‘Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle’ Review: A PSA-Laden Romantic Thriller (Fantastic Fest 2022)

In the plethora of modern so-bad-it’s-good films, few have seen the massive success and notoriety as James Nguyen’s phenomenal Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010). A movie filled with all the cheesy romance and awful apocalyptic terror you can fathom, the earnestness and naivete artistry employed by Nguyen makes it forever enigmatic to what a cult movie can be. But is it possible to hit lighting in a bottle a second time, and if you fail, can you try it a third time? You can blame global warming (literally) for Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle shortcomings, but there are still some elements you can enjoy as a cult movie enthusiast.

Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle is the newest Romantic Thriller entry into the Birdemic franchise directed by James Nguyen. When Evan (Ryan Lord) walks down the Santa Cruz pier, he encounters Kim (Julia Culbert), a marine biologist collecting samples in the ocean water. They start talking, and Kim addresses that there’s too much CO2 in the water, causing all types of sea life to contract cancer and die. All of this is occurring because of global warming. They both develop a connection. However, as their relationship gets more intimate, the audience slowly discovers that global warming is affecting their surroundings in the California area. This ultimately explodes into a birdemic (i literally use the word explode because California literally gets invaded by birds, including kamikaze sea eagles raming and exploding into the ground) this time caused by the sea eagles who are taking revenge for the humans destroying their world. Insanity ensues, and now our heroes must survive the onslaught of aviary terror. 

If the premise seems to mirror another movie in the franchise, then you are correct; the plot structure is similar to the first feature in the trilogy, Birdemic: Shock and Terror. I understand that the second film also borrows from the first movie. Yet, this third entry seems to use it as a blueprint for its narrative flow. There are however some noticeable differences. 

First, the film has surprisingly less character development than previous entries. Birdemic 3 instead decides to utilize the leads as avatars to impart the message the director wishes to convey, the dire warning about how global warming is getting worse with each passing moment and we are the only ones that can stop it. That is the main topic that has been consistent in all the Birdemic films but in this entry it feels very forced, almost mirroring old PSA films. Every other scene the audience sees either Evan seeing a news section on the television discussing global warming, or you follow Evan and Kim walking around and meeting an assortment of characters droning on and on in lengthy exposition scenes about the dangers and problems of global warming and how it’s affecting their lives and the animal’s lives. Secondly, the film lacks what I consider proper suspenseful build up to drive you towards the eventual birdemic the film is trying to set up. For example, going back to the first movie, there’s an innocuous scene where Rod (Alan Bagh) and Nathalie (Whitney Moore) encounter a dead CGI bird on the beach, alluding to the eventual terror they’ll face. It’s eerie and comical, but Nguyen effectively uses a proper setup for the eventual payoff that will come later. Birdemic 3 lacks these elements to enhance the suspense and intrigue. Instead, it just strings you along in sequences where characters explain to you how global warming is affecting us over and over, in many different ways. Thirdly, the film seems a little visually and sequentially inconsistent. It feels like the crew working on the film employed different camera brands with disparate in-camera settings, resulting in varied color grades and tones. There’s also an issue with pacing, where scenes seem to linger for a bit too long, or shots hold on far too long than need be. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that these elements are purposeful and intentional by the filmmaker. Still, it seems odd to me, considering that the audio seems crisper and cleaner than the previous two entries. So It begs the question, how can the audio be more “professional,” yet the visuals and the pacing seem even more “amateurish”? It almost seems as if the creative people behind the film knew they were making a “cult movie”, so they decided to employ the tropes of what a b-movie entails instead of being an earnest and sincere mistake. And it can ultimately take the viewer away from the creaky-on-purpose charm it can have. 

Regardless of its shortcomings there’s still enjoyable elements. The dialogue is still hilarious, and the stilted performances work because of the protagonist’s deadpan delivery. One of the side characters is a cheap copy of Elon Musk, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him. The elongated scenes that lack proper acknowledgment of screen time and adequate pacing are still pretty amusing. There’s a scene in a bar where a singer performs a cheesy pop song with heavy nihilistic lyrics about global warming and impending doom drenched in poppy fun beats that’s almost dystopian in how jarring it is. The eventual birdemic is also exciting and humorous, as all these extras are wailing in the air to fend off the CGI sea eagles attacking them. 

Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle fundamentally feels like the recent Hollywood trend of soft-rebooting a franchise, akin to Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens. The movie follows the same structure as the original but in a different and modern setting. You have callbacks to the previous installments and even some cameos and references. The director rethreads some of the same elements he touched upon in the first film, but just with “better visuals”. In that sense, the film works. Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle can be a gateway into discovering or re-discovering the 2010 original. Perhaps that’s the goal of this movie. I just hope we keep getting more of these films and creative evolution from James Nguyen when Birdemic 4 ultimately rolls around in theaters.

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