Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Expect jolts. Surprise? Not so much

   I suppose it makes twisted sense that the first film I've seen with an audience since the start of the great Covid pandemic is a sequel, namely A Quiet Place Part II
   Sitting in a multiplex with a state-of-the-art auditorium, I felt an alarming sense of deja vu. Rather than feeling elated about returning to the theatrical experience, I felt as if nothing had changed in more than a year.
    I wanted renewal. I got more of the same — which makes a decent lead-in to the review of Part II.
   Director John Krasinski follows the unexpected success of the 2018 original with a movie in which the technical achievements -- the use of sound in a story about  ferocious  aliens with heightened hearing abilities  -- built unnerving levels of  suspense. 
    In case you've forgotten, another reminder: The Quiet Place aliens respond to noise. Make a sound and they'll hunt you down faster than you can switch from here to another Web site.
   And, no, I'm not suggesting you try that.
  In the first outing, Krasinski concocted a movie in which waiting -- the simple act of having to be silent -- crackled with suspense and we marveled at the ingenuity required for a mother and father (Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt) to save their family.
    Now,  the attacks and their attendant noise constitute the main event: Noises trigger the attacks which proceed with fury and lots of of flashing teeth and claws. In 2021, the aliens are more than ready for their close-ups.
    Fans of the first installment also remember that Krasinski's character died in that movie. Perhaps to serve as a refresher, Krasinski opens Part II with an action-filled prologue in which he appears.
    Fast and efficient, the prologue gets things off to an ominous start, introducing a couple of major characters whose issues echo throughout.
    As a kid whose Little League game is interrupted by an alien invasion, Noah Jupe's Marcus must overcome a quivering lack of confidence. Millicent Simmonds portrays Marcus's sister Regan, a teenager who can't hear but who has enough smarts and courage to see things through.
    Once the opening fades, Krasinski leaps ahead to the time when Blunt's character, her three children (one still an infant) are on the run without their late father to help. Most of the pre-invasion world has fallen into that most sacred of movie territories, wanton disrepair.
   This is not to say that Krasinski totally succumbs to second-movie fatigue. The set pieces -- Regan entering an empty (wanna bet?) train car and Blunt racing toward safety carrying oxygen tanks -- are effectively tense. If you like jump scares, you won't be short-changed.
   The story derives most of its momentum from a plotline in which Regan attempts to find a safe harbor for her family. 
   She's joined by a former neighbor. Emmett (a bearded Cillian Murphy) reluctantly offers the wandering Abbott family shelter before joining Regan in a search triggered by a clue: a perpetual broadcast of Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea
    Could it be a message about a place the aliens have yet to reach?
    Putting the movie's characters into separate story arcs doesn't always pay off.  A cross-cutting series of sequences that shifts between Jupe and Simmonds has a pro-forma quality about it and the movie's ending feels as if someone simply decided it was time to go home.
     Part II probably will make some noise at the box office and may encourage conversation about the ways in which a movie about disruptions to normal life resonates during the time of Covid. 
     I was jolted. I felt some of the more suspenseful moments but I wish I could tell you that in its fleet 97 minutes, Part II approached the surprise level of the original.
     Like the aliens that attack suddenly and at warp speed, Part II moves quickly but leaves little in its wake. Adding nothing much by way of depth or discovery, Part II feels more like an encore than a great sequel. 

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