Review: ‘The Wandering Earth II,’ starring Andy Lau, Wu Jing, Li Xuejian, Sha Yi, Ning Li, Wang Zhi and Zhu Yanmanzi

March 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Wu Jing and Wang Zhi in “The Wandering Earth II” (Photo courtesy of China Film Group Corporation and Well Go USA)

“The Wandering Earth II”

Directed by Frant Gwo

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and in outer space, from 2044 to 2058, the sci-fi action film “The Wandering Earth II” (a prequel to 2019’s “The Wandering Earth,” features a cast of predominantly Asian characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Scientists, engineers and other people frantically try to prevent the moon from crashing into Earth, and there are disagreements on the best way to do it. 

Culture Audience: “The Wandering Earth II” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, “The Wandering Earth,” and epic sci-fi disaster movies.

Andy Lau in “The Wandering Earth II” (Photo courtesy of China Film Group Corporation and Well Go USA)

In the sci-fi action movie “The Wandering Earth II,” the novelty has worn off a little bit from the movie’s predecessor, 2019’s “The Wandering Earth.” After all, how many times can there be a “Wandering Earth” movie about another planet being on a collision course toward Earth? “The Wandering Earth II,” which is a prequel to “The Wandering Earth,” repeats this concept with generally entertaining but long-winded results: “The Wandering Earth II” is nearly three hours long.

Frant Gwo, who directed “The Wandering Earth,” returns to helm “The Wandering Earth II,” which he co-wrote with Gong Ge’er. “The Wandering Earth II” is an over-the-top sci-fi spectacle that doesn’t lose sight of the human stories in this saga about trying to avert an outer-space disaster. In other words, the movie delivers exactly what viewers can expect from “The Wandering Earth” franchise.

“The Wandering Earth II,” which takes place from 2044 to 2058, is about scientists, engineers and other people trying to prevent the moon from crashing into Earth. In “The Wandering Earth,” which takes place from 2058 to 2078, is about scientists, engineers and other people trying to prevent Jupiter from crashing into Earth.

All of this is happening because the sun is expanding and could destroy Earth in the 22nd century if Earth doesn’t get out of the way and move to a safer part of the universe. However, changing Earth’s location can cause problems if could cause other planets to crash into Earth. These problems are at the crux of “The Wandering Earth” movies, which are based on Liu Cixin’s 2000 short story of the same name.

It’s not necessary to see “The Wandering Earth” before seeing “The Wandering Earth II,” since “The Wandering Earth II” is a prequel. However, since “The Wandering Earth” before seeing “The Wandering Earth II” gives better context to some of the motivations of the characters.

In “The Wandering Earth II,” the United Nations has been renamed the United Earth Government (UEG) and is backing the Moving Mountain Project, which will use gigantic ion engines to move Earth out of the current solar system into a safer part of the universe. UEG has shut down a radical opposition group called Digital Life Project (DLP), which believes that the future of human survival is by making humans into digital form and uploading everything using the advance mind technology.

In China, a former DLP computer scientist named Tu Hengyu (played by Andy Lau) agrees to work on the Moving Mountain Project, but he secretly continues his research into the digital mind upload technology that he thinks is still the better way for humans to survive any interplanetary disaster. Hengyu has a personal reason for wanting to make humans immortal in digital form: His wife and daughter died in a car crash, when his daughter Yaya was about 4 or 5 years old. Hengyu keeps looking at a digital simulation of Yaya that can only lasts two minutes at a time. Hengyu wants the technology to be developed so that people can bring back and preserved their deceased loved ones in digital form.

Meanwhile, from 2044 to 2058, UEG has developed enough ion engines to stop Earth’s rotation, a necessary first step in getting it out of the current solar system. The Moving Mountain Project has now been renamed the Wandering Earth Project. But something goes terribly wrong when Hengyu uploads the digital memories of Yaya into the 550W supercomputer that Hengyu helped invent. It leads to the moon going on a collision course toward Earth.

Several people who work for UEG are involved in this disaster prevention mission. Liu Peiqiang (played by Wu Jing) is a UEG astronaut who represents the “everyday” man in the story who finds his inner hero when he is called on to save lives. Someone who was a trainee in the astronaut program is Han Duoduo (played by Wang Zhi), who has confidence and intelligence that Peiqiang immediately finds attractive.

Much of the earlier part of “The Wandering Earth II” chronicles a shy and awkward Peiqiang trying to court Duoduo, who rebuffs his advances but the warms up to him. It’s not spoiler information (since it’s already in “The Wandering Earth”) that Peiqiang and Duoduo eventually fall in love with each other, get married, and start a family together.

Another important person in Peiqiang’s life is Zhang Peng (played by Sha Yi), a senior-level UEG fighter pilot who becomes Peiqiang’s mentor. Other supporting characters in the story are Zhou Zhezhi (played by Li Xuejian), who is China’s ambassador to UEG; Hao Xiaoxi (played by Zhu Yanmanzi), who is Zhezhi’s personal assistant; Ma Zhao (played by Ning Li), who works with Hengyu as a quantum computing researcher; and Mike (played by Andy Friend), the U.S. ambassdor to UEG; and Andre Graschnov (played by Vitalli Makarychev), a Russian senior-level UEG fighter pilot. There’s also a cute computer robot named Benben.

“The Wandering Earth” packs in a lot of action and suspense, which are expected. However, the movie also skillfully weaves together the parallel stories of Hengyu and Peiqiang. Hengyu is working outside the UEG system with his secretive, behind-the-scenes computer research. Peiqiang is working inside the UEG system and is on the front lines of the battles to save lives. Peiqiang has a mentor. Hengyu does not. Both men experience grief related to a death in the family.

Beyond the explosions and races against time, “The Wandering Earth” explores issues related to hope and faith in humanity. It’s also an emotionally moving story about what personal sacrifices can mean if they are for a cause that’s bigger than one person’s needs. No one is going to win any major acting awards for “The Wandering Earth II,” but the cast members are believable in their roles. It doesn’t matter if viewers understand all the sci-fi jargon in the movie, because the greater message of “The Wandering Earth” is about the lengths that people will go to for their survival and the survival of future generations.

China Film Group Corporation and Well Go USA released “The Wandering Earth II” in U.S. cinemas on January 22, 2023, the same date the the movie was released in China and several other countries. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on May 9, 2023.

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