Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Wandering Earth II

In the hit 2019 film and Liu Cixin’s original source novella, the Earth made like the Moon did in Space: 1999, spinning out of its orbit and into space. However, in the case of the Wandering Earth, this was done deliberately, to save humanity from its dying sun. It took a lot of work to make it happen. In the first movie, Earth escapes the sun, but the prequel shows how we handled the Moon first. Prepare for a whole lot of talk about the Roche Limit in Frant Gwo’s The Wandering Earth II, which just opened today in theaters worldwide.

Chinese astronaut Liu Peiqiang will save (or has saved) the Earthly civilization in
The Wandering Earth I. It turns out, he will now do it again, or rather has done it before. The film starts with a well-orchestrated terrorist attack against the space-elevator servicing what was then called “The Moving Mountain Project.” It is a brilliantly realized, extended action sequence, but it is also impossible to miss the Anglo-American appearance of most of the terrorists.

Indeed, it is blatantly obvious much of
WEII is intended as an allegory celebrating China’s hardcore “Covid-Zero” approach to crisis management and excoriating the Western preoccupation with individuality. Of course, it never shows Chinese scientists destroying evidence of the looming solar crisis, as was the case with the initial Covid outbreak in Wuhan.

Be that as it actually was, there are pieces of two really good movies in
WEII. The aforementioned space-elevator scene is a whizzbang set piece. The film also evolves into an intriguing speculative sf drama exploring the nature of artificial intelligence and sentient consciousness. Andy Lau plays Tu Hengyu, a computer scientist still mourning the death of his young daughter, whose consciousness he has digitally copied, in contradiction of current laws.

Hengyu’s efforts are risky, because he is trying to accomplish what the “Digital Life” movement, the major opponents of “Moving Mountain” project advocate. To do so, he needs the processing power of the HAL9000-like 550W super-computer running the project. This story arc takes several provocative twists and turns. Lau is also terrific as Tu, bringing a desperately needed human dimension (somewhat ironically) to a film that often desperately needs it. (However, it is sad to see the Chinese flag on Mr. Hong Kong’s shoulder, rather than HK’s five petals.)

The problem is these two parts are held together by long stretches of exposition and CCP-China propaganda, often relayed through UN-style speeches and news reports. This style of filmmaking is both boring and insultingly didactic. Frankly, the character of Zhou Jiechi, the wise Chinese ambassador to the UEG (the UN successor organization) is an insult to all the victims of Covid and the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang.

Wu Jing does a bit of parental brooding over his son (who becomes a bit of a pill in the first (sequentially second) film, but mostly he falls back on his
Wolf Warrior action persona. There are representatives of nearly every nation (including a short-lived Brazilian astronaut), to convey the planetary scope of the project. Yet, most of the sympathetic characters who are not Chinese, happen to be Russian. (One wonders if Gwo and the producers might like to change that, now that the CCP has backed away from its support of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.)

There was some helpful Chinese collaboration saving the world in Roland Emmerich’s
Moonfall, but that movie was nowhere near as propagandistic. It also featured more fully fleshed out characters, which makes it a more fully realized film. Wandering Earth II has its impressive pieces, but as a cohesive film, it is considerably flawed and far too long, at just a hair under three hours. Not wholly recommended, Wandering Earth II is now playing in New York, at the AMC Empire.