Marg HelgenbergerMichael MadsenSpeciesSarah Wynter
Species II
Medium: film
Year: 1998
Director: Peter Medak
Writer: Dennis Feldman, Chris Brancato
Keywords: Species, horror, SF, boobs
Country: USA
Actor: Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, Natasha Henstridge, Mykelti Williamson, George Dzundza, James Cromwell, Justin Lazard, Myriam Cyr, Sarah Wynter, Baxter Harris, Scott Morgan
Format: 93 minutes
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 6 August 2012
Better for me than the first one, but I thought the first one was more or less pointless.
Quick recap. Species is the franchise about an alien Natasha Henstridge getting naked. That's the plot of the first film summarised. I didn't hate it or anything, but it felt to me like an exercise in always choosing the least interesting option.
Species II though does a bunch of things that made me prefer it.
1. Emotional connection. In the first Species, I didn't care. Henstridge was a null, Kingsley was cashing his pay cheque and you could have turned it into a Terminator or Alien script in fifteen minutes. Here though, Helgenberger is acting as a maternal figure for Henstridge and defending her against the soldiers who just see her as a weapon. Meanwhile Henstridge's alien side is being suppressed and she's being allowed to react as a human. They have a relationship. (No, not a sexual one.) I felt more empathy for Henstridge in her first scene here than I did in all 108 minutes of the first film.
2. The film's set in a near-future world that briefly had me wondering if this was going to be a dystopia. We're landing men on Mars and newsreaders are comparing this with the "violence, hunger and strife" on Earth. To be honest I think it's meant to be an everyday setting and I'm reading too much into a throwaway line, but even so the film's caustic view of American politicians and soldiers isn't hostile to such a reading.
3. A less predictable storyline. Species is a slasher movie where the killer is a topless blonde. Admittedly she's also a superpowered alien who wants to have sex with human men, but that's not even a twist on the formula. It's merely the mode of implementation. Species II though ignores the sequel-hunting rat twist at the end of its predecessor and goes for more surprising choices... astronauts to Mars (which is a bit sinister), a ranting old man in an asylum, an alien helping mankind against her fellow aliens, silent ranks of The Midwich Cuckoos style alien children (albeit underused) and some broken family relationships.
4. Themes. Species could be argued to have been doing interesting things with Sil, who embodies strong feminine attributes like the maternal instinct and a confident, powerful sex drive. She's a woman on her own against a world of men, effectively, and she's eating them for breakfast. This could have been good, but unfortunately Henstridge was flattening it. Here though we have stronger thematic elements that even the mediocre acting can't squash. Firstly, the alien sex menace is male. This makes sense, since that's the traditional gender of scary sexual predators, while in addition it creates a father-son thematic element that's not carried through with any great intelligence but still gives rise to one strong moment. Henstridge's maternal instincts were important to the previous film but never really added up to much, whereas here there must be a good couple of dozen alien sprogs.
The thing I didn't like about this was the way it's de-feminising the franchise. Species is a feminist film, despite all the nudity. The strongest, most powerful character in the world is a woman and her desires are feminine ones. Here though the women are ineffectual and the story's being driven by men, which reaches its nadir with a howling cliche at the finale. However the (weak) counter-argument would be that Helgenberger and Henstridge are the only two sympathetic, empathic humans in the movie and that everything they say and do is right. If it were left to the men, we'd all be dead. Furthermore the two of them have a mother-daughter relationship, counterbalancing the more literal father-son ones.
5. Better and more startling visuals. The aliens look okay instead of lame, the birth scene is shocking and there's a death by on-screen fellatio. (It's alien fellatio, but we still watch a penis enter a mouth.)
6. A bit of humour. I'm not sure the Dukes of Hazzard reference was meant to be funny as such, but "Use Tissues" made me laugh. The sponsors' logos on the spaceship right at the beginning amused me too.
7. More variety in the nudity, not to mention the curious discovery that Henstridge can be even sexier when she's clothed. Not wearing a bra helps.
8. An intelligently constructed plot, despite the Moron Fairy running up at the last minute with his Idiot Dust. The silver bullet to defeat the aliens is logical and consistent with the first film, even if it perhaps takes effect a bit too quickly. They've found a bulletproof way to bring back Henstridge. Underneath, the thinking's sound.
The acting's about on a par. Theoretically Species has a better cast, but I loved seeing Peter Boyle (the comedy Creature in Young Frankenstein) as Non-Loony In Asylum. Unfortunately the all-important Justin Lazard is trying hard to be as poor as Henstridge was in the first film, but Henstridge herself improves when she's being allowed to be human. Then, she's okay. She's still a waste of space once she's evil, but at least her performance is consistent with what she'd been doing previously and she's been forced to change gears to get there.
That adds up to a lot of improvement. However I believe I mentioned the stupidity, which is saying a lot when one bears in mind that in the first film, scientists forgot that they'd solved the energy crisis, failed to mention details like "we'll seal the doors and incinerate everything in sixty seconds' time" and grew a human-alien hybrid from a recipe sent by beings about which they knew nothing. And that was just Ben Kingsley. Here though we have...
9. You're a scientist analysing a dangerous unknown substance that you've just watched eating living cells and crawling across the floor. Correct procedure: touch it with your fingers.
10. It was wrong to go to Mars because of the danger of reviving DNA traces from a billion years earlier. Okay, yes, this is what happens. It's still a silly thing to worry about in advance, though.
11. The military are stupid. Okay, this isn't a plot hole, but they are.
12. The security arrangements on capturing Lazard are hilarious.
13. Astronauts on Mars communicate with Earth with no time delay, whereas it should be 11-14 minutes.
14. Henstridge escapes from the facility in the same way she escaped from an identical-looking facility in the first film. That had been when she was a little girl. You'd think someone might have seen this coming.
15. Henstridge knows how to drive because her favourite TV show is The Dukes of Hazzard. Okay, I kind of admire this one.
16. Lazard is the most famous man in America, with his face on TV and cereal boxes, but the authorities can't find hide nor hair of him when they put out an APB. This is despite the fact that he's doing things like pulling screaming women in broad daylight from supermarkets.
Bottom line: I preferred it to the first one. It has more to get your teeth into. It's more interesting, despite having a bumpier ride to the finish line. It keeps up the boobs and it even has better special effects. However I've been outvoted by the box office, at which Species II did badly enough to kill any prospect of a Species III. One did eventually struggle forth, but six years later and straight-to-video. MGM dumped this straight into cinemas with no advance screenings for the critics and Michael Madsen thinks it's "a crock of shit". It's not popular. Me though, I didn't think it was that bad. If only they'd done one last draft to weed out idiot plot points, I'd have been calling it good.