APRIL 21, 2011
It’s almost impossible to review a sequel without comparing it to its predecessors, which is a problem for Species IV: The Awakening, as I have very little memory of any of the previous entries beyond what’s in my review for the 3rd one, which I apparently thought was pretty good and better than Species II. Well, here, I am pretty sure it’s not as good as III, but as it has now been a full thirteen years (!) since I saw II, I can’t even begin to even guess which one is the better movie. I’d say it was a draw, but this one can get the W on the grounds that it didn’t cost me 10 bucks to see and had built in lowered expectations, since it wasn’t a theatrical release.
In fact it’s really only the 3rd act I didn’t much care for; until that point it was surprisingly decent, with our heroine getting sick and going all Sil-like in a hospital early on, forcing her uncle to reveal her true nature – she’s not a real human, but a lab experiment created by him and his ex-partner, who seemed to have been continuing or perhaps just stealing the work of the Ben Kingsley character. At least, that’s what I assume - unlike the last film, this one makes no mention of the other films’ characters or continuity; it doesn’t even bring Natasha Henstridge back for a cameo. But anyway, she takes the news rather well, and then it’s off to Mexico for them to find the old partner and see if he can help.
And then, in a plot twist of sorts, we discover that he has created a couple of these things, and now some of them are running around Mexico. So you get these isolated action scenes of alien/human hybrids trying to kill our hero, with the ticking clock of trying to find a cure before she dies or loses her human side forever... not the most complex plot in the world, but I liked that they were making it a little more personal and making the female alien AND the misguided scientist a bit more sympathetic than usual. Plus the Giger designs returned, so that was appreciated.
Unfortunately the movie doesn’t quite stick the landing, and instead of escalating into complete chaos or an all-out war between the good and bad aliens on the streets of Mexico, it seemingly gets smaller, as if they ran out of money and had to film the climax in two days with just the four main actors. The partner (named Forbes Maguire, a name as douchey as it is unlikely) is killed by his own creation, the hero alien fights the bad alien... it’s all very predictable, but also very dull. There are no real stakes built into the finale, and there’s no sense of scope to it either. Hell there isn’t even any dialogue in the last 15-20 minutes beyond a quick conversation between the hero and the good alien as she (spoiler) is about to die. Plus, I’m of the opinion that even a mad scientist who regrets what he did should pay for his actions, but our guy just blows up the lab and walks away, with the credits rolling instantly like a Hammer film. Part of why I dug the first hour’s low-key feel is because I assumed they were saving their energy (read: money) for a really cool finale, but if anything it feels even lower-key. There’s a quick bit in a nightclub, but it’s too short to matter much, and the potential victims are all just a bunch of random extras. Plus, we’ve seen Henstridge do this whole routine in a nightclub, and she’s, um, how can I put this... a lot hotter.
Now, I’m not being (too much of) a pig here. The Species movies have always been rather titillating affairs – they don’t get beautiful, oft-naked women to play these characters for nothing (and as a counter-balance, the fantasy always turns into grisly horror). So when they have this one, who is the least interesting actress of the three (and whose Swedish accent kept popping up, which was a distraction), do something remarkably similar to what her predecessor did, it just sort of reminded me how far the franchise has fallen, production value and casting wise. Speaking of which, why the hell doesn’t Michael Madsen appear in these? He does a zillion DTV movies a year, why not come back to his own franchise?
Another thing I appreciated was that they used rubber suits for the aliens during the big fight at the end. Their tongues and projectile things were CGI, but the good outweighs the bad in this case – it’s always good to see physical, real things whaling on each other instead of a swarming mass of pixels. And the bad alien dressed as a nun during her first big action scene, which is just plain awesome.
The DVD has no extras whatsoever, which I was a bit surprised by since III had a pretty good slate (making of, commentary, etc). But on my own I discovered that it (and the previous film) was written by Ben Ripley, who has certainly gone on to better things – he wrote this year’s pretty great Source Code. Director Nick Lyon, one the other hand, has gone on to direct a Syfy flick and some German production, so I guess Ripley will be the first one of the two to drop this off his resume (he should keep III on there though). Can’t say I’m too disappointed in Lyon’s lack of moving up to better things though; I found his direction kind of annoying, with lots of jerky, unmotivated close-ups, plus his action staging is pretty lackluster. According to the IMDb, the budget here was just under 4 million, which isn’t too small for a DTV movie (that’s more than the combined budgets of BOTH Hatchet movies, and those went theatrical!), so they should have been able to pull off some more exciting action.
Anyway, I think this is it for the Species series, as it’s been four years and MGM needs to put every penny they have into the next James Bond movie and releasing the ones they already have laying around. See you in 2018 or so for the inevitable remake, Sil!
What say you?