s still a conceited reality to Ken that, frankly, isn’t far off this hyper-realistic performance. That the unfathomably queer-coded nature of Ken’s hyper-masculinity is so over-bloated, played with such intensity, and concludes in the film’s runaway musical number (Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt’s soundtrack), seems to have a fair few right-wing commentators foaming at the mouth is just the icing on the cake.

This glitter-bombed incarnation of the doll offers a flicker of hope for the art of adaptation and re-imagining in an industry content with remakes and pushing established intellectual property obsessions. Gerwing’s Barbie is a juggernaut of entertainment, comedy, and a fiercely feminist dismantling of male authority. It is not subtle. It isn’t strictly communicating anything new. But it’s parcelled and delivered in a manner so uniquely engaging hat it’s futile to resist the life in plastic. 

In cinemas nationwide now