Sunday, September 26, 2021

A Quiet Place Part II

Some spoilers, for this and A Quiet Place.

If you call it a "Part 2" it's easier to make people swallow that it's not just another unnecessary sequel. Heck, even I got drawn in, and I despise the idea of sequels as a rule. What got me interested though, was adding Cillian Murphy to the cast to fill the hole John Krasinski's character leaves. Krasinski is still directing though, and this time he's also writing the whole thing. For the first movie he bought and tweaked an original script, and now he's trying his hand at expanding the story alone.

It's debatable whether the story wants expanding in the first place, let alone if the continuation settled on is any good.

We pick up exactly where we left off (after a flashback prologue). Emily Blunt and children leave their farmhouse to find one of their neighbors whose fire they would see from their water tower. This is Emmett (Cillian Murphy), but he's not as interested in playing father figure and man-of-the-house as the Abbott family wishes. He's already lost his family and is now a Joel from The Last of Us, lone wolf type character. However, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) has her hearing aid device that incapacitates the aliens and when she finds a radio station that is still broadcasting, she's determined to use it to help other survivors fight back. When she leaves alone, Emmett finds himself going after her, and then along with her, despite his protests.

The story splits then into two plotlines. The one with Regan and Emmett is interesting; straightforward in its goal, with ample opportunities for exploration. The one with Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and the baby, however, is small potatoes, with no goal at all other than to survive when the aliens inevitably find them (after a year and a half they're still terrible at living quietly.) It tries to give Marcus an opportunity to become a man, but must make him even more of a frightened useless child first to make the change clear. It smacks of fishing for story filler rather than letting the story push along at a natural pace. Because both plotlines were focused on equally despite unequal value, neither was developed fully.

Abandoning Emily Blunt's plotline altogether would've been a crazy, bold, and I think rewarding, move.

The Emmett-Regan plotline could have been a movie all in itself, but it had corners cut to make room for the pointless other plotline. Everything happens too fast for them, and comes too easily. The two have a lot of potential together, and I liked their chemistry, but they slip too quickly into a father-daughter dynamic, especially after Regan's rough relationship with Lee, turned to deep loyalty. She initially rejects even the idea of Emmett becoming even a temporary protector. Then warms to him after one incident. They also have a language barrier, in that he cannot sign. This is got over easily and is never an issue in high-stakes situations. Then an evil tribe of cannibals is set up as a non-alien threat, but only amounts to one scene once they show up. 

It's rush, rush, rush, and then it's over and I can list on one hand the important things that were accomplished. I don't even need all five fingers! If it needed to end at that point to allow Part III all the plot it needs to wrap things up, then why not let this story sit back more and develop relationships? Why not explore the themes of family further, instead of leaving themes out altogether? Did Krasinski not realize those were the things that made the first one good? Or is he simply incapable of creating on that level? He is a good director, but he needs a good script with clear purpose, else his movies lack direction, and those satisfying moments of resolution that made A Quiet Place stand out.

"More of the same," but only superficially, isn't really more of the same, is it?

I feel like A Quiet Place Part II's only purpose was to set up the pieces for A Quiet Place Part III, so I guess I'll hang on and see how the payoff goes. Despite the definite downgrade in writing, this movie maintains its winning premise, with the same intense alien thriller feel to it, and tentatively expands the lore on its featured creatures. The mortal flaw is simply that it's lazier; messy next to the lovingly crafted original. Even with nothing to do Emily Blunt is good. Millicent Simmonds steps up her game to great results, and Cillian Murphy is a vital addition that makes the whole endeavor better than it has a right to be. If nothing else, I'll watch Part III to see more of him. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Chaos Walking

Spoiler-free!

After two years on the shelf, Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley's team up to adapt yet another dystopian YA novel has seen the light of day. It's about a planet that makes men's thoughts appear as visible and audible fogs of color around their heads, called The Noise. And what happens when the first girl (Ridley) in Todd's (Holland) lifetime shows up, throwing their futuristic wild west town into, uh, chaos.

Actually, "Chaos Walking" is a pretty good description of the film itself. 

The YA dystopia phase was deftly put into its grave by the last effort of the Maze Runner series, The Death Cure, limping across the finish line before the race, as it were, was shut down for good. This film's producers, and director Doug Liman, though, didn't get the memo. Although to be fair they started shooting before The Death Cure was released. And it was probably wise of them to shelve it for a while, so people could forget how tired they were of the genre. Now, it feels like a throwback. Remember when Tom Holland was on top of the world? Remember when people thought Daisy Ridley might actually have a career? Remember when making a movie based on a series of books meant that sequels might get made? 

On one hand I feel like Chaos Walking would have been better off rotting on the shelf. On the other, I've always enjoyed these types of films, no matter how bad they get, and I was tickled by this flick every bit as much as I was annoyed. And boy, was I annoyed! You might be able to imagine how grating it'd be to constantly see and hear every thought of every person around you; if you watch this movie, you don't have to imagine anymore! I can't think of a better way to portray this gimmick myself, but I certainly wouldn't have tried to adapt it if this was my best solution. It's distracting. It's cluttering. It's rarely interesting, or useful. It just makes the thing a mess. I imagine it worked easily on page. I wish it had been considered more carefully in the planning stages of this film.

I feel like the story could have worked without it except for one big detail, but it is the main memorable aspect at the same time. Mostly it gets in the way. 

Besides that, the script reads a lot like you'd expect from a film banking on the success of the Maze Runner series. It's clearly a gutted version of its book counterpart, breezing over explanations and leaving confusion in its wake. All while never allowing scenes to breathe, settle, or be toned into something rich. It's action scenes and exposition scenes layered together. The action holds the most interest as they have a similar kinetic energy to The Maze Runner, and the world they take place in allows for a few creative set pieces. (I'm always on board for on-the-run adventures!) Often the exposition holds back too much, rendering itself unnecessary. Characters are cardboard-level quality, painted colorfully as a distraction. You can tell many of them served a purpose in the book—who can tell what that may have been from this.

It's the cast that does most of the leg work in selling the story. Tom Holland's try-hard attitude is admirable, but sheer willpower cannot make him become the character, Todd; he's always just Tom Holland, playing some kid in a movie. The action is his greater strength, and he sells that even harder. Daisy Ridley has literally nothing to work with in terms of character, but I don't imagine she'd have given it much more than a pretty face in an ugly wig making big eyes at everything anyway. Star Wars is over, and so is she. The supporting cast is a skilled bunch and though they don't try particularly hard, they bring out memorability in their characters. Mads Mikkelsen, Cynthia Erivo... Nick Jonas (Haha just kidding!) and particularly David Oyelowo, who's a wonderfully intimidating character that ends in underwhelming disappointment.

Clearly Tom's trying to prove himself as Nathan Drake here, but what's Daisy gunning for? Leeloo in some secret lumberjack remake of The Fifth Element?

And speaking of disappointment, that's what I was expecting from this movie, and little more. But the thing about disappointment is, you can't be disappointed unless there are hopes of good to be let down. Chaos Walking provides both the hope, and the potential, and then the disappointment in turn. I could easily dismiss it as a too-little-to-late addition to a dead genre and leave it at that, but the fact is I genuinely liked some of the bones beneath the chaos. And while that's a solid positive, it's sadly a positive that only results in deeper disappointment.