Heat 2 by Michael Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The 1995 film Heat is one of my favorite movies of all time so I was both excited and scared to check this book out. Sequels to things you loved two or three decades ago can go either way. For every totally awesome Top Gun: Maverick there’s an abomination like Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
So how did Heat 2 do? Much better than Afterlife, but not as well as Maverick.
Writer/director Michael Mann teamed up with veteran crime novelist Meg Gardiner to give us a story that is equal parts prequel and sequel. The story bounces between the '80s when thief Neil McCauley and his crew were pulling jobs while cop Vincent Hanna is desperately trying to stop another group of criminals pulling off extremely brutal home invasions that include rape and murder. The sequel thread involves one of the survivors of the original film trying to escape the cops and what happens in the subsequent years. An old thread that ties the whole Heat story together eventually draws characters back into the same orbit, but none of them realize this at first.
As just a crime novel, this works pretty well. Mann knows how to do stories about heists, and there’s a couple of great ones in this. There’s interesting background information we learn about the characters from the movie that adds some depth to them. The dialogue hits as it did in the movies so that when a character speaks, you can hear the actor who portrayed them in 1995 saying the lines. This is particularly true of Vincent Hanna where it's very easy to imagine a younger Al Pacino belting some of these out with his own brand of gusto.
The thing I thought didn’t work as well is what happens in the sequel portion when we jump forward to 2000. At this point the crime aspect isn’t about heists, it’s more about high tech black market computer gear with international organized crime.. That feels like it's borrowing elements from more recent Mann movies such as Blackhat or Miami Vice. That’s an interesting topic, too, but it felt like the book turned into something else then.
Also, there’s no getting around the fact that Mann is a filmmaker so a lot of his appeal is visual in nature. Yes, he can create great characters who speak snappy dialogue filled with a lot of cool lingo, and he and Gardiner can set the scene well. But I felt myself longing to see the action play out on a big screen with amazing locations, a killer soundtrack, and Mann’s distinctive visual style rather than just reading it. It also leaves a lot left hanging so it’s not entirely satisfying to wait almost three decades for a follow up that still has more to come.
Still, more of this works than doesn’t, and I enjoyed it. It was a real treat to revisit this fictional world again. It’s 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
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