When Michael Mann’s iconic film “Heat” first came out in 1995, it was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, and went on to influence many subsequent filmmakers. Now, twenty-seven years later, Michael Mann, in collaboration with the Edgar Award winning writer Meg Gardiner, has released the novel “Heat 2,” which is both a prequel and a sequel to “Heat.” While “Heat” was set in primarily in one location (the city of Los Angeles), “Heat 2” spans multiple locations, both within the United States and globally. With “Heat 2,” Mann and Gardiner have created a truly epic vision of the evolution of crime from home invasions, bank heists, and drug cartels, to the labyrinthine international sphere of cyber-attacks and government weapons sales for covert wars and assassinations.
“Heat 2” begins with a prologue that briefly describes the central bank heist from “Heat,” and then follows the immediate aftermath of that event with the character of Chris Shiherlis. The central characters of “Heat 2” are carry-overs from “Heat”; in addition to Sheherlis, we follow the lives of Neil McCauley and Lt. Vincent Hanna from “Heat,” along with several other repeating characters ranging from Charlene Shiherlis to Sergeant Drucker and Nate. Like the non-linear narrative of “The Godfather II,” “Heat 2” goes back and forth in time between 1988, 1995 and the years following it, and onto the year 2000. Although “Heat 2” highlights the lives of Neil and Vincent like the first “Heat” film did, its primary focus becomes Chris, as his character evolves to become Mann and Gardiner’s bridge to what they view as the future of crime on a more global level.
While “Heat” mostly focused on a single bank heist in Los Angeles, “Heat 2” has three major heists, and the storyline eventually expands to the criminal exploits of a Taiwanese crime family living in Paraguay. In addition, “Heat 2” has a truly horrific villain with the character of Otis Wardell, a hulking and physically imposing sociopath who is the leader of a gang whose crimes range from rape, home invasion, to murder. In a way, Otis and his criminal antics, along with the heists of Neil and Chris from their earlier 1988 and 1995 years, represent a sort of primitive form of criminal activity that Mann and Gardiner view as outdated in a world rapidly becoming controlled by technological and international interests.
This is where the Taiwanese Liu family comes in, as their specialty is in the cyber-crimes world of international covert coding and illegal arms dealing. The Liu family is headed by the patriarch David, whose daughter Ana and son Felix both have aspirations to take over the family business. Chris eventually falls for Ana, and in the process becomes a strongman and advisor for the Liu family in their illegal business dealings. While it’s admirable that Mann and Gardiner have fully-fleshed out Asian characters in “Heat 2,” they also fall into the trap of having effeminate, non-masculine Asian male leads. With the exception of the strong family patriarch David, the character of Felix is portrayed as having a delicate disposition and his rival Claudio Chen is shown as being sexually ambiguous. These traits fit the stereotypical Westernized portrayal of Asian males as being demasculinized. This is made up for with the character of Ana, who is not a typical submissive Asian female; rather, she is strong, independent, and a force to be reckoned with as she tries to take over her family’s cyber criminal empire.
Mann has explored the topic of cybercrime in Asia before with his underrated film “Blackhat,” which also features prominent Asian characters working with a career criminal in the shady world of international cyber warfare. In fact, “Heat 2” is almost like a greatest hits collection of Mann’s previous films, including a bank vault heist similar to the one in “Thief,” a sociopathic serial killer recalling the villain from “Manhunter,” the criminal underworld of Los Angeles which Mann previously explored in “Heat” and “Collateral,” a South American criminal empire similar to the drug cartels in “Miami Vice,” and an examination of the intriguing world of covert government surveillance that Mann explored in “Public Enemies.” Mann and Gardiner take these elements from his previous films and expand upon them in “Heat 2” with a kaleidoscopic exploration of the evolution of crime from a micro to a macro scale.
It’s interesting how the more narrowly centered first half of “Heat 2,” which concentrates on Vincent’s relentless pursuit of Otis, and Neil and Chris’ earlier tightly organized criminal activities, contrasts with the more sprawling second half dealing with Chris’ indoctrination into the Liu family’s global scale crimes. Just as Chris feels hinged in and restricted by his dealings with Neil, his world and that of “Heat 2’s” narrative opens up when Chris discovers the broader, internationally focused world of the Liu family’s technological criminal empire. Mann and Gardiner bring Chris and the reader into the dangerously exhilarating world of dark web cyber dealings with covert government agencies and corrupt technocrats, traversing the globe from the United States, to Indonesia and Singapore. It’s quite an exciting trip, and one that Mann and Gardiner skillfully and entertainingly allow the reader to ride along with them on.
With its quick, terse and to-the-point prose style, “Heat 2” reads almost like a screenplay. Indeed, Mann has already stated that he plans to adapt “Heat 2” into a film as his next project after his racing car biopic “Ferrari.” It will be interesting to see how Mann casts the film, as he has expressed no interest in using the same de-aging process Scorsese employed in “The Irishman.” Most likely, this means Mann will cast new actors to replace the iconic roles played by legendary actors like Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Jon Voight. Whoever Mann eventually chooses to play the roles in “Heat 2” will have big shoes to fill, but with Mann’s skill and expertise as a filmmaker, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about when the cameras eventually roll. In the meantime, we have the intricate and pulse-pounding novel version of “Heat 2” to enjoy and envision in our heads.
- Book Review: "Heat 2"