Cube 2 : Hypercube (2002)
“Never judge a book by its cover”, sage advice which everyone is given at some point in their lives and though I’ve tried to follow this pearl of wisdom, I have to confess I was rather dubious as soon as I saw the cover of Cube 2: Hypercube. It was that word “Hypercube”. Something about it just screams of the “bigger, better, faster!” mentality that plagues sequels, as it roughly translates: “we have no original ideas, we’re just going to do the same stuff again and crank it up to 11”, which is entirely contrary to the ethic that powered 1997′s brilliant, understated Cube. Disappointingly, this proves to be the case – Cube 2 is a mess, not only failing as a sequel but it doesn’t really make it as a standalone film either.
The basic construct of the plot is the same – several strangers awaken inside a giant maze made up of interlinking cube-shaped rooms, with their recent memories erased so they have no idea how they got there or why they might be there. Right off the bat, though, in trying to outdo the original film a mistake is made by changing the nature of the Cube itself. Originally, it was a beautifully simple set-up – in each of the rooms there were six doors which would lead to other rooms, but the trick was that five out of the six offshoots were boobytrapped, and choosing wrongly would lead to instant death, usually in quite a nasty, visceral way. This meant that the group had to rely on their wits and wiles to survive, the exploration of which, amongst a group of mismatched, volatile people under duress, gave the whole setting a feeling of edge and tension. Cube 2 bizarrely scraps this in favour of an approach which ultimately shifts the balance more towards sci-fi than horror (which wouldn’t be a problem, if it had been done well), as this time the danger appears to be a big wibbly-wobbly CGI “shimmering” effect that comes out of the wall and is meant to signify some kind of deadly time/spacial displacement. Yes, it is as crap as it sounds.
This wibbly-wobbly effect is at the heart of the plot, having something to do with experiments into temporal manipulation and parallel universes (which have been good, solid sci-fi fodder for years). Somewhere in there is the ghost of a potentially interesting idea which is sadly glossed over, reduced to a little expository technobabble from a couple of the characters and never really makes any sense, serving only as an excuse to occasionally kill someone off. Even that’s not something to get excited about as it’s accomplished mainly through CGI which is so badly done and uncreative that it distances the viewer and never has the impact or menace of the simple-yet-nasty traps from the previous film. One death in particular reminded me of a sequence from The Lawnmower Man – and let’s face it, if something is reminding you of that cheesetastic turkey, it’s a bad, bad sign.
Furthermore, the incoherent plot has a knock-on effect to other areas, mainly the pacing and the structure of the film. One of the strong points of the original Cube was that there were clues for the group to follow and the traps/patterns they worked out had their own internal logic so you could follow with them as the plot twisted and turned. Here there is no logic or cohesion as to the when and where this CGI shimmer will attack and the problem with this lack of consistency is that Cube 2 never seems to know where it’s going or to have any sense of mounting tension, characters go from one room to another, some weird (but uninteresting) distortions in time/space happen as a result of the “killer shimmer” that don’t have very much relevance in the scheme of things and the one “clue” that is mentioned throughout and proves to be the solution in the end is a total deus ex machina cheat that the audience couldn’t have worked out at any time sooner (because it’s load of nonsense anyway). Honestly, this wouldn’t have passed muster as a Star Trek episode, and it’s about as scary. It even manages one more instance of mindnumbing idiocy by casually throwing away the air of deliberate ambiguity and mystery that Cube left as to the actual purpose of the maze, and worse still it does so by opting for a lazy, hackneyed sci-fi convention. Brilliant.
The cardinal sin, and the one which informs the rest, is the fact that the people who’ve created this sequel really did not understand what made Cube work in the first place, and the evidence is everywhere. What made the original compelling were the tight script, the mystery, the claustrophobia, the tension, and most importantly the ticking timebomb of the characters themselves, who had to work together despite their differences but were, due to their natures, doomed to tear each other apart. The characters in Cube 2 are a bunch of one-dimensional stereotypes (a couple of whom are shallow ciphers for characters from the original film in terms of fulfilling certain needed plot roles), there’s no investment or interest in them, and consequently no danger. The acting is average, and one of them in particular might as well have had “VILLAIN” tattooed on his forehead, I swear there were times I was tempted to shout “He’s behind you!” in true Pantomime style, he was cutting such a thick slice of ham.
Overall, despite having a higher budget and CGI at its disposal, its incoherence and complete lack of understanding as to what made the original Cube a decent film render Cube 2 a shoddy, ill-conceived sequel whose existence seems primarily due to someone at Lionsgate buying the rights because they thought it may be profitable to make a franchise. Unless you have some strange fetish borne of a youthful Rubik’s Cube fixation you’ll get nothing out of it. Avoid.
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