In the lexicon of modern Blockbuster cinema, there is a distinct difference between sequels and parts of a film series. Generally, where the sequel carries forward characters and even plot points from previous films, a film divided into parts feels deeply connected, like serialized episodes. This stems from the fact that most series like these are written and produced as one but edited into parts. This is true of the “Alienoid” series.

For that reason, Choi Dong-hoon makes a usually frustrating but necessary choice by opening this film with a recap. As with the first part, the protagonist, Yi-an (Kim Tae-ri), lays out the film’s intricate world while catching up with viewers about what occurred in the first part. To summarize, an advanced species imprisons a criminal alien race in humans’ bodies across time. Two robots, Guard (Kim Woo-bin) and Thunder, are tasked with watching over these prisoners. If the prisoners escape their host bodies, the two robots have to eradicate them. To travel across time, Guard utilizes a dagger known as the Divine Blade.

On a mission in time gone wrong, Guard and Thunder adopted Yi-an and raised her as their own in 2012. Ten years later, the chief of Aliens, The Controller, escapes and wreaks havoc, intending to free more aliens through a bombing device. To prevent this from occurring, Guard, Thunder, Yi-an, and the aliens escape into the past. They reach Joseon-era Korea, where Guard sacrifices himself to protect Yi-an. The Divine Blade is lost, and the remaining aliens, as well as Yi-an, have struggled to find it for ten years. In addition, the Controller has taken over a new human host but has lost his memories in the process. Mureuk (Ryu Jun-yeol), a Taoist Monk and thief with powers, also chases the blade, suspected to be the controller’s host body. The McGuffin drives the central conflict of both parts.

Choi Dong-hoon uses the concept of a two-part film as a singular narrative that first sets up the situation and then unravels it in a whole other direction. In this second part, he opens the film to new angles, examining past events from fresh perspectives. For example, Min Gae-in (Lee Hanee), a minor character interested in Guard from the first part, becomes a central figure with ties to the past. That past includes an ancestor in Neung-pa (Jin Seon-kyu), a blind swordsman hopeful that the blade can be his cure.

Alienoid-Return to the Future (2024) Movie Review
A still from Alienoid-Return to the Future (2024)

Opening up the world while simultaneously twisting past events allows Choi Dong-hoon to shift the perception of the first film. The inclusion of the second part makes part one better, creating a unified experience that makes sense and entertains. Since the two films are actually one, it makes sense and is an admirably ambitious venture, at least on paper.

Yet that is where the annoyance crops up when considering breaking down a whole narrative into chunks. It feels disingenuous even when one considers the entire point of a story is to take you on an entertaining journey. Entertaining is the key word, as the film accomplishes its goal even when it unnecessarily overcomplicates a story that could have simply been told in two hours. Luckily, with the opening recap, the second one has enough time to dive into the thrills and chills of its mixed genres.

The structuring is also refreshingly simple. The story spends most of its time in Jeseon as Yi-an searches for the dagger, the depowered body of Thunder, and a way back to stop the bombing. Despite finding his inner hero in the first part, Mureuk suffers identity crises as he battles the supposed alien force inside his body. His former mentors also chase him: the Mage couple of Heug-seol (Yum Jung-ah) and Cheong-woon (Jo Woo-jin).

The narrative details the new plot points at an accelerated pace and furthers the protagonists’ arcs. All of this comes to a collision back in the present timeline, as the heroes unite to stop the bomb threat and the Controller’s army. Twists in the first film that seemed fairly predictable are subverted with genius. As characters from the past converge in the future, there’s space for humor to follow the thrilling set pieces. This is where, despite its flaws and issues, the film flourishes.

Alienoid-Return to the Future (2024) Movie Review
Another still from Alienoid-Return to the Future (2024)

The two parts filmed as one have a rewarding visual continuity, yet Choi Dong-hoon’s brilliance shines in how he builds each moment after the previous one. Part two is made better by the fact that its set pieces become increasingly dynamic through the runtime. The cast, as usual, is on top form. A chase sequence atop a train lets Kim Woo-bin have some fun in a limited role, this time portraying Thunder. With the comedic Mage by her side, Lee Hanee’s expanded role features her playing the heroic renegade against the system in charge in modern Korea. It is Ryu who, as the leading man, remains the highlight once more. Squaring off with Kim Tae-ri, the two actors play off each other well.

Archetypal arcs dragged down the first part, whose emotional journeys left no impact. In the second part, the easy chemistry of the two leads makes one feel for their disparate destinies. In addition, a twist to the mystery has a tremendous shocking effect on the audience. While she doesn’t quite get to have fun, Kim Tae-ri as Yi-an is still the emotional core of the story. Yi-an is the hero of the tale, and her reunion with Thunder, as well as Mureuk’s fight to help her finish the mission of the future, holds weight.

If the first part was setting things up, the second part is the payoff.  Sure, as mentioned above, the series unnaturally stretches itself into two parts, but when the payoff is this entertaining, can anyone really complain? Every sequence then leads to a final stand that rivals any modern Hollywood blockbuster. The camera swims across the battlefield as the heroes, with their varied magic and robotics, take down the aliens. This digitally created one-take is the highlight of the film. Pockets of sequences allow each hero to shine. The craft on display keeps things clean and easy to follow. All of this culminates in an emotionally stirring happy ending.

Even the denouement, the parting of the heroes across timelines, hits hard, thanks to the journey beforehand. Mureuk must return to the past, yet finds a way back to Yi-an to renew their relationship. Thunder must leave with the imprisoned aliens on his ship. Thunder mimics Guard and gifts Yi-an memories and a part of her father.  Kim Woo-bin swaggering across the screens while Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ plays in the background is the perfect expression of this type of film. Overall, “Alienoid: Return to the Future” is a massive blockbuster entertainer doing what it does best with style and scale.

Read More: Alienoid (2022) Movie Ending, Explained

Alienoid-Return to the Future (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of Alienoid-Return to the Future (2024) Movie: Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Tae-ri, Kim Woo-bin
Alienoid-Return to the Future (2024) Movie Genre: Action/Fantasy/Sci-Fi | Runtime: 2h 2m
Where to watch Alienoid-Return to the Future

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