The last line in this icebound epic of Norwegians versus Americans versus Spiders from Mars is a helicopter copilot looking down on the sunlit tundra and yelling, “That’s no dog.” Don’t you believe it.
Even overlooking the fact that this film is a prequel to a remake, it still shamelessly dogs everything in sight. Sometimes sci-fi, it’s more often a whodunit, an arctic version of Hercule Poirot clichés: “The killer is one of us in this very room.” But it’s also a pretty flimsy facsimile of Alien, replete with creepy, crenellated Mother Ship interiors and critters that like to suck human face and then go popping out of the chest cavities of a motley crew of ragtag scientists and adventurers. The only difference here is the setting — Antarctica takes the place of outer space — but it’s still devoid of people who can hear you scream.
What this Thing does have is the magnificent Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and John McClane’s sassy daughter in the brilliantly cast Live Free or Die Hard. Winstead is neither sultry nor dreamy, though you can imagine Howard Hawks, who created the first 1950s paranoia version of The Thing, approving of her. Hawks had an eye for women with well-developed masculine sides, and Winstead takes command of the screen and the action from her first appearance. Hawks would’ve enjoyed the cinematic wonder here, too: the whites and blues of the frigid exteriors markedly contrasting the earth and fire colors found inside the ice station.
But the film still lacks suspense or a plausible premise. It’s a perfect recipe for claustrophobic fear, but director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. careens into the plot haphazardly. A group of scientists finds an enormous spacecraft with accompanying ET in blocks of ice and, instead of sharing it with the world or wrapping it all up in shrouds of secrecy, they grab some pals and casually bring in a college-aged girl to go check it all out. They don’t care much and neither do we. No wonder the dog gets out.