Sunday, January 14, 2024

Duel for the Dagger: Alienoid: Return to the Future (2024) Movie Review


Director: Choi Dong-hoon

Notable Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Kim Woo-bin, Ryu Jun-yeol, Lee Hanee, Kim Eui-sang, Yum Jung-ah

Shortly after the release of Choi Dong-hoon's Assassination back in 2015, there began to be rumblings online of a two-part epic that the acclaimed filmmaker was working on. Some seven years later, part one of that saga was presented before the world in the form of Alienoid, and the reception towards it was pretty brutal, to say the least. The film garnered its fans, myself included, but people just seemed to have some sort of animosity towards this initial film. I thought the picture certainly had its flaws, but I won't deny the fun of it all, and that blockbuster sort of ride you come to expect from the director attached was undoubtedly there. Fortunately, Choi and the team greenlit both parts back-to-back, and for those naysayers of the first film, or even for those who weren't fully satisfied with the end product, rest assured as 2024 is starting off with a bang with this unexpected gem of a sequel with Alienoid: Return to the Future. Not only does it make good on the promises of the first film, but it makes great on them.

The events of this sequel take place immediately after the sort of to-be-continued cliffhanger ending of the first; Lee Ahn is searching for the sacred dagger that will solve all of the issues with the impending threat of the extraterrestrial chemical that has been released in Seoul in the modern year 2022. Lee is back in time, and she, Mureuk, alongside a cast of characters returning and some new faces, such as a blind warrior, has the power to make his sword zip around the environment and return to him at will, making for an exciting cast of familiar faces and new additions to give this sequel an even more robust ensemble than the previous outing offered. The same can be said for the side of the villains. They aren't quite as diverse as our heroes, but their threat feels all the more real and menacing this time around. The stakes are incredibly high, and the characters are much more fleshed out and the whole cast is in perfect harmony here, making you feel fully invested as the world becomes in a dangerous situation and quickly at that.

In terms of some of the original title's shortcomings, such as the VFX and the odd balance of humor and drama, all of that is fixed here, with some truly, if not the absolute best CGI I've seen in any Korean production, period. The aforementioned humor that just went on and on before is present here as well, but the jokes work better and they aren't as overabundant as before. I think I laughed quite a few times, something I couldn't say about the predecessor. Also, the overall world-building here is immaculate and has me hoping that, in some shape or form, we will see this franchise continue to grow. The world here feels so rich and full of details; I just feel that only the surface has been scratched. Return to the Future wears its influences proudly but honestly earns a place alongside some of the great sci-fi adventure movies. This is also one of those rare instances where the sequel just improves upon the original in every way imaginable. Guess this could easily clumped into the "sequels that are better than the originals" category.

Overall, the story and writing are great, with the dialogue, both humorous and dramatic, landing in all of the right places, but at times, the end goal is very apparent, and we do get the occasional checklist of things that have to happen in a film of this nature, and in the end it doesn't feel very original in that regard, but the little surprises along the way, with the side characters and their own personal arcs, specific conclusions, and even a twist or two here and there keep things engaging and the pacing just keeps sweeping along, in the best way possible. Also, no spoilers here, but they just nailed the ending. I had such a big smile on my face when the credits began to roll, I just ate it up. Although I wish for the franchise to expand, I am glad there is a good sense of finality here. If we never get anything else in the Alienoid universe, I'm just glad things were finished so well. 

Alienoid: Return to the Future is an utterly fantastic sci-fi action extravaganza that you need on your radar. It just does everything right, providing you with a solid 2 hours of pure entertainment. Director Choi Dong-hoon got everything right this time around and once more proves why he is one of the most successful modern filmmakers working in South Korea. He just knows how to create a truly engaging piece of popcorn cinema. I cannot wait to see what treasures we'll be treated to next, but for now, this sequel has won my heart over and marks the first great blockbuster of 2024. If this is playing near you, see it!

Written by Josh Parmer

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