Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Dino Sequel Darker, Scarier, and More Thrilling

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

I am baffled by the critical reception to Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomSitting at an unbelievable 51% critics rating on Rottentomatoes.com, reviewers are claiming this entry is stale, unimaginative, and lacking the magic of its predecessors.  I completely disagree with those criticisms and believe the film actually improves the series by being darker, scarier, and providing all the expected dino-action without sacrificing the heart and character of this franchise.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom should leave moviegoers totally satisfied with action, thrills, and a scarily plausible plot in today’s world.

The film picks up 3 years after the events of Jurassic World.  Now that the raptor’s out of the bag, the world is debating over the creature’s rights, with an active volcano threatening to sink Isla Nublar.  Scientist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, sans high heels) and dino trainer Owen (the eternally awesome Chris Pratt) are called into action by elderly Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who promises to relocate the creatures to a sanctuary safe from pesky humans.  Little do they know this expedition will lead to a conspiracy that will change human life forever.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom absolutely delivers as a summer blockbuster.  The story feels realistic, the characters have developed a bit, and the action is some of the best you’ll see this summer.  The effects are still astonishing and mix flawlessly with the dedicated human actors, who continue to sell the outlandishness.  Newcomer Isabella Sermon is also great as Lockwood’s young daughter.  She’s cute, likable, and believably terrified when called upon, all the more impressive when you realize it’s her first acting role.  Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard continue to have wonderful chemistry, and the climax is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The film has a few problems that hold it back from being one of the greats.  Rafe Spall’s human villain simply lacks a threatening screen presence and is one of the weakest baddies this year.  The writing for his character isn’t amazing, but I was more taken in by Wayne Knight with his goofy shaving cream can in the original than by this guy.  Knight was enticing in his greed, but this guy is so milquetoast that he comes off more like one of those 90’s villains who wants to close the rec center than a manipulative businessman.  Worse still, Toby Jones appears as a secondary bad guy, and is much more engaging.  I either would have made Jones the main villain or recast Spall with David Cross (Tobias from Arrested Development).  There’s also some mediocre aging make-up and weak explanation for Sermon’s accent, but my complaints end there.

These problems are minor in the grand scheme of things.  We come to these movies for the dinosaurs and characters, and we get great results with both.  While it doesn’t match the original classic, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a surprisingly solid sequel with great action, good characters, and the possibility for future adventures.  Also look out for Jeff Goldblum in the beginning and end returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm, and BD Wong as Dr. Wu.  This is one attraction you need to see up close.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Science Fiction Violence and Peril

This “Jurassic World” Has More Bite Then Expected, Despite Flaws

3 out 5 stars (average)

Jurassic World Poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

I will never understand Hollywood’s seemingly immortal fascination with unnecessary reboots and sequels. Since 2010, reboots of popular franchises have been spewing out the back end during the summer months hoping to rekindle the spark gained from the originals.  80’s classics Robocop and A Nightmare on Elm Street were given this treatment to mediocre results, both critically and financially.  However, some reboots (like Rise of the Planet of the Apes) are successful because they take the franchise into the 21st century, exploring themes and ideas that the original could not.

And sometimes, reboots are just fun pieces of escapism that are not meant to be analyzed, just enjoyed.

Jurassic World falls into that category.  While it isn’t as good as the original (come on, who was really expecting that?), this film stands on its own two feet as a fun summer popcorn flick that doesn’t require you to think very hard.  This seems to be what makes money nowadays, and this film is set to break box office records.  Despite some questionable script decisions, Jurassic World is an enjoyable popcorn movie with a great lead performance and intense action.

The film follows Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard of 50/50) the owner of “Jurassic World”, a park where dinosaurs are on display for the general public.  The park is a hugely popular tourist attraction made possible by Dr. Wu (BD Wong returning from the first film), a scientist who has been with the park since the beginning all those years ago.

To increase tourism (because apparently LIVE DINOSAURS ALONE can’t do that), the scientists have genetically engineered a dinosaur. This does not please park trainer and exhibit inspector Owen (Chris Pratt outshining everyone), who treats the dinos with the respect they deserve.  It doesn’t help that he has Hoskins (Vincent D’onofrio of Netflix’s  Daredevil) breathing down his neck about using the raptors as weapons of war, something that Owen would not allow.  Unfortunately, the genetically-made dino escapes from its enclosure, sending Owen and Claire to find it.  To make matters worse, Claire’s two nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) have come to the park to see their aunt and thus get involved on the action.

This film is a lot better than I thought it would be. The action is very intense and most of the dinosaur effects are solid (most of them).  Colin Trevorrow (the director of 2012’s hit Safety Not Guaranteed) knows how to build tension surprisingly well given that this is his second theatrical release.  I’m sad he will not be returning to direct a sequel to this film (and let’s just face it, there will be one).

Performance-wise, Chris Pratt proves once again why we love him: he has charm, likeability, and charisma unlike many new actors today. He uses his leading-man abilities very well here, outshining Bryce Dallas Howard and even the great D’onofrio (who was absolutely amazing on Daredevil).  Howard is giving her second-best performance here, her first being 50/50.  For whatever reason, Howard has yet to give a great leading performance in her career.  She’s not bad by any means, but I wish she would improve a bit.  The child actors are surprisingly good (and not annoying), giving performances that seem realistic for the situation they are in (one is a teenager, the other a middle school aged kid).  Finally, Irrfan Khan (seen briefly in the first Amazing Spider-Man) delivers a decent performance.

The only problems I have with the film are minor ones. First, Claire is wearing heels throughout, running in them with unbelievable ease.  I don’t wear heels myself, but my sister said that it would be IMPOSSIBLE to run in them.  I bring this up because there are several shots of the heels, almost as if the director wanted us to know that she was wearing them.  They don’t have a payoff, seeming a bit useless in the grand scheme.  Also, it is briefly mentioned that the two kids’ parents might get a divorce, but we don’t see anything to support that.  We see the mother (Judy Greer, who really needs to get larger parts) saying good bye in the first scene, and then again when she calls Claire asking about the boys.  We never see her and the husband arguing, so it just seemed rushed in.  Finally, I felt the opening act was a little slow, but it picks up after about 15 minutes.  It’s not boring, just character introductions and such.

Jurassic World isn’t as good as the original, but it does its job well, and that is entertaining the viewer.  John Williams‘ great score is included here, and it’s as hard to get out of your head now as it was back in 1993.  There were some kids in my theater who weren’t too scared by anything, but it depends on the kid.  I actually jumped a couple times, but that’s just me.  Overall, Jurassic World is a fun action flick for the summer crowd.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Peril

These “Guardians” Rescue the Summer Film Season

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)

Guardians of the Galaxy poster
Image from: https://www.amazon.com/

Marvel has saved the summer once again. They had “X-Men: Days of Future Past” back in May and now, they bring us “Guardians of the Galaxy”, that now-rare superhero movie that doesn’t have a brooding, depressed main character, a grave tone, or a dark score.  Marvel became solemn in the last film in its cinematic universe with “Captain America the Winter Soldier”.  I admire a series that matures with its audience, but that film was too gritty for my liking, an issue I never thought I would have with a Marvel film.  Thankfully, “Guardians of the Galaxy” doesn’t take itself too seriously, giving us a funny, action-packed sci-fi flick that is reminiscent of the original “Star Wars”.  In all honesty, this summer has (with a few exceptions), not been all that great at the movies, but “Guardians of the Galaxy” has swooped in to save us when (nearly) all hope was lost, for me anyway, of there being one more memorable blockbuster of 2014.

The film follows a ragtag group of misfits: Starlord (Chris Pratt giving a surprisingly good performance), Gamora (Zoe Saldana giving the best performance I’ve seen of hers), and Rocket Raccoon (voiced energetically by Bradley Cooper).  Vin Diesel voices Groot with not a trace of normal wooden performances, and Drax (Dave Bautista) as they race to defeat an enemy that wishes to destroy the galaxy.  The dialogue is wickedly clever with laugh-out-loud one-liners throughout.  This is the first Marvel film that I could almost call a comedy as well as a great action film.  The comedic dialogue is much more ingenious than suggested by the previews.`

What separates “Guardians of the Galaxy” from the other Marvel superhero movies is its unique approach to the superhero origin story. While most Marvel films open with narration or a cool action scene, this one opens on possibly the saddest note I’ve ever seen for a Marvel film.  I thought it was a trailer for another movie, but it turned out to be a character setup.  To add to the uniqueness, the characters don’t technically have superpowers, they are just individuals who are gifted in one way or another.  The character relationships are extremely entertaining to watch, especially that of Rocket and Groot.  Rocket is able to translate what Groot is saying even though all we hear is “I am Groot”, similar to Lassie barking at Billy and Billy knowing that some kid is trapped in a well.  Pratt and Saldana have good chemistry, making their interactions equally as enjoyable.  That said, one of the greatest personal joys was watching Glenn Close take a small role very seriously, as if she were in a regular movie.  The same applies to John C. Reilly’s cameos; but he gets more funny lines than she does.

The music in this film is a blast, using 70’s rock tunes throughout the film to set the tone for scenes in just the right way.  I don’t think I’ve tapped my toes in an action movie this much in my entire film reviewing career.  The older crowd (those who grew up in the 70’s) will certainly enjoy this aspect, while some (my mom) might argue that younger viewers will learn what good music is.

The 3D in this movie is actually worth the money, something that surprised me.  Those who read my reviews know my opinion on the use of 3D, and I was very skeptical about it, but nearly every action scene has something pop out at you in an effective way.  For once, the cost of the ticket is worth it for the 3D version, so see it if you can.

The film is not without problems, unfortunately.  The climax scene has characters engaged in both hand-to-hand combat and in space vehicles, a common occurrence in modern sci-fi.  The problem is that the scene feels overly long when in the vehicles (an issue thankfully avoided by the other action scenes in the movie), as if writer/director James Gunn briefly ran out of interesting ideas and just went generic for a few minutes.  Thankfully, the combat is engaging to watch and well-filmed.  Honestly, had the flight sequence been shorter and better-shot, this film would have gotten a four and a half star rating.

There is one other problem, this one more personal.  Marvel has always avoided having a large amount of profanity in their films, choosing instead to get their PG-13 ratings for violence (AKA an element that is required for the film to work).  Marvel films are generally pretty clean when it comes to language, and that is something I have always admired.  Sadly, that trend did not follow in this movie.  This film unexpectedly has the most swearing I’ve heard in a PG-13 Marvel movie, instead of the company’s normally classy handling of that specific area.  I know that they’ve been endlessly advertising this movie on TV for some time now, and that kids love superhero movies, but think carefully before letting young ones see this.  The language is saltier then I felt comfortable hearing with my 9 year old buddy Colin.  I hope this is specific to this franchise (yes, a release date for the sequel has been set for July 2017) and not for future installments of their popular heroes.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-fi, Violence and Action, and Some Language