Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 16, 2020)
Back in 2016, Train to Busan offered a rollicking look at a zombie attack set on a moving vehicle. With 2020’s Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, the undead kick back into action.
A virus turns humans into zombies and decimates South Korea. Four years later, the nation remains devastated by these events.
Former Marine Captain Jung Seok (Dong-Won Gang) leads a small team on a mission to Incheon to retrieve $20 million in cash. As they embark on this illicit task, they deal with threats both human and zombie.
I won’t call Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula the most awkward title I’ve heard, but it seems odd. Apparently the producers originally intended to simply call it Train to Busan 2, but since the movie involves neither trains nor the city of Busan, I guess they figured they needed an alternate.
As such, we find a title reminiscent of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. However, that one made more sense, as Shaw formed a pretty clear spinoff.
On the other hand, Peninsula feels more like a sequel in the same vein as 28 Weeks Later, and not just because they involve viruses. Both follow up the original films in a way that counts as a continuation of the narratives but they don’t use the same characters, so they differ from traditional sequels.
In this case, it makes sense that Peninsula doesn’t deliver the same protagonists of the first flick, mainly because so few survived. While the filmmakers could’ve found a way to extend those characters’ arcs, it feels more logical to go onto a new path.
The question becomes whether we find an engaging new path. Though it reinvented no wheels, Busan became a lively, engaging riff on the zombie genre, and that elevated expectations that Peninsula would work as well.
Nope. While not a bad action-horror hybrid, Peninsula lacks the emotion and energy that made the first film succeed.
On the positive side, I appreciate that Peninsula doesn’t just remake its predecessor. Whereas that one went with a Dawn of the Dead On a Train vibe, the second chapter opts for more of a Mad Max feel.
Here we get crime and survival in the proverbial post-apocalyptic wasteland. While not the most creative theme, at least it means we get a film that stands on its own and doesn’t simply redo the prior flick.
Unfortunately, Peninsula can’t find much to do with the subject matter – or at least not enough to sustain it as a creative endeavor. The movie lacks much real reason to exist, and it doesn’t find new ways to explore the material.
Peninsula starts in the most awkward manner imaginable, as it uses the conceit of an American talk show to recap the virus that plagues South Korea. This offers clumsy exposition, and the actors recruited as the host and guest seem woefully amateurish. I get the feeling the producers just grabbed the first Americans they could find, actual talent be damned.
The first act doesn’t really improve from there, as we find ourselves with fairly cliché action and bland characters. The movie only attempts exposition for Jung Seok, but even he seems dull and lackluster.
Around the 30-minute mark, matters briefly improve when we meet teen Joon-i (Re Lee) and her little sister Yu-jin (Ye-Won Lee). They enter the film in a violent blaze of glory and threaten to give the flick the spark and excitement it needs.
However, Peninsula loses steam pretty quickly, and we find ourselves back in a less than engaging tale of criminals, zombies and survival. We simply never really care that much about the various characters, and that becomes a major drop-off compared to the first movie.
In the original Busan, we got to know the protagonists pretty well and we invested in their fates. Here we just fail to find much about Jung Seok and company to make us care, and the villains lack the charisma to intrigue us as well.
It doesn’t help that Peninsula lacks a particularly interesting story. Granted, Busan wasn’t exactly a plot-heavy affair itself, but it prospered due to the basic crazed energy of the scenario.
Without that inventiveness, Peninsula tends to stagnate. The movie meanders from one character area to another without a lot of integration, and the occasional bouts of action don’t redeem the general boredom we experience.
I can’t help but feel that Peninsula doesn’t need to exist beyond an attempt to expand a burgeoning movie franchise. It never devolves into a bad cinematic experience, but it fails to come together as an exciting, dramatic tale.