Year Released: 2013
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 86 minutes
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Drew Hall’s The Phoenix Rises focuses on a team of scientists brought together by the government for the sole purpose of creating countermeasures to defend the world against rogue terrorists utilizing a climate control weapon involving the ionosphere. As Brian (Carlos E. Lopez) and his team of scientists, made up of Jack (John Delong), Denise (Susan Barbe), Kenny (Brent Nevison), Jan (Catalina Soto-Aguilar), Keith (Casey Myers) and Maryanne (Christine Kozlowski), work away at a plan to combat the weather-altering technology, two mercenaries, Jamal (Phillip Fornah) and Maxine (Allison Smith), have a previous score to settle with the team. Will the team succeed before the weapon does its most powerful damage? Will special agent Tom (Adam Cardon) be able to catch the mercenaries?
My biggest issue with the film is that it throws a lot at you, whether it be techno-babble concerning the climate weapon and the countermeasures being created by the science team to the sheer number of characters in the film, and it doesn’t allow for the audience to connect with anything beyond the most surface of levels. This is probably due to the fact that the film is a sequel, and unfortunately the sequel to a movie I haven’t seen, SkyHook, so the filmmakers maybe did the character-building and relationship-establishing in the previous film, and figured whoever sees this would be familiar with the first and, thus, they could just jump right into a story and roll from there.
For example, beyond the main “stop the climate control weapon” plot, there’s a side story involving two mercenaries that have a previous history with the science team, particularly Jan and Maryanne. Most of the action in the film is involved in this plot line (as much of the rest of the film is the characters standing, or sitting, talking about what they’re doing, or trying to do, to stop the weapon), yet since you don’t know how they really relate to the team, you don’t care about what happens beyond the most cursory of “bad guy attack good guy” understanding. Thus a chunk of film is stuck on a story that, unless you’ve seen the previous film, makes little sense, or at least too little of an emotional impact.
So overall you get a very confusing film. Again, you can follow it enough so that you’re not completely lost, but the engagement just isn’t enough. If the film assumes you know the characters well enough when you actually don’t, you’re left with a bunch of people you really don’t care much about. And since this film is predominantly those characters standing around talking about this or that technical thing, if you’re not with them, you’re not really with the film.
The film often felt reminiscent of a NCIS-type of television show, from the visual composition to the character dynamics, and I wonder if, rather than throwing a lot at an audience for almost 90 minutes, the characters and the story were allowed to breath and stretch over a longer period of time, perhaps as a webseries or similar, that the entire experience would work better. It would certainly allow for more opportunity to engage with the characters and lower the learning curve a bit.
Now, all that said, while those elements caused me the most trouble, it’s not entirely fair to judge the film solely on those aspects. Frankly, if I hopped into the Lord of the Rings trilogy midway without previous knowledge, I’d probably be just as lost and confused; if the film sees itself as just one part in a larger story, perhaps it should be viewed in that way, and critiqued over what it accomplishes when all the films are finished and available for viewing.
The argument against that is that the film then shortchanges the opportunity to grow its audience, as it only truly works for those already familiar, with most others left in the cold. Is there enough of a gateway to the characters in this film to keep folks around for the next? Maybe, I don’t know.
Which brings me back to the television show comparison, or webseries, as it did feel like the few times I sat down with friends and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I wasn’t a fan from early on, and often it felt like I was missing half of what was going on dramatically because I just didn’t get the dynamics of the group. Most of the time someone had to catch me up before I could start enjoying it all the way; when I was caught up, I enjoyed it quite a bit. So that’s a roundabout way of saying, does this series have enough people who could help a new audience get caught up if they aren’t, to bridge that story gap?
So in the end, where are we at? The Phoenix Rises is a slick production that moves along with a swift narrative current, and on strictly technical merit, such as the visuals, editing, effects and score, for example, the film really excels. It’s a quality production, period, and I do suspect that those who saw the previous film, and enjoyed it, would find a lot to enjoy in this one. I unfortunately had to experience the film ignorant of much of the previous film’s information, and I think the experience of this one was lesser for it. I think films should standalone regardless, however, and viewed that way, while I think the film is often a confusing experience that is hard to connect with, it is nonetheless a very good-looking and strong production otherwise.
This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.
Posted on March 24, 2013 in Reviews by Mark Bell
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