Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. directs Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen in this direct prequel to John Carpenter classic.
What do Predator 2, Die Hard 4.0, Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls and Terminator: Genisys have in common? They are all flawed film, critically reviled, rejected by the vocal sections of their fan base, that I quite enjoy merely as fun romps in movie worlds I already loved. I am an unimaginative studio exec’s wettest dream. I can forgive and embrace a lot of these less loved return trips to genre faves even if they aren’t classics. Do they reach the dizzy heights of their originals? No….but they do take us on an undemanding adventure around the same foothills without even aiming for those summits. Not every sequel has to be The Godfather Part 2, and by the same logic not every sequel that fails to be an improvement is automatically a terminal lurch in the wrong direction that the internet naysayers would have you believe. Bond and Fast & Furious series have both shown you can fuck up an entry or two and still eventually make a belated best in the franchise. Very few cash-ins (Hobbits and Star Wars prequels aside) actually pollute their wells. And by this point you can probably guess I’m going to be quite positive about The Thing prequel. Getting its errors out of the way – the studio enforced CGI, literally filmed over already achieved practical effects, are a bit rushed and bloodless but apart from those in the finale not terrible; the ensemble is a bit bland and perfunctory; it is not and never really could be as good one of the greatest movies ever made – there’s still monogamous pleasures. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is, as always, a compelling female lead. Different from MacReady, aiming for a warmer Sigourney Weaver type performance in contrast to Kurt Russell’s hippyfied John Wayne. The bleak air of paranoia is mimiced perfectly. When we do spring into action, it feels high stakes and pleasantly chaotic. It is slavishly connected to its source, the plot includes deliberate poignant beats to leave the Norwegian camp and us the viewer exactly where we should be so you can move right back into watching the 1982 classic with no jarring anomalies. As a lovingly crafted, if reverse engineered, jigsaw piece the two films slot perfectly into each other despite 29 years distance. That is a fine achievement. Ignore the opening list I reeled off, this The Thing belongs with The Force Awakens, Jurrasic World and Fury Road as an in-trend legacy-quel that wants to expand in a verdant pre-existing cinema universe, not blandly reboot it. Like its monster, it has lay dormant and now wants to perfectly replicate what it is succeeding. The Thing 2011’s main issue is the studio interrupted the effects work mid transformation leaving it as freakishly half finished as The Thing itself when cornered. If you can look past that frustrating failure then the story, lead and atmosphere is quite a convincing duplicate.