What a shame. What could have been an allegory for so many of the world’s manmade evils can’t be taken seriously. With themes of short-sighted protectionism, illegal immigration, racial profiling (in this case of the extra-terrestrial persuasion), sensationalist journalism ($50,000 for the picture of a dead child—live ones of no interest to a publishing giant) on the menu, none of them could survive the cliché-infected script or the plot with no surprise.
As writer, director, cinematographer, production designer and special effects wizard, Gareth Edwards only really succeeds in the latter. A singular vision is one thing; assigning all of the key positions to oneself seldom works. How ironic, then, that the first item of lame cliché comes from a soldier singing his “theme” heading into battle with the creatures. Yes, Wagner’s infamous “Ride of the Valkyries” (used famously in Apocalypse Now , purposely echoed in Platoon) got things off to a sad start (the master of German myth and opera was one of the few great artists to take on all of the major tasks and serve up masterpiece after masterpiece).
The attempt at a love story is equally unsuccessful. American media heiress Sam Wynden (Whitney Able), after suffering a small injury during a pitched battle between the 6-year resident monsters (a fantastic cross between octopus and multi-headed snakes) and the military, the unflappable blond is ordered home through the “infected zone” in Mexico by her unseen father. Her escort is staff photographer (guess who employs him? …) Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy tries his best but seems more at home bedding a Tequila bimbo—guess who steals the passports? …—than falling head-over-tentacles for his ever-attractive special delivery).
Between the relatively tame confrontations with the aliens (who lay their eggs in trees—yet another chance for the perils of blights to the environment to score subtextual points) the travelling companions reveal bits of their lives but never suffer from enough we’ll-never-make-it fear to share each other’s private warmth before the next skirmish.
One glimmer of hope comes from Jon Hopkins’ original score. The string writing, in particular, is at one with the action, suffering only from a touch too much consonance once the danger has past.
As is too often the case (cross-reference below) the non-humans are more believable than their two-legged counterparts. Yet, by journey’s end, (with one more bit of the “leitmotif” sounding: a most unwelcome bookend) the future of mankind or beast has pretty much also come full circle.
With such lines as “You look good behind a [cash] register,” still lingering uneasily in memory, here’s hoping the sequel shares the creative load much more widely. JWR