Written by: Mick Garris, Jim Wheat & Kim Wheat, and Frank Darabont
Directed by: Chris Walas
Starring: Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga and Lee Richardson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“You can finish your Father's work. You're just as brilliant as he was, perhaps even more so."
Chris Walas’s effects work on The Fly was so astonishing that it essentially earned him a promotion, as Fox moved him up to the director’s chair for their sequel a few years later. While the move isn’t condemnable out of hand (many effects guys have made the leap to varying success), it’s a good indicator of the type of film the studio might have been looking for. The legacy of Cronenberg’s original film was already crystallized as one of the decade’s greatest gore shows, so Fox was out to peddle more viscera to the masses; unfortunately, it seems like this was the company line all the way down, as the sequel reveals diminishing returns in just about every other aspect besides the still top-notch gore.
Like the sequel to the original Fly, this one focuses on the progeny of the title character. Instead of aborting the unholy seed gestating inside of her, Veronica (Saffron Henderson briefly subbing for Geena Davis on the operation table) brings it to full term and gives birth to what appears to be a giant larvae before she dies. As the doctors dig through the goopy mass, though, they find what appears to be a perfectly normal child. Presiding over the birth is Bartok (Lee Richardson), the billionaire owner of the industrial firm that funded Seth Brundle’s experiments. As such, little Martin Brundle grows up as a lab rat at Bartok Industries, where he’s observed on a daily basis until his fifth birthday, at which his genetic mutation has caused him to already grow-up to be a brilliant young adult (played by Eric Stoltz) to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The first thirty minutes or so exhibit promise that this won’t just be The Fly Redux; the hook with the wunderkind Brundle-spawn is a good one, and the setup even subtly indicts Reagan-era corporatism, as Bartok is a creepy Big Brother style conglomerate that has essentially bought off a tragedy in order to profit from it. That’s the real creepy thing going on in this movie, which isn’t as much of a parable about the dangers unchecked ambition and science; instead, it’s a warning about bad science falling into the wrong hands and being willingly co-opted for possibly nefarious purposes. It’s less Mary Shelley and more George Orwell, but it unfortunately falls apart once Martin comes of age and the movie is content to just walk through the familiar beats from the first film when the whiz-kid falls for a Bartok employee (Daphne Zuniga).
Such a turn doesn’t sink simply due to its familiarity, but due to its inferiority. Stoltz and Zuniga are capable leads but represent an obvious step down from their predecessors, and the two especially lack the maturity needed to carry the film. Their presence feels like it’s meant to appeal more to a teen beat/slasher crowd, and the two characters aren’t compelling enough to inject the empathy needed for The Fly arc. Cronenberg’s original worked because it was legitimately horrifying to watch a man lose both his mind and body, but, here, the degeneration is just treated as an inevitable plot beat and an effects reel. Walas doesn’t seem as invested in the humanity as Cronenberg was; in fact, most of the surrounding characters are treated as broad caricatures: Bartok is a typical sniveling mogul (whose goals aren’t even especially clear), and he’s armed with a weaselly security guard henchman who’s a dick to Martin almost from the day he’s born since he’s a token 80s bully-villain. Even Stathis (a returning John Getz in a glorified cameo) is trotted back out and revealed to be the same asshole he was at the beginning of The Fly. Of course, he did lose some extremities and is still miffed about it, but he only exists as bad comic relief (“he bugged me,” he says, referring to Seth) and as confirmation that Martin is irrecoverably screwed in his affliction.
All of this maneuvers the pieces to the final, splattery act, at which point Martin has deteriorated through the same stages as his father; unlike Seth, his rebirth lasts a little bit longer, so The Fly II morphs into a big stalk-n-slash monster movie. Much like Return of the Fly, it trades in the existential and psychological agony of the original and replaces them chiefly with more visceral thrills. Actually, the touchtone here seems to be Alien, as the full-grown Martin-Fly skulks around the compound and picks off his targets. However, in this case, there’s very little empathy or weight to accompany the gore; in fact, Walas makes quite a paradigm shift from the original since the violence is used more for spectacle rather than horror. A head is crushed almost to the audience’s delight, and the final fate of one of the characters turns the Brundle curse into a sort of comeuppance that asks viewers not to be revolved by the Brundle curse, but to almost revel in it. While the violent effects are still as impressive as they were in the original, the shift solidifies the sequel as a wholly different beast that largely misses the point of the original. Cronenberg’s film was a tragic opera, and this one’s just grand guignol monster movie.
Like many films, it carries an production history that’s nearly as intriguing as anything that happens on the screen. Walas had big shoes to fill behind the camera, but he was joined by Mick Garris, Frank Darabont, and the Wheat Brothers, all of whom contributed to the screenplay at various points. Before any of these guys got a hold of the script, though, Tim Lucas pitched a wild take that involved Seth Brundle’s consciousness living on like a ghost in a machine and teaming up with Veronica to battle the Bartok corporation. The corporatist paranoia is apparently leftover residue from both this and Darabont’s pass, and the final product is an ungainly Frankenstein’s monster of a script that bungles any chance to do something interesting with the property (like, say, The Curse of the Fly did a couple decades earlier).
Fox has released the film a few times, almost always alongside the original film, which doesn’t really help its case. The definitive release came way back in 2005, when it was released on a two disc special edition as part of their Collector’s Series. The presentation is top-notch, with the soundtrack even getting a DTS makeover that especially comes to life during the last act. Even though this is sort of the red-headed step-child of the series, Fox didn’t treat it as such, as it lavished a whole pile of extra feature on it, including an in-depth documentary on the series and the film itself, some storyboard comparisons, a production journal, a featurette on composer Christopher Young (one of the replacements that really works out for the film), a vintage feature, some still galleries, trailers, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and, finally, an audio commentary with Walas and film historian Bob Burns. That’s a lot of material for a pretty sub-standard sequel, so you’ll be rewarded if you feel compelled to toss in on the shelf alongside its superior original.
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