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September 24, 2018 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

In Defense of the Shitty Sci-Fi Sequel

I grew up on sci-fi, so you better believe that I’ve seen a lot of it. While my peers were watching appropriate things as children (Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, etc), I firmly became besotted by Doctor Who, Stargate, and Star Trek by the age of nine. That’s probably why I’ve still not seen most Disney films, but that’s a story for another time.
I love sci-fi, and I have a particular penchant for those sort of Hollywood sci-fi sequel films that are released under the radar in April or October and get thoroughly maligned by critics.
Look, I get it. Fantastic sci-fi is hard to make. You need to balance technobabble with a realistic premise, add humour and fully-fleshed out characters, and you also need to make the whole thing correctly-paced and interesting. Pacific Rim does that very well. So does Alien.

These films… do not.
Alien Covenant (2017), Pacific Rim Uprising (2018), and The Predator (2018) are all sequels that seemed vaguely pointless to make.
However, I loved them. Not because they were good, but because they weren’t.
Alien Covenant is a batshit-insane follow up to Prometheus (2012) — and sixth addition to the Alien franchise. A spaceship crash lands on a planet with aliens on it, there’s some cloning, and Michael Fassbender has an utterly ridiculous level of sexual tension with himself. I didn’t exactly expect an Alien film, of all things, to be the place for some Fassbender on Fassbender kissing, but it was clothed in a layer of mysticism and bullshit science wankery, so I supposed it worked plot-wise.
Pacific Rim Uprising is the original Pacific Rim, except without the grim realities of apocalypse life, and with a bunch more teenagers. While it was a fun film, in many ways, I question the necessity of killing off fan-favourite characters and the obvious sequel-baiting within.
The Predator is a film about a Predator going around and killing people. There is other bits of plot involved, but really, it’s just about some war veterans with severe PTSD fighting against a couple of space aliens. One wonders if a schlocky action film was quite the place to try and seriously cover mental illness, but props to them for trying.
These three films are not good films. There’s so many things with them that don’t work. The philosophising, the attempt at seriousness — a film that’s aimed at a bored late-night audience doesn’t need those things to work.
What does work in this genre (shitty sci-fi sequels) is the comradery and the action. Covenant has some of the best action scenes I’ve ever seen. Brutal murder on an alien spaceship in Fiordland? Fantastic! Uprising has a series of giant robots fighting against Kaiju. Predator’s action scenes aren’t all that memorable, but it does have some pretty rad monsters. All three of the films are worth seeing just for those parts.
What I also love about action films — of this ilk — is the ensemble work. Putting characters into high-stress situations really allows for beautiful relationships to form. Baxley and Coyle’s arc in Predator is heartbreaking, and I ended up caring so much about Amara in Uprising. Though the films themselves aren’t fantastic, it’s parts like those where they really can begin to shine.
In truth, not all sci-fi films have to be Oscar-worthy. A fun film can exist because it’s fun — not because it has to reign triumphant in the pretension stakes. The world’s shit enough, can we not just watch things that are a bit silly sometimes?


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