Thursday, May 10, 2018

Redboxing: DEEP BLUE SEA 2

by Rob DiCristino
Deeperest. Bluerest. My head is like a different, lower-budget shark’s fin.

Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea is a ‘90s schlock classic, an eighty million-dollar shark attack B-movie that succeeds by forgoing the classier (and, by 1999, more predictable) humanist spectacle of Jaws in favor of something far goofier and gorier. While recent entries like 47 Meters Down and The Shallows may have reinvigorated the sub-genre, there was a long period in which Deep Blue Sea was widely considered to be the only major non-Jaws effort to really “work.” It’s surprising, then, that Warner Bros. would take almost twenty years to get a sequel off the ground, and more than a little disappointing that said sequel would be a direct-to-video reboot with only a few loose connections to the original. Bummer though that may be, director Darin Scott’s (co-writer of Adam Riske’s beloved Tales from the Hood) Deep Blue Sea 2 is a legitimately entertaining low-budget curiosity that — while conventional and underwhelming in the broadest strokes — pairs inventive staging with over-the-top character moments to make a Redboxing Special, a film worth exactly the two-dollar rental price. No more, no less.
Deep Blue Sea 2 stars Danielle Savre as Dr. Misty Calhoun (I am dead serious), an ocean conservation activist struggling to dispel the popular myth that sharks are vicious killing machines and portray them instead as sympathetic animals. Misty says she learned her trade from her mother (Saffron Burrows’ Susan McAlester from the first film? It’s hinted at, but left ambiguous), and she’s skeptical when the mysterious Mr. Burns (Darron Meyer) presents an offer of $50,000 to consult on a project headed-up by pharmaceutical titan Carl Durant (Michael Beach). She eventually relents, joining newlywed scientists Daniel and Leslie Kim (Jeremy Jess Boado and Kim Syster) at Durant’s remote underwater laboratory. There, they meet Durant, tech guy Aaron Ellroy (Nathan Lynn), and shark wranglers Craig Burns (Darron Meyer) and Trent Slater (Rob Mayes, who’s about 70% Jason Momoa and 30% Kit Harrington). Calhoun is soon horrified to discover that Durant — despite the objections of his staff — is using bull sharks as test subjects for a serum that will give humanity limitless mental capabilities. No, I mean the actual movie Limitless. You know, Bradley Cooper on speed?

Carl Durant is the key to Deep Blue Sea 2’s success. He’s an utterly reprehensible lunatic who fears that computer technology is advancing so fast that artificial intelligence will soon overthrow human beings as the dominant species on Earth. Only by developing his serum, he believes, can we retain our hegemony. That’s right — Durant is using mutated sharks as test subjects so that humans can develop Jedi powers and fight robots. He believes he’s completely in control of his sharks, demonstrating the intellectual and managerial prowess of a Very Stable Genius by throwing Aaron into the lagoon and using a mystery widget to repel them just before they reach him. Over the course of the movie, he’ll get higher and higher on his serum and — even as the sharks break free and devour the sinking laboratory around him — marvel at the strength, speed, and problem-solving power of his creations. And honestly, he should: The inciting incident of Deep Blue Sea 2 comes when mama shark Bella overhears Durant outlining his plan to exterminate the sharks as soon as his serum is complete. Looking through the porthole window, her cold, black eyes narrow as she silently vows revenge. No, I’m not kidding. That’s a real scene in this movie. Read it again. I’ll wait.
So yes, Deep Blue Sea 2 knows exactly what kind of movie it is (there’s a pointed moment in which Misty zips a wetsuit up just under her cleavage and then no further. She might as well have winked at the camera), but it leans into it as hard as it can without ever completely breaking. Scott even shoots the thing like a real movie, working the hell out of his limited set space with a few creative lighting and staging choices that create a much more dynamic palette than we’d typically expect under the circumstances. The gore effects don’t all work (it’s mostly flat, mid-grade CGI posing as prosthetics), but there is a legitimately effective blood-and-guts jump scare late in the game that I actually rewound to watch again. The best decision of all, though, was to trade big, bad, monster sharks for a swarm of baby ankle-biters (Misty discovers that Durant’s genetic manipulation prevented them from seeing that Bella was “knocked up” until it was too late). Smaller-scale baddies mean more opportunities in a smaller-scale environment — read: budget — and Deep Blue Sea 2 turns that limitation into a strength, churning out a few really intimate and creative kills. Though the movie eventually goes for it in the final moments in a showdown with Bella, the shoddy CGI work there only reinforces why going small was such a good idea in the first place.
Despite all these highlights, Deep Blue Sea 2 is likely to evoke mostly unfavorable comparisons to Harlin’s original. It’s exactly the same character archetypes on exactly the same sets with exactly the same plot. In fact, its weakest points are when it tries to pay the most blatant homage, like when it slams on the narrative brakes to one-up Samuel L. Jackson’s memorable death scene (it doesn’t) and re-stages the “Stellan Skarsgard loses an arm” sequence beat-for-beat before hitting us with an ironic (and lame) fake-out. Had Scott (and screenwriters Hans Rodinoff, Jessica Scott, and Erik Patterson) been given a bit more creative latitude, I get the sense they could have made something really weird and special. Was the original Deep Blue Sea even iconic enough to warrant such slavish imitation? Were they hoping to build another Bond franchise here? Maybe. But Deep Blue Sea 2 had enough crazy juice flowing through its veins to go a completely different way. It needed only to believe in itself just a tiny bit more, to spread its genetically-engineered Bradley Cooper super-fins and swim confidently into the open sea. Alright, this one got away from me. I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.

4 comments:

  1. So you're saying that if i remember nothing of the first movie, i should enjoy this one?

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  2. Man, that is a horrible poster.
    "Shouldn't we make the sharks look different?"
    "Nah, just flip the one we got and call it a day,"

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was cautiously looking forward to this. Now I'm actually looking forward to this! Thanks Rob

    ReplyDelete