Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fly Me To The Moon

Year: 1989
Director: Chris Walas
Cast: Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga, Lee Richardson
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

The original The Fly may have already gotten two sequels, but Cronenberg's remake was produced in the 80's, so the fact that it also got a follow-up is about as unsurprising at the time as a movie being shot in color. It's just what you did. So here we have The Fly II, released three short years later under the guiding directorial hand of the '86 film's special effects supervisor. So at the very least it was helmed by someone who was literally involved in the  DNA of the franchise.

A very important element when it comes to The Fly.

Weirdly, The Fly II is almost more of a remake of Return of the Fly than The Fly '86 was of the original film. On top of the general concept, it borrows the lead character and the entire plot structure (including the fabulously messy third act and the perfunctory ending). Beyond that, a lot has changed, but I'm happy to see they at least did their homework.

We pick up with Veronica (now played by Saffron Henderson of the same year's Friday the 13th Part VIII) giving birth to the son of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, who only appears in the form of deleted scenes from the original as viewed on videotape). Martin looks like a perfectly normal kid, except for the fact that he's a super-genius and ages at a rapid rate, to the point that he looks like an 18-year-old Eric Stoltz by his fifth birthday. He is tapped to continue his father's project of developing a teleportation machine by Dr. Bartok (Lee Richardson), the owner of the scientific facility where he was born and raised.

During his tenure at Bartok Labs, he befriends and falls in love with night shift worker Beth Logan (Daphne Zuniga), but unfortunately reaching the age of maturity has also triggered his dormant fly DNA and his slow transformation into an inhuman beast is already well on its way. Will their love withstand his total degradation while he attempts to find a cure, with the help of a cameo-ing John Getz, the only returning cast member?

And will I ever get to the bottom of why I'm weirdly attracted to John Getz? Some questions are better left unanswered.

To be completely honest, The Fly II actually solves some of the problems of Return of the Fly right off the bat. Instead of forcing the lead to go through the exact same failed experiment as his father, it becomes a potent metaphor for a latent disease passed down from a parent. And the love interest this time around isn't some random scullery maid with no lines. She's a scientist too, and while she's still mostly just a damsel in distress, she actually has a part to play in the story here instead of sitting around waiting for flies to creep her out. 

Unfortunately, the plot here is probably the silliest of the entire franchise (and that includes a movie where a man marries a hitchhiker in her underwear). It indulges too much in splashy retro camp, including some hilarious scenes that completely misunderstand how computers work yet again and some truly bizarre dialogue where a casual conversation can somehow lead to a man throwing a champagne bottle at a floor length mirror and everybody just being cool with it. While that's hardly a detraction where I'm sitting (I always like to have me some fun with weird movies), it definitely undercuts the rawness of the horror, which is something this franchise has been reasonably good at retaining even throughout its later entries.

Martin Brundle is relatable enough (except for the scenes that take place when he's a supergenius young boy, which are a grotesque parody of Spielbergian "gee whiz" filmmaking that will rot your teeth out with their saccharine guilelessness), but the trials he goes through are buried under Walas' ravenous need to show you cool, gruesome effects. They're mostly great effects too (minus the Brundlefly's final form, which looks a little too much like a Gremlin for my tastes), with some moments that will make you want to pass the heck out, like a shot of the boy pulling mucus from his mutated elbow. But Cronenberg proved there was a way to combine grossout gags with an actual narrative arc and subtextual thematics. Here, everything in the movie is shunted aside for a third act that is loud, full of admittedly cool deaths, and droningly repetitive in every other aspect.

But the deaths really are coooooooool.

There are two things that are unequivocally great about this film though, which is still pretty solid if a bit shallow. The first is Christopher Young's epic score, which brings back the grandiose orchestral feel of Howard Shore with sweeping bombast. The second is a scene involving a failed experiment on a Golden Retriever and Martin's discovery of its terrible fate. This scene even brought tears to my eyes, and I'm a black-hearted glacier of a man when it comes to animals in movies. So yes, this film does have some compassion and depth of feeling, even though those obviously aren't its primary concerns.

The Fly II gets points for going in unexpected directions at least, which is if anything more in keeping with the franchise as a whole than I'd have thought possible. Each of these films has its own distinct personality: The Fly is daffy but grim, Return of the Fly is a campfest with kernels of existential dread, Curse of the Fly is an atmospheric gothic, The Fly '86 is a deeply felt body horror, and now The Fly II is a morality play about life and death within the capitalism of science. No two films are alike, even though they share the same general idea. This one is certainly on the lower end of the scale, but they all have something to offer that makes marathoning them in quick succession less of a thunderous slog than your average horror movie franchise.

As a member of the extended Delambre/Brundle family, The Fly II is welcome to Christmas dinner. I probably won't seek to rewatch anything but that rad face-melting scene, but it was a delightful treat even for all its empty calories.

TL;DR: The Fly II is the perfectly adequate capper to a franchise that never stumbles too far from decency.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1083
Reviews In This Series
The Fly (Neumann, 1958)
Return of the Fly (Bernds, 1959)
Curse of the Fly (Sharp, 1965)
The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986)
The Fly II (Walas, 1989)

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