The first Species released in 1996 was a heartwarming story about an oversexed human/alien hybrid (Natasha Henstridge) on the look for all too willing mates to further a race of murderous creatures bent on destroying mankind.
It was a campy guilty pleasure from the 90s that managed to transcend its B movie roots with effective casting and a memorable monster. It was a good melding of cheap thrills, namely with its abundance of sex and female nudity and graphic violence. Species was destined to be a success with those potent ingredients and indeed it was followed by three sequels. It was inevitable in true Hollywood fashion that they would pale in comparison to the original and in simpler terms, generally suck.
The second film released in 1998 had Natasha Henstridge return as the sexy space creature and despite the actress’s obvious charms, the able cast could not overcome both the banal script and dialogue and the tedious direction. A third film followed, direct to DVD in 2004 and was mildly amusing at best, but was little better than the previous installment.
Then in 2007 came this (so far) final installment in the erstwhile series, Species: The Awakening. It features another sexy blonde as Miranda (Helena Mattson), who is introduced as a college professor giving a none too believable and fairly obvious lecture about Greek mythology and how women were sent down by Zeus to torture men. Uh-huh. How Miranda got this position as a college professor with little or no reference at such a young age (she looks to be no more than 21, let alone her character’s real age of something probably in the single digits) is a mystery never explained.
Her surrogate father Tom (Ben Cross) is a long way from his work in the uplifting Chariots of Fire, proving that many a decent actor needs to eat, too. He is really the main character of the film and there lies one of the film’s many problems. Tom is credible but too underdeveloped to be endearing. If the filmmakers were bolder, they would have made this a sensitive story about a father caring for a daughter as she “blossoms” into womanhood. Instead, the film is far more interested in its exploitation elements and this is largely abandoned.
Before Miranda can become a professor at Oxford, she wakes up naked after a date night in a park and goes on a rampage as her alien alter ego. It’s a whole helluva lot of stupid as her alien form uses her tongue for a few fake (and unpleasant) stabbings, including one through a hapless nurse’s eye! Tom is rightfully upset by his daughter’s boorish behaviour and instead of sending her to live with her aunt and uncle in Bel-Air (there’s a plot!) she is escorted to boring (and chronically dimly lit) Mexico where Tom hopes to enlist the aid of an old student who actually created Miranda. There is a quietly effective moment between Tom and Miranda as he explains her origins to her that recalls Henstridge’s best work in the first two films and suggests that vulnerability and human element that the rest of this film is crying for.
I’ve heard Mexico is pretty rough nowadays, what with all the cartels and gangsters around. Well, I guess I forgot about the Goth-Nuns with thirty foot tongues or the murderous cab drivers with glowing eyes and too many teeth. According to this film, it’s much tougher than I could have ever imagined. Tom and Miranda find Forbes (Dominic Keating), an English actor trying too hard to sound like the most cliched Australian caricature imaginable. He’s also presented as something of a slimeball and all around scumbag, even though he apparently is attached to the gorgeous Azura (Marlene Favela) who turns out to be that nun that attacked Tom earlier for…no reason at all.
She’s not much of an actress: her line readings make her blonde counterpart seem like Greta Garbo in Queen Christina by comparison, but she sure is one sexy looking alien, isn’t she? I’m glad to see more brunette representation here. That suggests real progression from the filmmakers. With such equality, perhaps we can expect a redhead for the next installment? Still, Azura’s relationship with Forbes suggested a better plot. A romantic comedy about Species! The trials and tribulations of dating a murderous, overly-promiscuous half human/alien hybrid obsessed with breeding! I can see the tagline now: “He never knew French kissing like this before.” Those goddamned tongues. More of them later!
Miranda is dying, and Tom is concerned for her and needs Forbes’ help. They save her, but silly Forbes never told Tom that once she is “reborn,” she will have a voracious sexual appetite and a desire for mating! Great. More crime ensues, with a potentially hilarious scene where Miranda steals some singer’s red dress, and a CGI-heavy alien catfight. It all ends with a touch of poignancy, but it’s all to little and too late.
Species: The Awakening is a cheaply made and indifferently directed film. It wants to be something dramatic but has neither the writing nor the actors to back it up. The relationship between Tom and Miranda should have served as the crux of the film but it is compromised by it’s tired second act, which plays on the cliches of the earlier films and adds little else, beside a record number for tongue impalements. The action is shoddy and the film too darkly lit, and there is little to no style and the editing is all built for suspense that is never apparent in any frame. For that to have worked, you would have had to give a damn about the supporting cast, which also never happens.
Helena Mattson certainly has the physical requirements for the part but lacks any depth or passion for the part. She is not served well by a director who also brings little heat or eroticism to any of the scenes, which is pretty bad considering how appealing both Mattson and Favela are. It’s also strange that despite all the implied nudity apparent, there is very little skin on display and the film never has that erotic edge that such a story could obviously have and that clearly is one of the film’s largest selling points.
The other major exploitation element, the violence, is largely composed of poor CGI trickery, which seldom impresses dyed in the wool action fans. There’s little to no stunt work on display and the gore present is repetitive and lame, nothing coming close to that “kiss” from the first Species that won the much coveted MTV Movies award that year for “Best Kiss.”
There’s very little memorable about this outing. It’s not sexy enough to work as sexploitation, not violent enough to cater to the gorehounds and certainly not entertaining enough to work for any other demographic.
Its main flaw is a distinct lack of fun. The filmmakers could never have pulled off the serious (or lighter) route so why this film had to flounder the way it did is perplexing. I mean, how hard is it to write one of these things?Species: The Awakening barely scores average for the exploitation and grindhouse devotee. It’s amusing enough, harmless enough for a single late night viewing but has little to recommend it beside the tamest of cheap thrills. I guess there is only so much you can do with this plot.
A sidenote: has anyone seen Under The Skin?