Attraction 2: Invasion (Vtorzhenie), 2020

© Sony Pictures Releasing © Columbia Pictures

Is it just me or do the Russians really do make lengthy films?

Invasion is a sequel to Attraction, 2017, the events of which are shown to unfold from where Attraction ended, the narrative for Invasion picks up exactly three years after the events of Attraction. A big-budget science-fiction film, Invasion is the eighth Russian film to be shot in the IMAX format.

The production values are evidently better, the plot, although a bit rushed, is focused and to the point. The cosmic human psyche, the communal subconscious, the latent intuitive instinct, assuming hostility and making the aliens unfriendly; all of these elements have been pulled forward from the time when an extraterrestrial (Rinal Mukhametov reprising the role of the friendly, clueless Khariton) was sent down as an emissary of the technologically-advanced humanoid race who have traveled to Earth for research purposes, and as fate would have it, meets and interacts with a bunch of delinquents, who take off with his armor, while the alien is recovering under the care of Yulia (a slightly older Irina Starshenbaum) one of the young members of the group Artyom (Alexander Petrov) gets into the alien suit and tries to wreak havoc on Moscow, only because he can and with powers not known to man, well, not until the sequel.

The latter resulted in a whole of rioting; as the spaceship is using the Earth’s water to repair itself (after the Russian military mistakenly shoots it down) and the areas around Moscow have to ration, making long queues to get water. Well, here, in my country, I for one did not witness any spaceship or an extraterrestrial coming out of it, yet I watch long queues in areas that somehow went unnoticed) being formed at the one reservoir tank, which should be, 500 gallons simply must be enough for a crowd of thousands who are angry over rationed water. Here the people are not angry anymore, I guess we all want it to end soon. It could be projection on my side, but the feeling is such and now that water is not a free commodity, especially after Brabeck-Letmathe (and a former chairman and CEO of Nestlé) called the idea, that water is a human right, “extreme“, which builds down to implicating that water is not a human right or an extremely privileged one.

Tony Stark and Jarvis moment

Here we can explore another phenomenon, related by  Guillermo del Toro, while making The Shape of Water : “if we say once upon a time in 1962, it becomes a fairy tale for troubled times. People can lower their guard a little bit more and listen to the story and listen to the characters and talk about the issues, rather than the circumstances of the issues.”

However, here, the events are depicted to be happening in 2020 and instead of thinking how it must’ve been, the population is rather worried (amongst other matters of a virus whose vaccine has not been developed yet) the viewers are shifting in their seats, anticipating, getting worried about the whole deal going to the dogs right now, and not some half a decade ago. It’s kind of war journalism and not reading about a war that took place a 100 years ago. No one really knows the outcome and I guess that is one of the reasons that the spaceship (which was already damaged by a meteor shower is shot down by the Russian Air Force). Everything is a threat in the year of the Lord 2020. You can’t trust the government, the neighbor, and start harboring doubts about loved ones. The decade has made people paranoid more than ever. Even more than at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the Cold War and perhaps all of it stems from that one day when two planes crashed into Freedom itself; which became a catalyst to the foramen passing a peduncle, our consciousness is attached to submarine feelings during at least a portion of its existence.

With dazzling special effects and good to passable performances, director  Fyodor Bondarchuk takes things a little further, not into space but on the ground where the water levels are rising and humans and humanoids come back to life only moments after being shot through the heart. That one part is still a mystery to me; wrist bracelet or not, water dance or not. The film shows and tells that life on Earth is slowly changing.

Attraction and Invasion are films whose plot is also (among other things) inspired by a real-life event, when a migrant was thought to have killed a local in Moscow; the 2013 Riots of Biryulyovo. What follows is nothing that we haven’t watched before however, I was genuinely pleased by the way the film has been shot, the grand scale of it, and the care that has been taken to keep the aesthetics of an IMAX 3D format intact. Especially when Yulia is being experimented upon (now that she has the bracelet), in a frog suit (that looks a lot like what Hope van Dyne donned as The Wasp) and shallow water in a room that resembles the one in Aniara 2018; a virtual-reality AI therapy room called the Mima.

Although the narrative and the “E.T go home” plot are relatively straight and simple, the SFX are super impressive and in the three years since the release of Attraction, Norbert Orosz and his team of special effects, and over 255 plus people from the visual effects team of Main Road Post, art director Andrey Ponkratov, and the production manager Annamária Ligosztájeva and director Fedor Bondarchuk have improved the overall astronomical feel of the film with the truly stunning special effects and suit design, which isn’t shown as much as it was in the first film. Plus,  Art Pictures Studio and Vodorod have also raised the bar in this one and upped their game. The scenes are given a neo-modern vintage look by Vladislav Opelyants. The team is at their visually distinctive best and matched by an emotionally absorbing story brought to life by a stellar performance by Irina Starshenbaum, reprising her role as Yulia, all grown and mature and very sexy.

There’s a sequence in the film where Yulia and Khariton make love, intercut with scenes of the circular alien craft emitting orange energy and collapsing and expanding with a center to it which opens and shuts like a mouth, it is also the same spacecraft or a space industrial machine which is absorbing the water. Well, as they make love Yulia’s bracelet starts to release some kind of solid energy, white webbing, which is shown to cover the orange rays and the surface of the alien craft, finally entering the opening in the center as both climax. This is executed most stunningly with the whole thing pulsating like heart-beat and colors coming off it and flowing about in all directions. Even as the film jumps into full-blown action and tragedy and father-daughter relationship (which is strained from the first film but one scene sorts it all out), the core relationship between these two unlikely lovers holds us in thrall. 

This one, as mentioned earlier, feels rushed, even at the 2 hours plus mark, and once Yuliya’s bracelet starts to attract the water, with levels dropping and rising at the same time, in enthralling, breathtaking shots, the characters must make decisions, tough decisions. Yulia’s brother has a gun and isn’t too fond of her or the boyfriend from the outset of Gemini Constellation. The scenes where people go to the roof as the water level rises and also as the alien craft pushes the level down such that the Earth would drown if the two levels met are mesmerizing with aerial shots of chaos and the water rising up to ‘nine stories‘, is elegantly shot, with the decisions of the players being carefully handled by the screenplay by Oleg Malovichko & Andrey Zolotarev. This is a grandiose apocalyptic scene of large-scale immersion in water and the battle scene of Artyom against a Kamov Ka-52 sent in for the kill.

While the first film implied that the super power of us humans is humor, here it’s a bit different and stresses on relationships that have been damaged and Invasion wants its players to make up, all this during a famous chase scene where the whole district of Moscow was cordoned off at night to shoot with eight cameras and a helicopter in Orlikov Lane and the neighboring streets. This time the Russians have gone really big. The last I heard of such a thing was in Vanilla Sky (US) and 28 Days Later where all of Times Square was shut and fenced off for Tom Cruise to become bewildered, panic, and also to shout as hard as he could, and Cillian Murphy walking the empty London scenes were shot very early in the morning. With the whole of Westminster Bridge and the embankment, all closed for public, and the traffic stopped (for a few hours) added surrealism along with giving the now famous scene an air of eeriness that could not have been achieved if the production decided to build miniatures. Both scenes add a strange thrilling feeling to the films.

While Attraction was more of a social commentary, Invasion is a mash-up of humans not understanding the rule of the game, being impatient, being invaded since the UFO is now threatened with Yulia’s bracelet, we are presented with an allegory of modern times, the visuals, and acting is there to play it out differently this time; throughout the film, nothing comes off as terribly threatening or ruthlessly perilous. Instead, we feel as if certain elements of Attraction are being repeated, unabashedly. And we get to see a lot of shots of inside the Shilk.

A decent film, Invasion thinks big but delivers moderately. The scene with Colonel Valentin Lebedev (Oleg Menshikov) speaking with Khariton as he navigates the Shilk through the sunken city should have elicited more emotions from the audience than it does when the Colonel puts the phone down, but unfortunately, it doesn’t like the rest of the film, which despite having superior production value, seems to be confused when it comes to human behavior. Rather clueless, like how Khariton moves around the city oblivious and completely unmindful of his surrounding.

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