Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, June 17, 2018


The original “The Fly” spawned two sequels. After the remake became a commercial success,  and one of the most talked about horror movies of 1986, Fox realized the new film could become a franchise as well. David Cronenberg, however, doesn't really do sequels. Especially not to a movie with such an open-and-close story. That didn't stop Fox. After a bizarre treatment from Tim Lucas, that had Seth Brundle's consciousness being transferred into a computer, “The Fly II” went ahead with a story by Frank Darabont and Mick Garris. Chris Walas, the first film's Academy award winning special effects artist, would make his directorial debut with the sequel. But filling Cronenberg's shoes was a tall order. Walas' film made money but was poorly received by critics, preventing the new “Fly” series from growing further. Over the years, the sequel has attracted some defenders though.

I'll give the filmmakers' credit for consistency though. “The Fly II” is pretty much a remake of “Return of the Fly,” following the son of the first film's scientist. In the opening minutes, Veronica gives birth to Seth Brundle's child. Veronica dies in childbirth and the son, named Martin, is adopted by Bartok Industries, Seth's sponsor that was mentioned in one line in the first film. From the beginning, Martin Brundle is not entirely human. He ages at a rapid rate, growing into a teenager's body in five years. He's a genius. He also harbors his father's latent, mutant genes. He goes to work on rebuilding the telepods, which Bartok has failed to master. He also develops a romance with Beth, a pretty co-worker. As he matures, Martin's fly genes begin to manifest. He realizes Bartok Industries only wants to control and study him. So he goes on the run with Beth, becoming more monstrous with every passing day. 

Cronenberg's “The Fly” had depth. It was as much a tragedy and a twisted love story as it was a gore-strewn horror film. Walas' sequel, meanwhile, is very childish. Instead of representing age and disease, Martin Brundle's transformation is a half-assed metaphor for puberty. He even seems to relish his inhuman metamorphosis. His progeria serves no story purpose, other than to keep the sequel close to the original's events. The side-effects of his rapid aging doesn't amount to much other than some social awkwardness. The story, of a virtuous monster-boy fighting against an evil corporation, comes off like comic book nonsense compared to the previous film's complexity. Martin even gains some superpowers, like when he tosses aside a security guard or leaps onto a boat in a single bound. The film's goofy streak is most apparent in the early scenes of Martin, boy genius, outsmarting and humiliating the adults around him. Scenes like that have no business being in a sequel to a Croneberg film.

Walas' goals are obvious. His movie is all about setting up the gory rampage in the last third. Martin, however, is not really a bad guy. In order to justify the boy-turned-fly-monster slaughtering the people around him, nearly everyone who works at Bartok Industries is a cartoonish asshole. Anton Bartok is an evil corporate overlord. He tells the boy whatever he wants to hear to ensure his compliance, while violating his privacy and keeping important secrets. As the story progresses, Bartok makes it clear he's only interested in Martin as a subject. The female doctor that watches over Martin is always in a bitchy mood, constantly shouting at him. The head security guard is a pervert, sexually harassing Beth, and looking for any excuse to bully Martin. There's no humanity to these cardboard targets, meat-puppets designed to be hated by the audience so we can cheer when they're inevitably torn apart.

“The Fly II” does not star Jeff Goldblum or Geena Davis. Goldblum only appears in a cameo, as footage recorded during the first film's events. Davis was willing to return but dropped out when she read that Veronica dies in the first five minutes. The only returning cast member is John Getz as Stathis Borans. Getz delivers some painful puns, his character choosing to help the child of the man who melted his limbs. Otherwise, this is a new cast. A fresh-faced Eric Stoltz plays Martin. Stoltz was cast due to his familiarity with heavy make-up, after appearing in “Mask.” Stoltz is okay in the part, being kind of cute as the conflicted boy. He somehow manages to ground the melodramatic script – which has Martin wrecking his apartment or putting down his sick dog – to a slight degree. Dapne Zuniga, Princess Vespa herself, is cute and charming as Beth. However, Zuniga can't overcome the limits of a silly screenplay.

As I said, “The Fly II” is really all about the mayhem. Once Martin emerges from his cocoon, the film devotes itself to him gorily dispatching his enemies. Admittedly, there's some amusingly graphic death scenes. A guard has his face completely melted off with acidic fly vomit. Another has his head graphically flattened by an elevator. Chris Walas' background as an effects artist is clear, as he puts the elaborate Martinfly puppet front and center. Yes, it looks cool. Aside from the two set of arms and the segmented jaw, it also doesn't resemble a fly much. It's green skin, spiky hide, red eyes, and pointed claws make it look more like a reptile. The gooier make-up effects, like Martin's pupa stage or the other mutations the telepods produce, are more interesting looking. Still, there is definitely some cheap thrills to be had from seeing a crazy looking monster brutally kill a bunch of bad guys.

“The Fly II” wasn't a quicky sequel. It was released three years after the first. Some real money was spent on the follow-up. The silly screenplay – which values violence over characters – still makes it feel like one. There have been other attempts to follow up Cronenberg's classic. When they were married, Geena Davis and director Renny Harlin kicked around an interesting idea called “Flies.” In that, Verona survives birthing Brundle's offspring, which are twin boys. A Kafka-inspired second remake was kicked around in 2003 but was discarded for being too cerebral. Most intriguingly, Cronenberg himself wrote a mysterious “sort of sequel” in 2009, supposedly dealing heavily with teleportation, that sadly never surfaced. More recently, IDW published “The Fly: Outbreak,” a comic book directly sequelizing this film. As interesting as some of these ideas are, I ultimately think that Cronenberg's film should probably be left alone. “The Fly” is great. “The Fly II,” despite some fun gore gags, is mediocre. [6/10]

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