Rim of the World attempts a new spin on the sci-fi adventure genre, but it fails to live up to, or set itself apart from, the movies that inspired it.
As Netflix expands its originals library, the streaming service has made way for a variety of genre films, with the results being a mixed bag of fresh concepts and recycled premises. For its latest original film, Rim of the World, Netflix combines a young cast of misfit characters in the vein of The Goonies, Stand By Me and Stranger Things with an alien invasion plot reminiscent of Independence Day or Red Dawn (if the invading forces were aliens, of course). However, while Rim of the World attempts to blend these genres in what's obviously meant to be a modern-set 80s throwback, the final film never quite reaches the potential of its premise. Rim of the World attempts a new spin on the sci-fi adventure genre, but it fails to live up to, or set itself apart from, the movies that inspired it.
Rim of the World follows four young teenagers who become stranded at an outdoor adventure camp - the titular Rim of the World - when aliens suddenly invade Earth. There's Alex (Jack Gore), whose nerdy knowledge of NASA and anything else that comes in handy makes him the clear ringleader of the group. He's joined by spoiled rich kid Dariush (Benjamin Flores Jr.), the quiet Chinese runaway ZhenZhen (Miya Cech) and the mysterious, but tough outsider Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto). Together, they must travel 70 miles from their camp to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory with a cryptokey given to them by an astronaut that turns out to be humanity's only hope of standing a chance against the alien invaders.
Written by Zack Stentz (X-Men: First Class, Thor) and directed by McG (The Babysitter, Terminator Salvation), Rim of the World is an obvious sendup to Steven Spielberg's 80s adventure movies and perennial alien invasion flicks. However, the double edged sword of drawing such obvious parallels to beloved movies is the inevitable comparisons. In that regard, Rim of the World falls well short of living up to the movies that seemingly inspired it, failing to provide truly compelling characters, an adventure with stakes that feel real, and an alien invader that's anything more than an unkillable CGI blob (whose design is nearly indistinguishable to Avengers: Infinity War's Outriders). Though there are interesting concepts thrown into the mix - like the kids debating whether the alien chasing them is on a mission to destroy the cryptokey or has a John Wick-like vendetta against them - they're almost immediately abandoned in order to move onto the next story beat.
On the whole, Rim of the World is a list of cool ideas loosely strung together and ham-fisted into the story, and that's no more apparent than in the character arcs of the four young leads. Each of the kids are introduced as little more than stock characters pulled from 80s movies: Alex is the nerdy kid being forced out of his shell, Dariush is the rich kid who tries too hard to be cool, and Gabriel is the delinquent with a heart of gold. Their arcs are rudimentary at best, each having a weakness that they need to overcome in some way in order to save the world - and the third act just so happens to present obstacles that directly relate to their weaknesses. Then there's ZhenZhen, who makes the bizarre transition from the silent Asian character to the wise Asian character for no discernable reason, and - because she's the only female character in the core cast - becomes a love interest for Alex, acting as his reward for being a hero. And, yes, it's exactly as gross as it sounds. In drawing inspiration from 80s movies, Rim of the World also repurposes many of the stereotypes and stock characters popularized by those films, leading to a flat core group.
Ultimately, Rim of the World never quite hits the right beats to stand on its own. Its premise seems pulled from better, more original movies that came before, and the script continually references other films so viewers can't possibly forget they're meant to be watching something completely new. It's possible Rim of the World may be attempting to offer commentary on what it's emulating, but the movie fails to unpack the tropes and themes of those genre movies in a compelling manner or make that deconstruction clear in any way. To that end, Rim of the World feels genuinely confused about when it's set, with modern technology and pop culture references that are in direct contrast to the vibe of the camp itself, where most of the counselors are all ripped directly from 80s movies - mullets and all. The mixture of contemporary elements with the movie's 80s sensibilities makes for an incredibly uneven experience, which is true of the film overall.
Those interested in Rim of the World may find something to enjoy in the movie, as some of the ideas infused in the film are such classics they're pretty much guaranteed to entertain. There's one particular sequence that allows the kids to just have fun, and it's one of the more entertaining scenes in the film, but it has no consequence on the larger story or character arcs. On the whole, Rim of the World is the type of film that will benefit from being on Netflix where the barrier of entry for their originals is low and viewers can easily check out new releases in their free time from the comfort of their homes. But while some may enjoy Rim of the World for what it is, it's not poised to be Netflix's next big hit.
Rim of the World is now streaming on Netflix. It is 98 minutes long and rated TV-14.
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