Director – Frant Gwo – 2023 – China – Cert. 12a – 173m
Sequel – or rather prequel – wants to explain how it was that the Earth became the Wandering Earth, but instead throws convoluted plot, big budget effects and action set-pieces at us while not really explaining anything – out in UK cinemas on Friday, January 27th
Gwo’s mega-expensive, blockbuster franchise is back for a second instalment, this time at three rather than two hours in length. Surprisingly, II isn’t so much a sequel to The Wandering Earth as a prequel which attempts to explain its predecessor by exploring many of the events which take place leading up to it, including the attempt by the United Earth Government (UEG) to launch the Wandering Earth Project, the complex system of jet engines constructed around the Equator like a belt round a large man’s belly to enable the ecologically-damaged Planet Earth to be piloted through space in an attempt to find a new home for the human race.
As if aware that three hours of interpersonal drama and action sequences based around this might prove too much for even the franchise’s most ardent fans, Gwo and his screenwriters build in a second plot involving Tu Yuheng (Chinese megastar Andy Lau) whose wife and small daughter are killed in a road accident. Outside this new story arc, Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing from The Battle At Lake Changjin, Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark, 2021 and sequels) from the first film and other characters including his wife Han Duoduo (Wang Zhi), the mother of the identically named character in the first film, plod through the rest of the narrative to get to the point where the first film began.
To cut a long story short, there are two significant social movements (read: scientific research endeavours for the betterment of mankind’s lot): one is the Wandering Earth Project, as discussed above, while the other is the Digital Life Project, meaning the digital resurrection of loved ones who have passed on, so that the bereaved don’t have to live without them.
The Digital Life Project gets banned by the UEG, but Tu’s boss Ma (Ning Li) and mentor allows him to develop it in a lab while Tu works on the Earth Engines so he can talk with the onscreen version of his dead daughter Yaya. This eventually allows the screenplay to go down the even more bizarre route of harnessing the potential of digital resuscitated loved ones to power the Wandering Earth Engines. This made no sense to me.
There are enthralling set pieces such as a terrorist attack on a space lift to the ISS involving hacked UEG drones (got that?) and blowing up the moon. While the realisation, scale and futuristic vision of such episodes is impressive, overall, as with the first film, the whole thing is a slog – even if Andy Lau’s inevitable charisma helps make parts of it more watchable.
The Wandering Earth II is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, January 27th.