The Wandering Earth II takes a sci-fi blockbuster in a dark direction

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To successfully imitate the kind of mega-budget global blockbuster more associated with Hollywood productions, filmmaker Frant Gwo literally went global. 2019 the wandering earth, a sci-fi disaster adventure that became one of the biggest box office hits in Chinese history, takes place in a future world where Earth has been implanted with thruster rockets and piloted out of orbit to prevent a disaster. solar. The astronauts must steer the spaceship-planet towards a new home, as the surface freezes and its inhabitants huddle underground.

The enormous reach of the film helped make the film a Chinese hit, though it fell short of a worldwide phenomenon. (In the US, it had a limited theatrical run, then premiered on Netflix a few months later.) wandering earthThe extensive, sometimes convoluted, construction of the world, drawn from a tale of The three body problem author Cixin Liu, left plenty of room for a follow up. But Gwo must have stuck to the less icy version of his home planet, because the wandering earth IIwhich received a somewhat wider American release alongside its Chinese debut, is somewhat even less likely than a disaster movie sequel: a disaster movie prequel.

Set several decades before Earth was launched out of orbit (enabled by thousands of fusion engines around the world), the prequel opens with much of the off-the-cuff maximalism of its predecessor. There’s a seemingly mad scientist extolling the virtues of a “digital you that can live forever,” an AI-based plan pitched as an alternative way to survive the coming apocalypse. (Not clear, but it seems the idea was to get everyone up into a Matrix-style digital world and let the real one fry.) Pro-digital terrorist groups attack a huge space elevator, explosions break out and low gravity punches. and we learn that 91% of Americans oppose moving Earth out of orbit because they don’t think a problem 100 years away is worth solving. (“The world is not on the side of reality,” laments one official.)

Image: Well Go USA

The expanding results initially feel like a mix of don’t look up Y Independence Day: Resurgence, but as the film enters its second hour, then its third, it brings up even more familiar bits from other movies. (Runs at 173 minutes, including credits and various postscripts.) There are much movie in the wandering earth II, and so many disasters, countdowns and chirons for everyone. The film can set a record for the sheer number of subtitled locations, timelines, characters, and sometimes even hardware. The astronaut from the first movie, Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing) has a backstory. The same goes for one of the computer systems. The writing team steals snippets of Interstellar for a moment, and engages in parallel thought with moonfall the next. (“The moon disintegrates in 179 hours”).

But perhaps the dumbest of wandering earth II it’s how resolutely undumb he is. There are moments of absurdity, but the film is often surprisingly bleak, in a way that feels admirably ambitious but questionably serviceable. Much of the film has a downbeat lunar gray palette, even in scenes that don’t take place on the moon. The saddest story he weaves through the decades is about Tu Hengyu (Andy Lau), a scientist grieving the loss of his wife and daughter, convinced he can hone his young son’s digital echo into a consciousness of AI more complete. (Here, there are thematic parallels with Yeon Sang-ho JUNG_Ea more fleeting and manageable sci-fi film premiering on Netflix just as wandering earth II enters the theaters.)

The story of the dead family isn’t the only mandatory pause for pathos, either. Another character must deal with the imminent death of his wife, as cancer cases have skyrocketed during the dangerous increase in solar activity. At the same time, he is trying to secure one of the limited tickets to an underground city.

A man leans over a table to look at something in a dark, futuristic-looking science lab in The Wandering Earth II.

Image: Well Go USA

In many ways, Gwo carries this heaviness with more grace than the supposed masters of the modern form. Unlike Roland Emmerich (whose work generally resembles the Wandering Earth series) or Michael Bay (whose Armageddon feels like part of the DNA of this film), Gwo isn’t afraid of quiet moments amidst the bombast. He doesn’t nervously fill his movies with goofy comic relief or shameless ploys to garner applause. Some of the images of him have a haunting, almost sad beauty, even more so than the previous film, which found some poetic images among the more vulgar-looking special effects.

None of this prevents exhaustion from setting in over the course of nearly three hours, however. Exactly how many countdowns to a potential apocalypse can a movie endure, especially when the planet can be shown to be intact at the start of the next movie? The public knows that the Earth survives, which makes wandering earth II into a torture device for your new characters – the planet will still work, but these poor fools can still go through the wringer.

Obviously, that’s not Gwo’s intention, and it’s notable that his three hours wandering earth The prequel is at once stranger and more emotional than the previous film. Yet even at this length, even with mind-blowing moments and believable characters, it feels like some crucial humanity is missing. Classic disaster movies offer something similar to the feel of a horror movie: the terror of annihilation and the catharsis of survival, but spread across a larger canvas. Maybe that model no longer works. Cleverly made as it is, wandering earth II it feels more like immersion therapy for the modern onslaught of doomsday news from around the world. Just like franchises, global disasters don’t really end anymore.

the wandering earth II opens in theaters on Sunday, January 22, the first day of the Lunar New Year. Check the film’s website. for locations.

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