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Sharktopus (2023) Review

When I saw that there was a new film out of China called Sharktopus (Zhang Sha, 章鯊) I thought it had to be a coincidence, but I was wrong, this is indeed a remake of Roger Corman’s 2010  SyFy original. While not exactly a hit with the critics, it was popular enough to spawn a pair of sequels, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf, with Casper Van Dien and Catherine Oxenberg.

This time out, the film begins with a huge octopus rising out of the ocean only to fall dead on a beach as well as some passersby who are now just as dead as it is. It’s the result of an experiment gone wrong, and it’s not long before Mr. Chen (Wenjun Shen, To Be With You, Typhoon) and Dr. Jingya Fan (Michelle Ye, Restart the Earth, Moonlight in Tokyo) arrive on the scene. She’s the scientist who created it, he’s the billionaire who financed the project.

After having an entrance, which looks suspiciously like a vagina, into the creature, a team goes in to inspect its cave like insides. They find an embryo with a shark’s head and body but an octopus’s tentacles instead of a tail, sharktopus. It promptly attacks them, then exits the body and attacks everyone within reach. This convinces Jingya to abandon the project, despite her noble motives.

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Chen isn’t the kind of guy to take no for an answer, so he has her chloroformed and taken to his floating research facility cleverly disguised as a cruise ship. There he uses the knowledge that her son will die without injections of the creature’s brain fluid to ward off his guilt her into continuing her work. Of course, the creature gets loose just as an INTERPOL team boards the ship looking for Chen and the bioagents he’s planning to sell to the highest bidder. And did I mention the team’s leader Fei (Luo Liqin, Land Shark, Snake 3: Dinosaur vs. Python) is Jingya’s ex?

If all of this sounds distinctly batshit, that’s because it is. Apart from the creature itself, Sharktopus actually bears little resemblance to the original, which was an animal attack film along the lines of Lamberto Bava’s Devil Fish. The remake frequently feels like a Deep Rising knockoff, though not as much as another recent Chinese film Monster of the Deep, as the heavily armed agents battle the tentacled creature through the ship’s passages.

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Sharktopus’ directors Hu Dong-Sheng and Shixing Xu (Crocodile Island, Monster’s Battleground) do a good job of staging the action, though much of the killing happens off-screen. That’s unfortunate, as there are a few characters you’ll want to see die. Sadly, the film’s heroes aren’t nearly as well-defined. Of the attack team, only Fei and the one female member Blackie (Lemon Li, Snow Monster, Open the Coffin) have any personality.

The effects are, unsurprisingly, of extremely mixed quality. In some shots, the creature looks fairly convincing, but in many others, it looks worse than the CGI from the original. The shots of the ship are particularly bad. The entire climax with it hitting the rocks and a kaiju sized sharktopus attacking it is unfortunately so badly done I actually laughed.

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Plotwise the final act of Sharktopus is just as bad as the effects. More than once I had to wonder why anyone thought having characters act the way they do was a good idea. That includes an act of self-sacrifice that’s meant to be moving, but is actually horrific in all the wrong ways.

It’s too bad because, for much of its run time, Sharktopus is a perfectly acceptable monster movie, which is more than can be said about many of the Chinese monster on a boat films, or Chinese monster movies in general for that matter. Unfortunately, it almost completely falls apart in the last act, to the point that it’s only worth watching if you’re in the most undemanding of moods.

Sharktopus is currently available on the iQIYI streaming service.

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