Roar Uthaug’s 2015 “The Wave” revived the pleasures of the 1970s disaster-movie cycle in a form that seemed purer than the never-quite-dead genre’s recent Stateside incarnations — most of which seem to involve Dwayne Johnson in a generic pileup of CGI perils. “The Wave” wasn’t high art, but it was entertainment that delivered some standard satisfactions without treating the viewer like an easy mark.
“The Quake,” written by the same duo of John Kare Raake and Harald Rosenlow Eeg, is a “more of the same” sequel that’s just as good as the original, in nearly identical ways. Yes, there’s a tolerably talky buildup to wade through first, but once again it pays off in heightened human involvement when the mass destruction hits the fan. With Uthaug having defected to Hollywood and the “Tomb Raider” remake, this entry is helmed by veteran cinematographer John Andreas Andersen (“Headhunters,” “King of Devil’s Island”), whose second directorial feature feels like a seamless extension of “The Wave” rather than a rote retread or cash-in.
We’re reintroduced to geologist Kristian Elkjord (Kristoffer Joner) two years after the events of the first film. Things have not gone well for him since. Though he did manage to save his family from the tsunami, he’s plagued by guilt over the many deaths he theoretically could have averted — no matter that he did everything he could to warn authorities, who ignored him until it was too late. As a result, he’s now living as a recluse, separated from wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), collegiate son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and grade-school daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). Little Julia particularly wants him back, but Kristian is so PTSD-afflicted that he cuts short even her plaintive weekend visit.
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Nonetheless, he’s forced out of the house upon realizing that a colleague’s accidental death in the Oslofjord tunnel might have been caused by an early indication of imminent major seismic activity — which would strike at the center of populous Oslo. Yet again, he runs around trying to warn the authorities. And again, they brush him off as a paranoid hysteric. Naturally, he’s proven right.
This time aided by Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen), the initially skeptical daughter of his dead colleague, Kristian must race once more to rescue his family members. When the quake hits, they’re scattered in different locations: Julia is rehearsing a performance in an old theater; Sondre sits in a university lecture hall; Idun is having a business meeting high in a skyscraper. Of course these all turn out to be highly hazardous places to be once things start shaking, crumbling and falling.
Like “The Wave,” this sequel builds assuredly toward fine cliffhanger setpieces, relying heavily on the Everyman appeal of the less-than-dashing hero as he tries not to sound like the raving lunatic that everyone hears anyway. A bigger budget translates into an urban setting (rather than the original’s small seaside town), with judicious use of ripping CGI effects. The onset of the quake itself is surely among the year’s best action-suspense sequences.
Some subsequent collapsing-skyscraper action may duly recall the standout sequence in “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon” in which characters similarly slide toward the edge of a tipping building’s periphery. Nonetheless, there’s a sense that here the undeniable spectacle is ballasted by characters who are more involving. We would actually mind if these folks plunged to their deaths, and indeed the writers don’t cheat; this is not a film willing to completely ignore the laws of probability in order to orchestrate a pat happy ending.
Given the sort of enterprise “The Quake” is, VFX supervisor Lars Erik Hansen and production designer Jorgen Stangebye Larsen assume stellar status among the collaborators. But every contribution here is nicely turned, from John Christian Rosenlund’s handsome widescreen imagery to editor Christian Siebenherz’s gradual screw-turning, as well as a variably warm, eerie and alarmist score by Johan Soderqvist and Johannes Ringen. The performances are, again, very solid, mining the mid-level psychological depth supplied, but not belabored, by the scenarists.
There’s nothing terribly profound or innovative about what “The Quake” achieves. But like “The Wave” before it, it’s just intelligent and serious enough to give you your escapist cake — deluxe popcorn perils in all their big-screen glory — without making you eat the familiar guilt of empty-calorie overload.