A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit he is that man. —Robert Warshow
Like a lot of you, I spent 2020 at home. And, as you probably know, that meant an awful lot of time with my things: couch, TV, refrigerator and, specific to this review, books I had accumulated over the years. If ever there was a year to finish a volume started but abandoned, 2020 was it.
That’s how I came to pluck a book of Roger Ebert’s reviews off the shelf. What better way to pass the time than to get his thoughts on Critters 2? Verdict: He was not a fan.
Yet what struck me most about his reviews were not the movies themselves but the act of going to the movies. Ebert started writing for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967 — back when moviegoing was the thing — and many of his reviews from the ’60s, ’70s and even into the ’80s include reports on the audience: The length of the line to get in, the demographics present, if they responded to the movie and how. What was on screen was as important as how it worked with the audience. It all meant something to him. It was all a part of the experience.
That something is what makes A Quiet Place Part II work. After a year of postponements and an industry-wide pivot to streaming, Part II opens the theatrical summer movie season this Memorial Day weekend. If that’s not some good news, I don’t know what is.
As for what’s on the screen, Part II is standard sequel stuff. Writer/director John Krasinski fills in a bit of backstory before barging forward, keeping what’s left of the Abbott family center stage: mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and an infant they must carry around in a soundproof bassinet, so the monsters don’t hear him. Not even Moses had it so good.
The focus on the family, the everyman hero, the long tracking/crane shots — Krasinski appears to have an affinity for Steven Spielberg movies. Particularly War of the Worlds. That’s a curious choice, though the aliens in both films do have a similar design. Not to mention a defect so debilitating you wonder if the aliens did any research on the material composition of Earth before landing.
Why are the aliens here? If the filmmakers know, they’re keeping it to themselves. It appears they plan to hunt down and kill every last human individually. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.
But the aliens can be dispatched, and that’s where Evelyn and Regan excel. They’re not alone: A surprising number of characters appear capable — until the script asks them to do something stupid. Regan walks for miles on bloody, bare feet, past thousands of corpses without checking to see if one might have a similar shoe size. Why bare feet? So she makes less noise when she walks, which is also why everyone moves very, very slow. The movie runs 97 minutes, but I bet the script is much shorter considering many scenes could be notated as, “So-and-so moves slowly as not to be heard by the monster, which screeches endlessly at nothing.”
These and a great many other thoughts raced through my head — including “Why didn’t Djimon Hounsou and Scoot McNairy ask for better parts?” — but they all evaporated the second my gaze drifted up and saw a band of light beaming over the audience and onto a screen 10 times the size of my TV. A few people applauded when the movie was over, and the rest seemed pleased. They were happy to be back. Summer is here. See you at the movies.