TBT Review: “The Fly 2” Fails Where the First Succeeded
Normally with these throwback reviews I tend to go with something I really like, but here I decided to go in the opposite direction and review something I hate!
As in it’s somewhere in my bottom 4 or 5 most hated films. Like “Exorcist II: The Heretic” it’s a film I not only hate on its own merits, but also because it’s a sequel to an amazing first film that happens to be one of my favorites. Let’s get into why and see if there are any redeeming qualities. I’m going to refer to “The Fly” (1986) as the original for simplicity sake even though yes I know it’s a remake, but the actual original Vincent Price film doesn’t have anything to do with this discussion so again let’s just keep it simple. Again, for these older films Spoiler Warning.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 2.5
It sucks! Sorry I just don’t like the film. To be honest, for the most part it’s a competently made film. However, there is just something very bland and cheesy about it compared to the first film. So first, a quick recap of the David Cronenberg’s “The Fly.” It was a film about a scientist (Jeff Goldblum) creating teleportation machines while also falling in love with a reporter (Geena Davis). While testing it out, a common housefly got into the telepod with him. When he was transported from one machine to the other his molecules were fused with the fly. He slowly begins mutating into a fly, losing human body parts before fully going insane and trying to force Davis into the telepod with him to be fused together. The plan is thwarted by her ex-lover/boss and in a moment of clarity Brundlefly (as the creature has become known) asks her to put him out of his misery. It’s a fairly definitive ending though many other endings were shot and tested, but as Cronenberg learned after your main character dies nobody is interested… movie over. However, there was ONE loose end that the studio seized upon. Earlier in the film after the telepod test but before he starts to show signs of his mutation, Goldblum and Davis have sex… a lot. They even had sex before so when Davis finds that she’s pregnant there’s no telling if this is a normal child or will be part fly. It was a good plot development that led to a lot of interesting discussions and the fact the movie ends as abruptly as it does let’s the audience decide for itself what to make of it.
So “The Fly 2” (wow it took us way longer to get here than I thought) begins with Davis’ character giving birth (though this time not played by Geena Davis) to a cocoon and immediately dies from the trauma. The doctors cut it open to find a normal looking baby. This all happens in Bartok Industries as they were the company paying for Goldblum’s experiments in the first film. And they are indeed mentioned throughout the beginning, but it can be easy to miss. They were very much kept as a background thing. Here, they are elevated to main villains (think Weyland-Yutani from the Alien series) with the CEO Anton Bartok deciding that the company will take the child (Martin) in and raise him while checking on his development. It turns out he does possess the mutated fly genes, they’re just dormant for now and for some reason the boy is aging super fast. In 5 years he’s a super genius and looks about 20 years old (now played by Eric Stoltz) and constantly being tested on in a lab with Bartok and the scientists acting as his family. He’s given his own place to stay on the compound and offered to work on fixing the telepods from the original (why they’re not working is never explained IN the film) and meets fellow co-worker (Daphne Zuniga) who he begins a relationship with. After learning Bartok has been manipulating him his whole life and the truth about what happened to his dad comes out, his mutated cells just turn on and he begins mutating into a fly creature and escapes with Zuniga.
Later the mutation gets worse and he begins forming a cocoon, she calls Bartok to let them know where they are and are re-captured. After emerging from his cocoon fully transformed, he goes on a rampage and kills everyone except Zuniga and Bartok. He pulls Bartok into the telepod to enact Goldblum’s plan from the original, that going through the telepod again with a normal human would rid him of all the fly DNA and make him human again. And here’s the thing it works… perfectly. Martin is normal and now Bartok is the sick mess of flesh of corrupted DNA. The film even ends with him living out the rest of his days in an observation room in what I have to admit is a good punishment for the bad guy. However, what’s weird about it working is that the original film seemed to be implying that this plan wouldn’t have worked. That it would have simply mixed Goldblum and Davis into an even more mutated creature that may have had the fly stuff out, but wouldn’t have been either of them either. Can’t let that get in the way of having a happy ending of Martin living and going back to normal.
I will say this, despite none of the actors returning (except for one) it is a well-acted film. Eric Stoltz (sadly probably most famous now for almost having played Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”) is good for what is asked of him. Though I have issues with the writing because, as I said before, the character is supposed to be 5 years old, but just looks like he’s 20. Now I get that he’s a genius and everything but the character doesn’t act like someone with only 5 years worth of experience in a young adult body. He just acts like a typical 20 year old. Heck, for someone who’s whole life has been inside a lab with just some scientists and one CEO visiting from time to time he honestly doesn’t seem that odd. When he’s at an office party he just seems like a regular nerdy kid who maybe didn’t get out much in his younger years. I supposed that’s still technically the situation for Martin as is in the film, but what I mean is he should be an odder person with more trouble socializing than he is in the actual film.
Daphne Zuniga (Princess Vespa from Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”) is fine as the love interest. Though much like the rest of the film far less interesting than what was in the original. We don’t know a tremendous amount about Geena Davis’ character because the film is focused on Jeff Goldblum’s point of view, but she still managed to make that character feel unique and interesting. Even though it’s another actress playing her in this film I am really saddened when she dies because I had a connection to her. If Zuniga’s character had died I would have just been sad in principle, not because of what the performance actually did for me. The actor playing Bartok (Lee Richardson) is a character actor who while looking at his filmography I realize I have seen a number of his movies, but didn’t recognize him. Still he is very good in the film as the villain. He may be the typical corporate bad guy, but he does also really sell the daddy figure role he puts on around Martin. John Gets is our only returning actor from the original and he does fine as well though I’ll get more into my thoughts in the next section. We also have a famous voice actor Garry Chalk playing a jerky security guard. No real comment there, it’s just cool when these voice acting veterans turn up in films and we get to see what they really look like.
Instead of a master of horror/drama like David Cronenberg for this film we have Chris Walas as the director (in fact this is the reason he didn’t do the effects for “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”). While he is a great special effect make-up artist and even won as Oscar for his work on the effects in the original, he’s no replacement for Cronenberg. Don’t get me wrong I love the guy, listen to the commentary on “Gremlins” when you get the chance. It’s clear he loves doing what he does yet he is also very open about how hard and exhausting the work is. He makes a big sigh each time he begins talking about how they did an effect in that film, it’s great. However, the film just looks very standard. Nothing makes it stand out and when he does try to make a more interesting shot, like when the doctors hold up baby Martin after he’s born, it just comes off as corny. Since he was directing, his team was tasked with making the effects themselves and they just don’t seem as good this time around without him. Even though technically since he was the director he was around I guess. What I’m getting at is while the original film’s effects looked so real and convincing for their time, this film doesn’t. Although I think it’s more a case of a bad design rather than bad craftsmanship.
Why is Martin’s transformation so different than in the original? I get that you want to do something different, but in the film’s world what is the explanation? Why did Jeff Goldblum’s body parts fall off while fly juice squirted out, but Martin just gets bumpy looking and spider like webbing coming out of his body before going into a cocoon? And when he hatches himself why is the Martinfly so different looking from Brundlefly? There is no family resemblance. I mean look at him, does that look like a fly-human hybrid? To me it’s just a monster that happens to spray acid throw-up. I will say the best effect in the film is when Martinfly sprays a guard with this stuff full force directly in the face and as he recoils in pain from the acid he pulls his whole face off revealing the skull and other meaty stuff underneath as he’s still screaming in pain. I may not be a gore fan, but I have to admit that was pretty original and well-done effects-wise. However seeing Martin going full rampage on these guards is off-putting. The original was a tragedy even when Brundlefly goes crazy towards the end you still felt sorry for him. Even though they’re morally corrupt and have been lying to him his whole life, I find it hard to root for Martin at this point in the film. It’s just a horrible monster killing other horrible people.
Entertainment Value – 0.5
I just straight up don’t like this movie, in case you couldn’t tell. Taking out all of the stuff that messes with the original out of it, it still sucks on its own merits. Like “Exorcist II: The Heretic” I’ll give this much; it’s not just a copy of the first film, but again that also doesn’t make it any good. There’s just something really off about it all the way through. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve seen it, but it really feels like it can’t quite capture whatever they’re going for. For example, when Martin is 3 years old (= 10 year actor) there’s a scene where one day he decides to explore the off-limits areas in the compound and finds a lonely golden retriever in a cage and immediately forms a bond with it. Sneaking out to bring it treats and whatnot until one day it’s gone. He finds it again in a testing room where Bartok and his men have rebuilt the telepods from the original. Using the dog as their first test subject it horribly mutates it into a mess of flesh that’s clearly in pain. Bartok realizes young Martin was watching and comforts him, promising the dog will be put out of its misery.
That’s it for now, a possible reference to the baboon scene in the first film? But then they go further with it and Martin discovers it’s still alive and being kept in an observation room where the employees routinely go to gawk at it. Martin sneaks in and the dog somehow still remembers him and they have one more final reunion before Martin puts him down to relieve it from its pain. Yes you get emotion from all the dog lovers in the audience, but what do these scenes add to the film other than shows the company is evil? We knew that from the very beginning and it’s not like this is the moment where Martin begins not to trust Bartok. In fact he stops trusting Zuniga’s character first thinking she knew about it, but quickly realizes how dumb that is. But again this doesn’t signal a change his relationship with the company, he just continues working with them on the telepods. Again I must ask, what was the point of that other than to watch an animal suffer? I’m not saying that as someone who automatically hates a film that deals with this subject or accuses the filmmakers of being psychos, but on a story level what does it add?!
And now for something completely different, an example of them ruining something from the original… oh wait my mistake that’s not different that’s everything in this film. Our one returning actor is John Getz as Stathis Borans who was a really interesting character in the first one. When you first watch the film you assume he’s going to be the antagonist and when the fly attacks him at the end you’re going to cheer. He’s set up to be your standard 80s douche. He dismisses the main characters at first. Then, we learn his and Davis’ character used to date and he’s not over her. As in he hangs out in her apartment (still has the key from the relationship), follows her when she spends the night with Goldblum, and then makes a big spectacle of himself in a clothing store humiliating himself in front of her. And in this current culture about male and female relationships this is even more interesting as they do something really unexpected with him, they make him sympathetic. He and Davis have it out in one scene and they actually eventually come to an understanding; the relationship is over but he still cares for her while also wanting to stay friends/colleges. Getz really sells the moment and he sounds totally genuine and revealing. And the thing is his actions through the rest of the movie bare this out. He supports Davis and tries to help where he can. When Brundlefly kidnaps her he goes to save her with a shotgun and gets his hand and foot melted for his troubles. We don’t cheer, we’re actually hoping he’ll live. Even with his hand and foot melted he still finds the strength to fire his shotgun at the connecting wires stopping Goldblum’s plan and saving Davis. He’s not a typical hero in a film, but he was an interesting one with a fascinating redemption arc.
So he’s back in this film. He’s there for the opening birthing scene trying to get them to save Davis then nothing. During the time when Martin and Zuniga escape and go on the run, they stop by Stathis’ house to get answers. He’s doesn’t give any and it turns out he’s become a shut in and drunk. It’s really sad to see them take this character who had such an interesting role in the last film and do nothing with him (hence why I didn’t bother including it in the plot recap). However, in the script there apparently was a scene that explained it was he who took out key components in the telepods after Davis’ death thus explaining why the telepods aren’t working throughout a majority of the film. He was still trying to do the right thing, but again it’s a deleted scene so it doesn’t count as a point for the actual film. So as we conclude I’ll mention one good thing about the film. There is a scene where Bartok gives Martin some tapes of his father. You may think at first “wow they actually got Jeff Goldblum back for a little cameo?” Nope, it’s really a deleted scene from the original used in a clever way. After he teleports himself, he video tapes himself talking about the experience. It wasn’t needed in the first film, but in this film for a moment makes these two films feel like their truly connected. Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn’t bare that out but it’s still cool. They of course find a way to mess it up later by using another scene from “The Fly,” but it’s a scene we know wasn’t filmed or at least if it was it wasn’t at that perfect Hollywood angle which again ends up ruining their one clever moment… great job guys!
Rewatchability – 1
No! No I will not re-watch it! I have to admit I’d be OK with owning the DVD as the special edition version of the first film is a fantastic example of a special edition. So if “The Fly 2” DVD has making of’s as in-depth as the first then I would love to see it. With bad movies, hearing the filmmakers discuss it can be just as fascinating/helpful as listening to a successful one. But it would just mean the “play movie” button (without commentary) would be the most useless thing imaginable.
- Entertainment Value
It sucks! This film spits in the face of the first “The Fly” (1986) film. Practically taking everything that was good about the other film and ruining it or at least doing a vastly inferior version. Right from the very beginning you can tell this film is headed down the wrong direction and the rest of the movie bares that out. An extremely small amount of OK aspects can't fix the overall FAIL that is this sequel. I give it 1 star out of 5.
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