“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”
“Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”
They’re back! 20 years on from the aliens first visit they are back. This time, with a bigger ship which is apparently 3,000 miles wide. Only one man can save the day – David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Well not really, there are many other people who come into play but yet again the thinking woman’s crumpet steals the show (I acknowledge the fact he is old enough to be my Grandfather but choose to ignore/embrace it). Whilst this sequel does not desecrate the first film, or taint it in anyway, it’s neither better nor worse than its predecessor. And, considering how dark things seem in news and politics at the moment, this may just be the escapism everyone needs.
In the twenty years since the first alien attack Earth has changed completely. All of the world’s nations are united with a level of global peace never seen before. Instead all of the world is working together, using the alien technology that was left behind, to build the Earth Space Defense (ESD) programme. Overseen by President Lanford (Sela Ward), General Adams (William Fichtner) and Director David Levinson, its figurehead is Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher playing the step-son of Will Smith’s absent character). When visiting the ESD base on the Moon, and squaring up to old friend/rival Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), an alien mothership attacks the moonbase and heads straight for Earth. It’s a call to arms for old faces – such as President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) – as this could just be Earth’s final stand.
This is a sequel that is full both of pretty awe-inducing spectacle and amusing cheesiness. From the above headline, a line uttered by Jessie T. Usher without any hint of irony or knowingness, to every line uttered by Judd Hirsch as Mr Levinson Sr this is a film full of enough laughs to entertain. Considering the amount of death and devastation that occurs (I gave up trying to estimate the death toll) there is still enough comic relief that you do manage to leave the cinema smiling. In case you didn’t get my oh-so-subtle hints I loved every scene featuring Jeff Goldblum – he has got the nerdy/cool thing nailed! – and his quasi-science.
This does lead me to my main issue with this sequel. Promo material and comments from many of those involved in the film have discussed how this is Independance Day for the new generation. It’s a pointless thing to aim for for two reasons. A) I was two when the original film came out. Does that mean ‘It’s not for me’? B) The best thing about this film is the use of the ‘old’ cast. It is their scenes that are the highlight, not just for purposes of nostalgia but also in terms of character and entertainment. Jessie T.Usher gets sidelined by Liam Hemsworth who is playing a ‘maverick’ who is so bland and vanilla. The actress playing Hemsworth’s fiancee Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the daughter of the original film’s president, gets to some cool stuff but still needs to be rescued in the process. Travis Tope as Charlie Miller, best friend of Liam Hemsworth’s character, is a great addition in terms of comedy, although he is rather too fixated on a character who looks pretty gets about four lines (Angelababy playing Rain Lo).
Furthermore, the plot itself magpies (it’s my polite preference to steal) a lot from a wide range of other sources. From Alien, to 2001, to Close Encounters and even Deep Impact. In many ways it’s quite a distracting element to see so obviously the ‘influences’ of a film. There’s also the fact the film starts off so big – destruction of several continents big – that manages to be so large it’s almost ineffective. We are starting to see what could easily be described as a type of fatigue from audiences in terms of big explosions – it’s no longer shocking seeing a big screen explosion of a national/international landmark. Sometimes smaller works better. I think that’s why I enjoyed the second half of the film far more than the third. When the battle occurs within a slightly smaller radius, the many different sub-plots start to connect together, and the jokes are flying, that’s when this film really hits its stride.
All in all, this does the job. It’s more than entertaining enough, looks great and doesn’t require too much brain power. Perfect way to while away an evening.
Messiah or weapon? Or something else entirely?
Imagine a science fiction movie that focuses less on the fictional powers and more on the human emotions, the cost behind the power. Imagine a science fiction movie that allows you to marvel at the mystery rather than hand-feed you the plot. Imagine a science fiction movie that is a road trip/chase movie that challenges the value of belief. Now stop imagining as Midnight Special is all three of those things and much more. It is a wonderfully strange blend of genres, full of complexity and sentiment. A parable about love and extraordinary ability.
Roy (Michael Shannon) and his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) are on the run from both the government and religious extremists. Alton appears to possess special abilities, from being able to effortlessly infiltrate classified government signals to bringing down a satellite from outer-space. A religious cult formed around Alton who, as National Safety Agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) discovers, turned his encoded words into gospel. His supernatural powers so badly altered by daylight that all of the cult became nocturnal. Upon making eye contact with people Alton’s eyes glows and show visions of unknown lands. Having fled the cult, and with the help of childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst), Roy must get Alton to specific location for a specific time. Will, as everyone fears and some hope, a celestial and world-changing event take place?
This is not your typical science fiction film. Compared to typical box office fairings Midnight Special is slow, with far more questions than answers, and a narrative that is impossible to stay ahead of. Those are not criticisms, just an acknowledgment that this film is not for everyone. In the preview screening I attended yesterday many of the audience members seemed frustrated or unfulfilled by the film. I was not in agreement with them for the film I had just witnessed was so riveting and magical. Rarely is science fiction this personal and emotive. Yes, a beginners guide to film criticism will show you that Steven Spielberg’s films are about father-son relationships, but what we see here is a different realm. What director and writer Jeff Nichols manages to achieve is a film which places greater emphasis of the consequences of supernatural power rather than the benefits of it, prompting the reflection that more is lost than gained in such extraordinary circumstances. Few storytellers are this damn magical.
The acting by the entire cast is wondrous, each cast member providing a wondrous blend of awe, fear and honesty. Roy’s love for his son is so deep and unconditional, a level of paternal concern rivalling that of great Epics. Lieberher’s performance here suggests that Room child star Jacob Tremblay may have a rival for Hollywood’s current greatest child actor. Egerton’s performance allows us to give loyalty to a character we know little about, believability to a man who has only known Alton for three days but is willing to give everything to the boy’s journey. Dunst is subtle yet heartbreaking as a mother who fears she will have to give up her son once more.
The cinematography is marvellous, as is the soundtrack and the storytelling. Of particular favourite is the Easter Egg of the Superman-starring comic book that Alton is reading in the back of the car. Any in depth analysis of the parallels between Superman and Alton would be spoilerific, but the very fact both are outsiders with great power is a wonderfully subtle touch. Just like the entire film it’s an allusion to other sci-fi works, but something that is so uniquely individual and riveting.
Some may say slow. I say spellbinding, sincere and utterly superb.