One tries not to watch The Wandering Earth 2 (流浪地球2) with political lenses. But the movie doesn’t want you to.
The Wandering Earth 2 (流浪地球2) Synopsis
The Wandering Earth 2 is not a sequel but a prequel, and depicts the events leading to the successful execution of the Wandering Earth Project. Besieged by disasters from the start, including a high-profile terrorist attack, it seems unlikely that the project would ever come to fruition. However, the catastrophic consequence of a grieving father’s desperation might just finally succeed in uniting all humanity.
A brief recap for the unfamiliar.
2019’s The Wandering Earth was a Chinese record-breaker is several ways. It was hailed as “China’s first full-scale interstellar spectacular” by the Hollywood Reporter. It was also a top box office hit in the Chinese market.
Adapted from Liu Cixin’s novel of the same name, the movie undoubtedly featured one of the most audacious near-future sci-fi premises too. Per the name, Earth is literally wandering, as in it has been broken out of its orbit and is on a millennia-long journey to the Alpha Centauri system. This “move” resulted in worldwide catastrophe and deaths but was a necessary evil done to flee a sun that was going red giant.
In turn, The Wandering Earth involved the journey’s first major obstacle as the Earth approaches the gravitational zone of Jupiter. Specifically, an intended gravity slingshot ended up with the Earth on a collision course with the gas giant.
I watched The Wandering Earth on Netflix days after its release on the streaming platform and it was mostly a positive experience. (I didn’t find the Moving Earth premise absurd, btw) Enthusiastic and impressive visual effects aside, what pleased me most, so to speak, was how the movie retained an apolitical tone throughout. How it came across as a genuine albeit naïve celebration of human unity.
This reaction has nothing to do with my political opinions about the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Instead, it stems from how I’ve long grown sick of action flicks that feature one country being a world saviour while other major powers are stumbling blocks, or worse, morons. This is something that I’ve written about in one of my earliest snappy reviews.
The same, regretfully, cannot be said about The Wandering Earth 2. While the movie doesn’t go all out to vilify the PRC’s current rivals, it certainly doesn’t hesitate to portray them as cantankerous, puerile brats badly in need of sagacious leadership by China. Correspondingly, Chinese leadership is depicted as far-visioned and self-sacrificing, an ever-reliable bastion of sense in a chaotic world.
In other words, The Wandering Earth 2 does with China what American popcorn action flicks do with the United States. One could then argue that there is nothing too wrong or appalling with this, except, such colourations have long been criticised, haven’t they? And they are criticised not only for distastefulness but also because they immediately bring to mind the reality of said heroic countries. How different such countries are in real life and history.
The visual effects and human drama, fortunately, mitigated this political posturing to an extent: I thought the first third of the show, with the well-conceptualised space elevator fight, was the most enjoyable. However, with the exception of Andy Lau’s Tu Hengyu, all characters are simplistic, maudlin aspirations of human altruism. They still move you, but only if you’re willing to believe in the (widespread) existence of such magnificent souls in a doomed world.
Coming to the story, I am surprised that author Liu Cixin opted for a prequel instead of a sequel. I suppose this decision could be because a prequel is a better vehicle for the above-mentioned statements on Chinese leadership.
But in doing so, The Wandering Earth 2 ends up being its own worst contradiction. If you’ve watched the first movie, you’d know that the Earth was hardly unscathed after it commenced its trek to Alpha Centauri. Huge chunks of the human population perished and underground hideouts, Beijing included, became dank dystopias. The global environment was also decimated.
Line the two movies side by side, and it would seem the exemplary leaders in this prequel did not fully consider the full repercussions of the Wandering Earth project. The unforgiving could even condemn them as myopic.
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