(On-demand, August 2012) Unaccountably, I had never seen Species until now, nearly seventeen years later. For some reason, I had filed away this title as a throwaway B-grade monster movie, not worth the trouble to seek out. But the future is now, and the film is only a few buttons away from on-demand viewing! While Species is, in fact, a B-grade monster movie, it’s a slickly-made one, with a few good ideas and some noteworthy elements. Take your pick of the various names featured in the credits: H.R. Giger’s nightmarish creature design (leading to a few “have I really seen this?” moments), a scene-setting performance by young Michelle Williams as a young alien on the run, Michael Madsen’s cocky turn as a special operative, Forrest Whittaker’s good take on a bad “empath” role, Ben Kingsley as a government operative, or Natasha Henstridge’s asset-baring first big-screen performance. In Science-Fiction terms, Species is borderline incoherent nonsense, but it springs from a fairly clever conceit of remote alien invasion via radio-signal DNA sequencing. (Other written-SF stories have tackled the idea, but it’s still relatively original for Movie-SF.) There are also a few nice things to say about the themes of the film, which combine a few rough ideas about predation and reproduction with more standard horror-film tropes. Plot-wise, the film remains a monster chase, but the team of monster-hunters is shown effectively, and the rhythm doesn’t really falter until the last act’s fairly standard subterranean heroics. Species’ dynamic night-time chase sequences show that the film had a decent budget, making the B-movie exploitation elements seem all the more noteworthy. While some of the film is still stuck in the mid-nineties, it hasn’t aged all that badly and rewards casual viewing even today.
(On-demand, August 2012) Sequels are almost expected to be markedly worse than the original, but even with lowered expectations, it’s remarkable how quickly Species 2 goes rancid. The original may not have been exceptional, but it had some basic competence on display. This isn’t the case here, and it’s exhausting to point at all the reasons why the film is so awful. Despite a few good ideas and an intriguing opening-up of the plot far beyond the original’s scope, Species 2 quickly shoots itself in the foot thanks to terrible writing, no control over tone, overuse of exploitation elements and little conceptual coherency. Perhaps the single funniest aspect of the film is seeing Michael Madsen and Mykelti Williamson play their roles as if they were in a comedy film: Madsen almost seems to be parodying his own role in the original (unlike Natasha Henstridge, who plays it straight) and their ham-fisted antics make for a strange counterpoint to the deadly-serious acting by James Cromwell and Justin Lazar as they try to work out father/son dramatic issues in a film that’s really more interested in sex and violence. The gore and nudity seem far more exploitative here than in the original, to little effect when the rest of the film is so uneven. Some interesting set design can’t compensate for flat direction, a repellent quasi-joking attitude toward serial sexual violence, and gag-inducing dialogue. Cataloguing Species 2’s plot-holes would require more effort than a film of this nature deserves, and that stands as a damning overall assessment. It’s easy to find more than a few recent straight-to-DVD movies that were better than this theatrical release.