Director Frant Gwo and star Wu Jing return to gigantic sci-fi spectacle for their follow up/prequel to ‘The Wandering Earth’ and deliver an even more dazzling display of space and earthbound action/destruction, this time bringing a richer and more satisfying story.
‘The Wandering Earth II’ is set in the years leading up to the catastrophic events of the first film showing how the earth engines (built to literally move the planet out of the destructive path of our exploding sun) came to be built, the attacks on their construction, the constant plight to keep the world united in ensuring the survival of our planet, and that our overreliance on AI may be our ultimate downfall (timely!). Wu Jing returns as the affable Liu Peiqiang, this time much more front and centre compared to the first film as his back story is filled in on how he came to be involved in the earth engine programme (and is vital to its success) and how he came to leave his family behind to help guide earth to a new solar system (as seen in the first film). This time he’s joined by megastar Andy Lau who at first appears to be an antagonist to the heroes trying to save the planet but then in fact becomes integral to helping save it. Planetary destruction, terrorist attacks, and family tragedy all collide in a truly global adventure that is a much more fulfilling experience than its predecessor.
Huge in budget, colossal in scale, and (seemingly) unhindered by ambition, ‘The Wandering Earth II’ is a marvel from a technical point of view and solid hard sci-fi that this time around manages to flesh out characters and story, all the while delivering epic scaled action. Just shy of 3 hours there is a lot of scope and story on show and while it doesn’t always fully gel, the lengthy runtime (which never feels like a drag) allows for world building, full characterization, and some epically sustained set-pieces. Sure, some aspects do feel a little rushed despite the runtime (not least the introduction of many characters early on with their names, ranks, and relationships all flashing up so quickly it takes a while to catch up with who is who and what they are to one another!) but it all falls into place once the story gets going. Told over 14 years it allows us to see how the earth came to be in danger, how we united to try and save the earth, and the trials and tribulations faced leading up to the events of the first ‘The Wandering Earth’.
Presumably with even more creative freedom and budget, Frant Gwo and his team have created a beautiful looking futuristic film rarely held back from showcasing incredibly large scaled futuristic sets and action set-pieces. Epic in scale and often thrillingly staged, the film provides as much spectacle as it does food for thought, a good balance between story and action. A tense race from a deadly storm on the moon and the emotionally charged suicide mission towards the end of the film are showstoppers but an early on sequence featuring an attack on something called the space elevator is a phenomenal scene of practical action and CGI destruction: literally eye-frying in its scope and demolition. From land, to space, to the surface of the moon, to even under the sea, the action and scope is often breathtaking.
There’s genuine tension this time around (somewhat lacking in the first film due to rushing from one spectacle to another!) and the makers do at least try to give a sense of a world view of the disaster and impact of the mission even if the Chinese are the overall heroes and saviours here. There is a smattering of jingoistic propaganda (what big disaster movie doesn’t have it: there’s always got to be one country that is the big saviour!) and various elements are either easily or not at all tied up, meaning multiple viewings may be needed to catch everything. Lau’s family drama that drives most of his arc does grate after a while one finding it hard to always stay invested in his character’s plight. However, flaws aside this is some epic filmmaking that (especially if you like sci-fi) is hard not to get invested in and enjoy its stunning spectacle and end-of-the-world drama.
Also stick around during the credits for several stings, that rather than pointless throwaway scenes flesh out certain plot points and set proceedings up for a potential Part 3.