A lot of people seem to question or even doubt my unwavering love of The Asylum, thinking perhaps I do this with my tongue-in-cheek; I do not, and I shit you not, I have been waiting for this moment since the first crude picture of the Mega Shark vs. Gigantosaurus poster made the rounds following this year's Cannes Festival: the moment I press play on Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus. No build up can do this justice, so let's just get right into it.
The film opens in a beautiful, remote jungle in the interior of the Congo, where a shady coal mining operation is interrupted by the awakening of a massive, massive fucking crocodile-thing, big enough to make Supercroc look like an asshole.
Cut to a battleship, the USS Gibson - nice - where Jaleel White, portraying the Navy's "shark guy," in title an "aqua acoustical engineer," is summoned by his Captain (Mike Gaglio) to examine strange heat projections picked up by their equipment. The Captain thinks it's a pod of whales, but Jaleel disagrees, says it's too big, and the signature is uniquely shark. The Captain angrily dismisses this, accusing Jaleel of holding on too tight to his theory that the Mega Shark is still alive, which Jaleel himself confirms by restating his point that no carcass was found, nor was there any visual confirmation of the Mega Shark's death. The Captain shoos him away, but Jaleel is more convinced than ever that the Mega Shark is alive and out there somewhere just waiting to strike again. It doesn't wait long, however, as about two minutes later it belly flops onto the deck of the battleship. Awesome to see you again, Mega Shark.
In the course of the ensuing chaos, someone important to Jaleel is killed, making his interest in Mega Shark now more than intellectual, it's personal. That's right: this time it's personal.
Back in the Congo we're introduced to Nigel Putnam (Gary Stretch), a dashing, adventurous, mecenary cryptozoological trapper. He's approached by a representative of the mining corporation and asked to capture the creature responsible for the deaths of 34 of their men, which we know is the Crocosaurus. As the price is right, he naturally accepts.
Now, I made a promise earlier this week to try and stay as spoiler-free as possible, and I really want to do so here as I believe everyone in the world should see this for themselves, so I'll cease with the plot description for now but to say, by way pf praising Naomi Selfman's script, that how these creatures come together and what happens when they do is nothing short of inventive, plausible for the world in which they exist, and pretty fucking fun to watch, more fun, I have no problem saying, than even its predecessor, and you guys know how much I love the first one. Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus's script trades scientific explanations for adventurous hunts, pitting men with personal commitments to capture/destruction against these mega monsters, as opposed to scientists who chance upon the creatures and clean up the mess. This makes for a more engaging story that flows better than the first, which at times felt interrupted for exposition. Overall, this film is a perfect progression from the first, more confident in its world and therefore more at ease in its narrative; there's less halting, instead just a constant stream of mega-awesomeness.
In addition to Naomi Selfman's script, this progression is made possible thanks to stirring performances from all of its leads. Now, as much as I love the first film, we all know the acting was not its strongest suit. Here, however, the roles are better cast and everybody's on top of their game. The two male leads, Jaleel White ("Family Matters") and Gary Stretch (Alexader), are perfect counterpoints to each other, seemingly different sorts with similar agendas and inspirations. White comes off calm and confident, suave, while alternately intense and brooding. He shows a real penchant for action movies here, and could have a future in the genre. He isn't hard-looking enough, in the face, I mean, to pull of roles like those taken by the likes of Wesley Snipes or Arnold, but he'd make an awesome Bruce Willis-style of hero, and I think that's better. Plus, he's got a great running scream. Stretch is perfect in his role, elegantly coarse and rough-and-tumble believeable, abrasive as a means to his ends but underneath a good man with a great mind. He too should show up in many, many more action films.
This film also marks the return of Sarah Lieving (The Beast of Bray Road, The Hitchhiker, Invasion of the Pod People) to a billed role in an Asylum film for the first time in four years, and when she comes back, man does she come back. She plays a special agent who's badass and belittling, cold and spare, an efficient employee, terse and effortlessly capable. It's almost like an evolution of her character from The 9/11 Commission Report, here honed into a sharper weapon, more acerbic in her confidence, in turn making her much more potent a character.
And of course there's Robert Picardo ("Star Trek: Voyager") as the admiral in charge of coordinating the hunts, seemingly in a hardass contest with Lieving; we'll call it a draw. He commands a bridge like he's been thinking about it a while. Asylum regular Mike Gaglio also shines as the gruff, disbelieving Captain.
As for the FX, they too top those of the first: they're sharper, more complete - instead of snippets and blurred close-ups we get many, many, awesome full-body shots of both creatures, not too mention battleships, helicopters, submarines and missiles. The battle/rampage scenes are deftly directed by Christopher Ray and are among the best - if not the best - in The Asylum's catalogue. Be it in the ocean, in the air or even on land, the chaos and destruction these two creatures unleash is legendary, and looks the part. The last forty-five minutes of this thing are just one skirmish after another - shark alone, croc alone, shark vs croc - that culminates in a truly spectacular climax well-deserving of the surging symphonic score that accompanies it. And the end? Well...I'll just say there's a certain image - you'll know it when you see it - that I want tattooed on my back. My whole back.
Oh, and for those of you wondering if there's a scene to top that from the first film of the shark snatching the plane from the sky? No spoilers, remember? But yes. And yes and yes and yes.
So, in short, this was worth every second I waited for it. As much as I enjoy, nay, love the first film, this one is just smarter, better-made, much better-performed, and more thrilling. If you enjoyed the first one, you won't be able to help but love this one. In fact, I'm gonna go ahead and place it in a category with Godfather II - that's right, I said it, Godfather II; bring it - as being a highly-anticapted sequel that surpasses the accomplishments of the original film.
So there. Add it to your Netflix cues and whatnot to enjoy it this Tuesday, December 21st.