“Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula” is the “Caddyshack 2” of zombie movie sequels.
Sound harsh? Perhaps, but that captures the chasm between the brilliant original and its successor.
Consider what we endure in the highly anticipated follow-up:
- Paper-thin characters
- Generic dialogue
- Zombies reduced to supporting players in their own franchise
- Maudlin moments a Hallmark Channel director might reject
- And can we talk about that word salad of a title?
There’s nothing here that strikes a human chord like the father and daughter tandem from the first film, let alone the burly hero and his pregnant wife.
“Busan” gave us emotional jolts, thrills, surprises and more, all grafted onto a simple, elegant story. The sequel happened because of the original’s global success, but it can’t share another reason for its existence.
The new film begins awkwardly, our first sign a gargantuan drop in quality is heading our way. It’s World Building 101, and a clumsy construction at that. We grit our teeth through a hackneyed talk show interview, combined with a morally tone deaf decision which sets the tale in motion.
“Peninsula” picks up four years later, and we meet a group of South Koreans who decide to re-enter the now-shuttered peninsula. There’s a truck full of U.S. cash in play, allowing them to buy a new, more hopeful future.
You see, countries are refusing to accept South Korean immigrants after zombies overran their nation. Suddenly, people view all Koreans with suspicion.
Push aside fears of more micro lectures. “Peninsula” has little to say or share beyond its overt genre recycling. It’s “Mad Max” meets “World War Z”combined with every third zombie flick produced over the last decade.
That leaves us with Everyman soldier (Gang Dong-won), his brother in law (Kim Do-yoon) and an adorable family with an “only in the movies” cutesy kid who’s tough as a proverbial nail.
One of “Busan’s” many strengths was how sweet, and normal, the father-daughter bond played out through the mayhem. Our new heroes, in contrast, are cute but forgettable.
The film’s modest budget invades nearly every set piece of consequence. The clumsy CGI takes a page from the “World War Z” playbook, with zombies piling upon themselves to become even more menacing. It makes us pine for that surprisingly solid Brad Pitt romp and Hollywood’s massive CGI budgets.
There isn’t a single moment in “Peninsula” with the gravitas of “Busan.” Instead, we’re suffocated by dopey, only-in-horror-movies tics littering the screen.
For long stretches you’ll forget you’re watching a zombie movie. Once more we learn that while zombies are evil, crooked humans are far worse. George A. Romero shared that lesson throughout his his iconic zombie films, and far better than what we see here.
“Peninsula” director Yeon Sang-ho, having failed to deliver a worthy sequel, ends the film on some of the sappiest notes ever plucked during a horror movie. The slow-motion overload may inspire more chuckles than tears.
“Train to Busan” didn’t create a “world” or “universe.” It told a rip-roaring tale. Full stop. “Peninsula” is a foolish attempt to extend that experience, a mission that stumbles out of the gate and never finds its footing.
HiT or Miss: Viewers who happen upon “Peninsula” without knowing about “Train to Busan” will dismiss it as paint-by-numbers horror. “Busan” loyalists will be outraged, as well they should be.