Director: Lukas spark
Operating time: 119 minutes
In his critique of the Alien Invasion classic Independence Day (1996), Roger Ebert describes the details of the plot and the complexity of the alien motives:
Independence Day is a shy movie when it comes to fantasy. The aliens, when we finally see them, are a big disappointment; couldn’t they have found something more interesting than squid? If an alien species ever visits Earth, I hope it has something interesting to share with us. Or, if they’re going to kill us, I hope they do it with something we’ve never seen before, and not with raggedy stingrays that look like the same artists who designed the covers of Amazing Stories magazine in the 1940s.
Despite all its flaws, Independence Day remains a good, even a very good film according to this humble critic. It is a timeless example of great silent entertainment, a cinematic spectacle that spins merrily on both sides of the great silent spectrum.
Oddly enough, the same can be said of the profession: Rain, the big-budget sequel to Australian director Luke Spark’s low-budget film Profession (2018). It’s definitely bigger in scale and scope, with destruction throughout the city, fleets descended from alien command ships, dogfights, and plenty of high-octane chases. It’s also silly, really silly, full of overly fine characterizations, overly loose storylines, and an over-reliance on MacGuffin’s plots.
But unfortunately, so does the profession: Rain is not good. It’s rarely a good movie and a fleeting pleasure to watch. Think less of Independence Day and more of Independence Day: Rebirth. And yet, when these brief moments of satisfaction occur, they are all the more frustrating because they suggest wasted potential in a promising regional film.
The film begins with Sydney under siege by a horde of advanced aliens. Many headlines tell us that more than two years have passed since the day of the invasion (read more about this odd choice of words below), and our little resistance heroes from the original Occupy movie are currently on a daring mission to rescue captured civilians.
Matthew Simmons (Dan Ewing) leads the rescue mission, calling in a foreign deserter and reporting to the new leader of the resistance, Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillis). Amelia Chambers (Jet Tranter, replacing Stephanie Jacobsen) risks her life to meet with other groups of foreign defectors in hopes of negotiating peaceful relations with the Greys and ending the war. We also meet the capable Captain Wessex (Mark Coles Smith), a local infantryman from the resistance front who is also a new love for Amelia.
With the battle for Sydney doomed to failure, the resistance retreated to the hills of the Blue Mountains where they established a fortified base of operations and Commander Hayes prepared to bring new weapons to the fight against the Greys. Simmons goes on a secondary mission with alien deserter Gary. (Lawrence Macoar) and Amelia’s younger brother, Marcus (Trystan Go), to find traces of a new superweapon, codenamed Rain, that humans and Greys seem desperate to find. Meanwhile, Amelia and Dennis (Zachary Garrett) are embarrassed by Hayes’ treatment of the gray refugees from the new resistance base and try to uncover the horrific truth.
The main problem that causes problems in this profession: Rushing is a narrative economy. The film is so absorbed over a two-hour period that it seems both turgid and tortuous. Still, the first two acts are generally strong, with an engaging action sequence and dialogue insightful enough to get a sense of what the characters did in the original film.
Matt and Amelia split up after one of Amelia’s alien encounters ended in an attempted murder. Matt is marked, literally and figuratively, and has developed a deep distrust of grey deserters. Amelia is determined to bring peace, but constantly avoids her compassion for the enemy, which puts her at odds with the military response to the foreign threat. There is also an encounter with Peter (Temuera Morrison) and Bella Bartlett (Izzy Stevens), who retreated to the mountains to escape the fighting and resume a normal life, but only to avenge the horrors of war.
However, the third act of the film drags on, hampered by endless, boring and repetitive fights, confusing green screen action, unnecessary surrenders and double crosses. Because of all the competing plots, more character introductions and insightful monologues aren’t needed to reveal the third act, with comic relief duo Ken Chong and Jason Issac as Steve falling flat at the last minute.
Another problem is the tonal incoherence caused by the film’s arbitrary questioning of and relative to tribalism. At the end of the occupation, we see that some Greys were willing to switch sides and work for the liberation of the people after their capture. The rest of the story is about using a much larger special effects budget to showcase various alien species in the field and refugee setting. It’s certainly an intriguing idea that the film gets across every time.
While the visuals are usually brilliant and comparable to those of big-budget Hollywood films, this remarkable decision raises some questions. Different alien colonists? Or slaves? Why are they on the ground and not in mother ships in orbit awaiting the end of the war? Are they all grey? If so, how does the hierarchy of aliens work? Why is Gary so eager to help Matt and others fight, shoot and kill members of his species? Most people treat grey deserters and refugees with suspicion, intimidation and utter contempt, so it’s not really clear what can be gained by changing sides. The film is not interested in answering these questions, and the motivations of the characters suffer as a result.
But what is even more disturbing is the film’s apparent insensitivity to Australia’s cultural heritage. Of course, the appeal began with Ronald Reagan waving the flag and the characters monologuing about how Columbus and Cook discovered their respective colonies. On your part, Occupy: The wreckers seem happy to divide each side of the war into tribes – the grey, the grey bad guys, the pro-grey, the bad guys – and then say things like Invasion Day or Australian characters delivering stinking deaths like We Will Not Let Invaders Take Our Land.
This leads to two possible explanations. As a writer and director, Spark is aware of these problems and tries to integrate a message of unity without enthusiasm through inter-species collaboration. Or maybe Spark isn’t even thinking about it, and the film’s sordid thematic resonance is pure coincidence. (For the record, I don’t know what the worst result is).
Most of these problems of rhythm, tone and dissonant themes come down to a failed Spark script, in which otherwise excellent actors like Ewing, Gillis, Morrison and Jeong have little to do. This leads to a sense of wasted potential for the film. To see an Australian film of this magnitude and spectacle, made primarily by a regional team and actors, is incredible and absolutely essential to the future of Australian cinema.
But the film’s success is ultimately marred by a weak script, forgettable and clichéd characters, and a truly exhausting third act. With the prospect of blockbuster franchise house action underway, the chances of acquisition : Regenerated plantations abroad remain marginal at best.
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