Rating: 4/10 - Not worth your time
Cube 2: Hypercube (official site) recently aired on the SciFi. While the rest of the US felt compelled to watch the horrors of the invasion of Iraq, I felt the need to watch the horrors of Hypercube.
First, some context.
A few years ago my brother Brian and I swapped lists of movies we both liked. He recommended a number of really entertaining films. It was at his suggestion I finally saw the brilliant O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a funny, sweet movie about criminals busting out of jail). So when he recommended the original Cube as a really good movie, I rented it.
How could I go wrong? It's was science fictiony, had an interesting premise (normal people stuck in an incomprehensible environment), and I wasn't expecting too much.
Of course, I was forgetting something. A few years earlier I had attended a movie with similar expectations. You'd think that having seen the crap-fest that was eXistenZ would have burned into me exactly how wrong such expectations could be. I forgot, and I paid the price.
So, the original Cube. I'm about to to spoil the entire plot, but it's such a gawd-awful movie that I recommend that you never see it, so I'm not ruining anything. And when I say something is gawd-awful, please take my word as someone who likes bad films. I got many solid laughs out of Frankenhooker. I've seen Zardoz a half dozen times and it just keeps getting funnier. I think Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is a genuinely entertaining movie (and without a doubt the best movie ever made by a Public Broadcasting Station). I'm willing to appreciate movies with heart, and to laugh at movies that accidentally fall into absurdity. Cube does neither, it just sucks.
In the original Cube we meet a group of random, relatively normal people. They've been dumped into a series of cubic rooms with exits on each of the six faces. Some of the rooms have bizarre deathtraps inside. The group wanders through trying to figure out why they are there and how to escape. They eventually discover that the cubic rooms themselves form a giant cube. From one of the characters we learn that it's some sort of out of control government project that no one really understands, but everyone kept working on because, hey, someone had to know. It's an iffy premise, but I'm willing to forgive it. (That particular fact took a long time to discover through the exciting cinematic technique of the one character who knew anything keeping it a secret.) Once they built it, they threw people at random in (otherwise how could they justify the project they didn't understand?). We eventually discover that the secret to finding safe rooms and eventually the exit is some super complex off-screen math. The characters wander around and are slowly killed by traps. Finally one goes crazy and starts killing the others. In a surprise twist ending, we discover that the room everyone started is actually the exit room, but the rooms move and they needed to wait for the rooms to return to its starting position. At the end only the nice lady and a mentally handicapped man survive, the room is about to reset and... the crazy guy attacks, kills the woman and himself, and only the mentally handicapped man escapes.
It was about as fun to watch as it is to read.
There are many problems with the original Cube, but one key one cripples the entire movie. The audience never forms an emotional bond with the characters. The nice characters are, well, nice. But we don't really have a sense of who they are. We've never seen them living normal lives. We don't really understand how today is different from that normal life. In the end almost everyone dies, but you just can't bring yourself to care. The mentally handicapped man survives, but it's hard to bond to a character who says almost nothing during the movie, so it doesn't feel like anything to celebrate.
You can live without an emotional attachment to the main characters, but you better replace it with something else. Perhaps we get to vicariously experience something exciting. But we're not interested in living out the stupid lives and deaths of Cube. Perhaps we like the intellectual challenge of figuring out what is going on. Except the mysterious back-plot proves to be "it's a giant bureaucratic snafu." As to the two sneaky math solutions about how the rooms work, in neither case is the audience provided the information necessary to deduce the answers themselves. One of the math solutions proves to be wrong, and the last is never well explained. (And while trying to solve the mystery before the characters can be fun, math puzzles aren't well suited to the big screen.) Is there an interesting message on life in movie perhaps? I guess, if you find "nothing makes sense, everything is random and pointless, and you die in the end" is much of a message. Sharp social commentary? The only interesting commentary is the commentary you'll make if you're really drunk while watching Cube.
So, after my wretched experience seeing Cube, why would I see Cube 2: Hypercube. I can't really say. I've been tweaking my brother about Cube for a long time, so he felt the need to point out that I could see Hypercube. But that isn't enough. Perhaps my previous job at the similarly named Hypercosm had something to do with it. Perhaps the hole left in my mind as a self defense measure against the original movie demanded to be filled with something, anything. I just don't know.
So, I Tivoed it and watched it.
Egad. It was even worse.
To summarize briefly, Cube 2 is just like Cube, but it makes less sense, and in the end everyone dies. You still just can't bring yourself to give a crap about these people as they die in odd ways.
To summarize longly, we again stick strangers with no idea what is going on in cubes. The characters eventually discover that they are in a Hypercube. A hypercube is a mental experiment of what a four dimensional cube might look like. But just because something is a strictly theoretical concept with no practical application is no reason to not invest it with supernatural powers. So the rooms don't move, they just connect randomly in space (and occasionally time). Oh, and there are parallel dimensions, so the characters occasionally meet themselves. (The cannibal uses this opportunity to meat several characters he doesn't like repeatedly.) One of the characters turns out to be famous super hacker, but no one noticed because of the (non)clever trick of using a traditionally male but occasionally female name and an unusual nickname to hide her. Of course, this character with inside knowledge adds nothing to solving the riddle. We do learn that the second Cube is some sort of military experiment run by a weapons manufacturer, but that's irrelevant to the actual movie. The super hacker was involved, but never expected it to get built and has no idea how to escape. Oh, and eventually the Hypercube will collapse, but that's okay, because only one character survives to see it happen. It turns out that the bottom door magically turns into an exit as the Hypercube dissolves.
At the very end we discover that the sole survivor is secretly part of the military conspiracy. The survivor hands over the super hacker's necklace to a random military officer we've never seen before. Then she's shot in the head. End of movie.
To get a sense of how preposterous it is to declare magical powers of a hypercube, you'll need to think a bit about normal cubes. To someone who lives in a two-dimensional universe, the concept of a cube is alien, but a truly inspired 2D person might be able to conceive of this cube that he could never truly see. (This entire conversation is entirely theoretical. If you have problems considering a two-dimensional universe, check out the classic Flatland: a romance of many dimensions (backup link).) Just because a 2D person can't truly grasp a cube doesn't mean that our cube has magical properties. True, our cube may behave in ways he can't comprehend, but ultimately it's just limited to changing shape in cryptic ways. (Again, this is explained, at depth, in Flatland.)
So, the core premise is nonsense. I'm willing to forgive it. But it continues to stumble in exactly the same places as the original. Then it ends with a surprise twist ending that is strongly telegraphed and completely irrelevant to the rest of the movie. It would be like The Mousetrap having a surprise ending revealing that during the blizzard World War III had been declared. It's just random and pointless.
Again there are death traps, but fewer, and less interesting. The original Cube at least had kind of interesting death traps. A bit silly, but like the traps in the various Indiana Jones movies fun to watch. They were obviously computer generated, but they strove to look realistic and integrated. The traps could be studied, and in one case the group had to work their way through a known trapped room. In Hypercube the traps looks like overly shiny, friendly special effect examples, less like instruments of death and more like the grim reaper decided to use an iMac. iDeath? Being killed by what looks like tubes of plastic isn't horrifying, just goofy.
The characters remain more concepts than three dimensional people. The movie makes an effort to give us a bit more back-plot (with footage this time), but it doesn't help. Sure enough, there is a crazy man. This time he turns cannibalistic. It's strongly telegraphed and amazingly boring. There are better movies for wacky cannibal fun.
The director tries to make a more arty film. One of the almost plausible features given to the hypercube is that each room may be oriented differently. You might enter a door on the wall and find yourself hanging from the middle of the ceiling in the next room. To represent the character's disorientation the camera is placed at unusual angles. Unfortunately the camera typically placed at strange angles when the characters themselves are doing just fine. When the camera is at an odd angle while the characters struggle with a similar shift is gravity, the camera often picks neither the room the characters are leaving, nor the room the characters are entering to determine what down means. No, the camera picks a new direction at random. The result is just silly.
Cube was a really bad movie. Bad enough that it's not fun to watch even when drunk. Cube 2: Hypercube manages to be worse. Encouraged because they were never successfully charged with making the first movie, the filmmakers return to the scene of their original crime to commit more human rights violations against viewers. Do not see either of these movies.