The Wandering Earth II (2023) Review
Released in 2019 The Wandering Earth became one of the largest grossing non-English language films in history, mostly on the strength of its performance in its native China. Of course, that made The Wandering Earth II inevitable. The only surprises are that rather than a sequel it’s a prequel, telling the story of the Moving Mountain Project that turned Earth into a giant spaceship and that it manages to be even longer than the original, coming in at just under three hours.
At the film’s start, The United Earth Government (UEG) has been established and work on the first of the thousands of giant engines needed to move Earth out of the range of the upcoming solar crisis has begun. But support for the project is far from universal and an alternative movement, The Digital Life Project has arisen. They believe humanity would be better off uploading its consciousness to a Matrix-like artificial reality and they’re afraid to resort to violence to get their way.
Director Frant Gwo returns from the original and is also one of six credited writers. And I can see why they needed so many, The Wandering Earth II’s story spans the years 2044 to 2065 and is stuffed full of subplots, many of which are overly sentimental and unnecessarily take away from the main plot. So many stories and plotlines get tossed at the viewer it’s hard to keep track of them all or to know which ones are important and which are merely distractions.
There are Digital Life terrorists staging attacks on UEG bases, the backstory to characters from the first film Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing, Wolf Warrior 2, The Battle at Lake Changjin ) and Han Duoduo (Wang Zhi, Goodbye Mr. Loser, Kung Fu Traveler), and the moon is about to disintegrate. Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs, Shock Wave 2) turns up as a scientist who’s kept his dead child’s spirit alive in an AI body. There’s drama over who will get a place in the underground cities and who will be left on the surface to die, romance, terminal illness and a few other complications.
The Wandering Earth II would have been better off with several of its subplots removed and the film’s focus tightened up. Or, if the filmmakers really felt these stories needed telling, split it up into a pair of two-hour movies and tell them all properly. Instead, much of it feels half-hearted and just there as padding between the action scenes.
Those action scenes are impressive, with considerably better CGI than in the original. You can see the difference in the first major set piece, an attack on the space elevator that connects Earth to a space station. There’s a sky full of drones, fighter planes, explosions, debris, etc. and most of it is well done. Similarly, the scenes of the moon coming apart are excellently rendered. Other scenes, like a ship caught in a tsunami, look considerably less convincing.
Unfortunately, special effects aren’t the only things that have been ramped up in the sequel. The first film’s nationalism and xenophobia are pushed to an extreme level in The Wandering Earth II. They range from the British Prime Minister who resembles an exaggerated caricature of Boris Johnson to portraying Americans as being against the Moving Mountain Project because the end of the world is one hundred years away, and that’s too far in the future to care about. And while nationalism and anti-Western sentiments may be somewhat expected, the portrayal of some ethnic groups approaches outright racism and is much less acceptable.
From a narrative point though, the biggest problem with The Wandering Earth II is the most obvious one, we know how it all ends. While the fate of some of the characters may be in doubt, we know that the obstacles will be dealt with and the project will be successful. It’s an issue all prequels face, and very few manage to overcome. The final result of all of this is that The Wandering Earth II is frequently visually impressive, but just as often drags between those scenes, And at three hours long that’s a lot of dragging.
Well Go USA will release The Wandering Earth II to theatres and IMAX on January 22nd. You can check their website for details including a list of theatres. If that doesn’t cure your sci-fi cravings, then FilmTagger can recommend some titles for further viewing.