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Review – Train To Busan: Peninsula – “Marines versus zombies”

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I’d been really looking forward to Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula, since I saw the trailer and thought “Holy shit. They’ve gone ‘full T2’ AND ‘full Aliens’”.

My kind of sequels. Bold, brash, ballsy. Enough of what went before to satisfy, whilst spinning themes into new and exciting directions.

To prep for Peninsula I went back to Train To Busan. Now just £3.99 on iTunes, my immediate thought was: How is it possible I don’t already own this?

Five minutes in and that is justified. The creepiness of the initial animal resurrection sets the scene perfectly. Then, less than 20 minutes later, we’re on the train. The pace then on is relentless. Maddening how the initial breakout on the train plays out and doesn’t really stop. It certainly won’t be 4 years before I see it again, that’s for sure.

So, what of Peninsula?

Set four years later, there’s an anxious feeling straight away. The correlation with a world ravaged by a virus that has bought on large death tolls and inflicted huge restrictions is obvious. The first film now plays like a perfect metaphor for 2020. Contain or pay the consequences.

So setting the sequel four years later, which would make it 2020 no less, really feels smart and prescient. They take that goodwill and run with it. Setting the scene two minutes in that the Peninsula of the title is in fact a unified Korea. North and South, completely quarantined from the rest of the world.

Somebody call Snake Pliskinn.

That reference isn’t as random as first thought, as a team, led by an ex-soldier, head back into the quarantine zone. An initial drive-in, after some stilted setup, reminded me a lot of The Last Of Us. The quiet moments with establishing shots of how empty the Cities now are. So far, so not the sequel I was expecting.

It’s soon replaced by sub automatic machine guns and, sure enough, they go “full Aliens”. Or at least, I thought they did. In many ways, the trailers promise is fulfilled. Job done, right?

This isn’t a taut, tense train ride. It’s balls to the wall action, which leads to one infected turning into MANY, as a car horn alerts them all to the intruders.

I was enjoying the thought of marines versus zombies until the film tries to keep up with the concept. For me, it’s the sense of scale the film strives for, that ends up hindering it.

A car chase starts to make the film gain some forward momentum, whilst trying to match the pace of what went before, in the masterful original. But it’s still a bit…. off. There’s something not quite right about the pacing in general, and there’s an interminable lull when it needed to switch up through the gears.

Viewers are rewarded by World War Z style sieges, as huge swathes of zombies break out of various impenetrable walls. The problem is, the budget — and the CGI — isn’t up to it.

A car hits zombie after zombie, hand brake turning down corridors — some so tight, the car needs to turn its wing mirrors in, so it doesn’t get clipped — until it performs a huge jump out the other end. I’m reminded as I watch, that it’s a PS5 year and this all feels a bit “video game”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s some original stuff in here. Cage fighting against zombies is something I don’t think I’ve seen before, but it needs more than that to cleanse the taste of distracting zombies by driving an ice cream van, blaring out K-Pop.

It becomes a frustrating film very quickly. Especially as the finale has some thrilling chase elements, as hordes — and I do mean hordes — of zombies do what they do best.

Film is subjective and we love it for it. But ultimately, I’d be surprised if this was the sequel anyone wanted. Or at the very least, if it’s enough of the sequel anyone wanted.

As I teed up at the start, my prerequisites for a sequel are; be bold, brash & ballsy. So I’m confused, as for much of its runtime, Pensinsula is those things. Yet it is far duller than it should be, in-between the good moments. No zombie film should be dull, really. Especially one that is essentially “army v zombies”.

The last 20 mins do make up for it a little but it was never going to be enough, partly/mostly because it has to go down as a missed opportunity. There’s nothing like the emotion of the last train jump, in Train To Busan and maybe that’s the key ingredient missing. Heart.

What I did like was the score. In equal measures thumping John Carpenter synth, followed by erratic, urgent drums. The film tries its best to build an atmosphere, but the tension of being locked on a train is evaporated as soon as the whole City is opened up. Even taking that as a deliberate decision, you then need the action to be top-notch and too often it falls flat. Plus there is absolutely not enough of it.

There’s seemingly a conscious decision to distance itself from the original, too. At least when it suits. This is after all, ‘Train To Busan Presents…’, not ‘Train To Busan II’. In which case comparisons between the two are unfair from me, and I certainly shouldn’t have watched Train To Busan first (that’s not going to be particularly favourable for any film!) but I was rooting for it. Meaning my bar was probably set higher than the film would ever deliver.

It remains a pleasure to see any new film in 2020. It’s been a year, after all. This was an opportunity we could’ve done with getting the James Cameron treatment. Go bold, or go home.

Now, shall we all watch Seoul Station and see how it all started?

Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula will be available on digital platforms from 23 November and DVD, Blu-Ray & EST from 30 November.

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