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

Infinity War: Mega Marvel Team-Up Should Thrill Fans, Confuse All Others

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Avengers Infinity War Poster
image from https://www.amazon.com/

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of the past 10 years of superhero movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Fans of the franchise will laugh and cry as their favorite heroes go up against the toughest foe they’ve ever encountered, while non-fans will wonder what all the fuss is about.  Essentially, this is a movie for the devotees of this billion-dollar series.  If you are not on the Marvel train yet, either engage in a massive binge session to get caught up, or wait until The Incredibles 2 next month for your superhero fix.

The story sees several members of the Avengers team (who are too numerous to mention) battle the malevolent alien Thanos (an intimidating Josh Brolin).  Everyone will put their egos aside in order to stop Thanos from getting the magical Infinity Stones and annihilating half of Earth’s population.

Avengers: Infinity War will thrill and emotionally devastate series fans, but the uninitiated will be lost.  Despite the downbeat tone, the film contains unexpected humor from the character interactions and some of the best action in the franchise.  The performances are uniformly strong, and Brolin steals the show as one of the series’ best villains.  Lastly, the emotionally charged ending is nothing short of heartbreaking for fans, changing the rules for both this universe and superhero films as we know them.

Avengers: Infinity War is a thrilling, fun, and emotional climax to the past 10 years of Marvel’s reign over the multiplex.  May future installments continue to entertain as much as this.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence And Action Throughout, Language, And Some Crude References

Deadpool 2: Silly Sequel is Surprisingly Dark, Relentlessly Juvenile

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Deadpool 2 poster
Image from http://collider.com/

Deadpool 2 is the first disappointment of 2018.  With a genius marketing campaign, hilarious trailers, and the prospect of seeing our favorite foul-mouthed antihero again, I was ready to dive head-on into this Pool.  Sadly, Deadpool 2 is a needlessly darker and sophomoric outing that emphasizes violent action over clever wit, making for a film that will satisfy action junkies, but leave those who enjoyed the cleverness of its predecessor yearning for more.

The mess of a plot involves Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) mourning over the death of his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), joining the X-Men, and attempting to save an annoying teenager (Julian Dennison) from, brace yourself, a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin).  Wade will sort of go on a journey to discover his inner hero and learn to move on from the death of his loved one, while still cracking jokes to the camera.

Deadpool 2 could have been a savage satire on how sequels always darken, but falls into that trap instead.  While still charismatic, Ryan Reynolds isn’t as likable here, overdoing Wade’s depression in the opening act and attempting to make out-of-place statements on sexism, racism, and other topics Deadpool should not discuss. Brolin acts like he’s in a completely different movie, but has good chemistry with Reynolds when onscreen with him.  The plentiful action sequences are well-done yet sadly unmemorable, and Dennison alternates between unlikable and annoying rather than menacing.  Lastly, the supposed emotional punch of an ending rings hollow.  I came here to laugh hysterically, not think about character drama.  It’s a sad state of affairs that should hopefully be remedied with the upcoming 3rd installment.

Deadpool 2 has more than enough action, but the plot and tone meander without much logic, the characters aren’t as endearing, and the writing is surprisingly juvenile rather than clever or witty.  While it certainly isn’t the worst X-Men film, Deadpool 2 is only slightly above X-Men Origins:Wolverine in terms of quality enjoyment.  I am sad to report that, of the three films I’ve seen this week, Book Club was the funniest one, not this.

Rated R for Strong Violence And Language Throughout, Sexual References, And Brief Drug Material.  Sorry, DP, but X is not gonna give this one to ya.

X-plosions Abound in Newest Installment of Marvel Franchise

3 out of 5 stars (average)

X-Men Apocalypse poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

Despite the seriousness of its title, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is one of the goofier entries in the ongoing franchise of films centering on the X-Men, a group of super powered people lead by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as they fight oppression from fearful humans as well as Xavier’s old friend Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  This time around, the mutants must defeat a villain more powerful than anyone or anything they have ever encountered, Apocalypse (an overacting Oscar Issac), the world’s first mutant.  He has awoken from a centuries-long snoozer and decides to, what else, destroy the world and rebuild it in his own image (can someone say God complex?)  Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence out of the blue makeup for most of the events) must put aside their differences and, with the help of a quirky host of new mutants (including some you may recognize, others you will not), defend the world once again.

To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil the proceedings, so I won’t. I came into this movie hoping for the best, as it has received very polarizing reviews in the mainstream community.  Some are praising it for “finally” embracing its comic book roots, while others are calling it goofy, boring, and too action-happy.  I am somewhere in the middle of those two camps, as I appreciate the goofier look of some characters (especially Nightcrawler, a blue teleporter), as well as the action (however much of it there may be), but feel the pacing is off in some places and the acting is occasionally mixed.

First and foremost, I found the story to be engaging. It isn’t anywhere near the level of narrative engagement as “Days of Future Past”, but it kept me interested.  I wanted to see where the characters would go and how they would change by the end, something this series has always nailed in my opinion.  Even if it isn’t Shakespeare, the story in “X-Men: Apocalypse” is nothing to scoff at.

A large part of that is due to the actors involved. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again prove themselves as capable actors here, allowing us to feel their emotions gracefully and sympathetically.  I never would have imagined McAvoy as a young Patrick Stewart, but he finally shows shades of the original character here that make the transition easy to see.  Fassbender continues to stun me as a young Magneto, channeling Ian McKellan’s menace while adding sympathy to the character that McKellen never had.  Also, fan-favorite Quicksilver (Played with an unstoppable and unpredictable energy by Evan Peters) rushes back into the fray, providing much-needed snarky commentary on the tumultuous events.  I love this character because of the actor, and want to see him at least one more time.  Lastly, Jennifer Lawrence imbues Mystique with the maturity seen in the original films.  However, her character arc in these films has been eerily similar to that of Katniss Everdeen, her “Hunger Games” character.  I won’t say how, but you’ll know it if you think about it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the actors are either standard or not that great. Oscar Issac alternates between passable intimidation and YELLING ALL OF HIS LINES.  I hdon’t know if director Bryan Singer told him to do this or if Issac felt the need to imitate a Power Rangers villain, but it became unintentionally funny at some points.  Overall, he does a decent job, but this is a poor follow-up to Peter Dinklage’s menacing Bolivar Trask.  We also see younger versions of past X-Men here, and their actors are suitable, if not perfect.  That said, they had a lot to live up to, and they do a serviceable, if not memorable, job.

The action thankfully makes up for most of the acting shortcomings, until it doesn’t. The first half of the movie is primarily plot, something I did not expect and also enjoyed.  There is action, but it is quick and serves to move the plot forward. I was waiting anxiously for the big set pieces to come, and when they did, I wanted the dialogue scenes back.  The action is decently shot and suitably intense, with a minimum use of shakeycam and effective use of CGI, but the last 30 minutes hit us over the head with loud, endless explosions that nearly made me forget the end goal.  The 3rd act almost felt like a “Transformers” movie in its level of destruction, something I never want to feel in a Marvel movie.  I understand it’s the end of a trilogy (and likely the start of another), but the previous films were able to have big climaxes without sacrificing their narrative integrity, a trap that “Apocalypse” sadly falls into.  That said, it is a summer movie, so big over-the-top action is expected, especially in end-of-trilogy installments.  I just wish that I could have been affected emotionally by the action instead of staring in disbelief at its absurdity by the end.

All in all, I would recommend this movie to fans of the series. It’s action-packed, decently acted, and surprisingly funny for the circumstances (much of the humor comes from Quicksilver and Nightcrawler).  McAvoy and Fassbender again provide fascinating and layered performances that help compensate for the over-emphasis on explosions, and the new characters are good editions to the series.  “X-Men: Apocalypse” might not rock your world, but it will provide a chasm of entertainment for the summer season.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Action, And Destruction, Brief Strong Language, And Some Suggestive Images

“Civil War”: The Ultimate Marvel Movie

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Captain America Civil War poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

Captain America: Civil War is the definition of an event film. All of your favorite Marvel heroes (sans Thor and Hulk) choose sides in a battle of ideologies as well as personal demons.  The action is great, the writing is mature, and the performances are highly memorable (especially from Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, once again showcasing their dramatic chops).  Everything from Tony Stark’s captivity to the battle with Ultron has lead up to this.  Sides will be chosen, friends will become enemies, and nothing will ever be the same.  And if you aren’t on the Marvel train by now, then don’t expect this to clear anything up, because you will not understand half of what is going on.

I won’t spoil anything for those who have not seen it, but here’s the gist: The government is tired of the destruction the Avengers leave behind after their epic battles, so they have imposed a law that would require all “enhanced beings” to be at the beck-and-call of a committee that would determine where they go, where they go, and how often they go to save the world, eliminating the choice each one has to use their abilities or not.  Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans totally disappearing into the character) doesn’t like this idea, so he is firmly against it.  However, Iron Man/Tony Stark (An angry, powerful Robert Downey Jr.) believes that the heroes should be put on a leash to prevent the deaths of innocents.  This difference of opinion will tear the Avengers apart, some siding with Cap, others with Tony, all while a vengeful man (Daniel Bruhl) watches with nefarious intentions

I cannot go into plot details without spoiling this event. The actors have really grown into their characters over the years, and they are directed to near-perfection by the Russos (those guys who brought you Community and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)  They know the seriousness of the story here, having the characters act like the adults they are instead of  having misplaced wit after dramatic moments.  This is the least humorous film in the Marvel cannon thus far, and it needed to be.  There is humor here, but it is only for comedic relief in what is otherwise a very dark offering.

Spider-Man is in the movie. Yes, they are rebooting him AGAIN.  While Tobey Maguire will always be My Spider-Man, this version fits the character well, injecting the snarky humor he is known for in the comics.  I wore my Spider-Man T-shirt to the film, eagerly awaiting the new wallcrawler.  His Peter Parker comes off as a regular 16-year-old should (and yes, the actor is actually 16 this time, no more attractive 30-somethings in teen roles).  Though I have seen two film series of the character in the last 10 years, I am eager to see this version expanded upon in his own solo movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, out in 2017

Overall, this is the Marvel movie for people who think these films are afraid to tackle mature issues. It is gritty, serious, and surprisingly realistic in its treatment of the subject matter, which was necessitated in order for this to work.  I don’t know if this will be a billion-dollar phenomenon, but I can say that this is exactly what Age Of Ultron should have been, and what DC’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice so desperately wanted to be.

Rated PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Violence, Action, and Mayhem

Tron: Legacy: Sequel to Disney Cult Classic has Great Visuals, But Generic Plot

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is mostly bad)

Tron Legacy Poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

In 1986, Disney released Tron, a film about a computer programmer (Jeff Bridges) getting zapped inside of a computer game and his quest to escape it.  Though the story and characters were criticized for their generic nature, the visuals pushed the boundaries for what could be done with a computer at that time, earning critical acclaim as well as a devoted cult fan base that waited hungrily for a sequel.  Their wish was granted in 2010 with Tron: Legacy, a film that suffers from the exact same problems as the original.  The visuals were top-notch in 2010 (and look fine to this day), but the story is ho-hum and the characters are forgettable. Tron: Legacy should entertain fans of the previous film, but will likely confuse or bore anyone else.

The film follows adrenaline junkie Sam Flynn (an emotionless Garrett Hedlund), son of legendary video game developer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges reprising his role). Sam spends his days parachuting off of buildings and being angsty about dad  disappearing on him 20 years ago.  Because I’m sure that the 10 year-old boys this movie appeals to will totally identify with a 20-something with daddy issues.  Anyway, Sam receives an unexpected visit from stand-in father figure Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner also returning) who informs him that a call was placed from his dad’s old office.  Because this number has been disconnected for 20 years, Sam decides to check the office out and see what’s going on.

Once there, he discovers the old Tron console along with the laser that blasted dad into the game all those years ago.  After putting 2 and 2 together, Sam blasts himself into the game and starts on a quest to find Kevin and bring him home.  Along the way, Sam befriends a program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde doing the best that she can) and discovers another named Clu (also Jeff Bridges), who has nefarious plans for the game world.

The best thing about this movie is its visual style. The visuals in the game are immediately eye-catching and unique.  I can admire the work that went into creating the world of Tron, as it likely took thousands of man hours to make everything look as cool as it does.  The action sequences are decently exciting, especially the motorcycle race frequently teased in the trailers.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have much else going for it. Jeff Bridges is having fun revisiting his character as well as playing a villain, easily standing out among the cast.  Unfortunately, the movie falls on newcomer Hedlund, who is unable to properly emote any of his lines.  I believe his extreme sports obsession, but could not buy him as a computer hacker in the slightest.  Also, Sam doesn’t seem very happy upon finding his dad, the supposed emotional moment of the film.  The two of them have a fun conversation, but I never get the sense that the character is excited to see his father again.  Hedlund has gone on to star in other films (his most recent being Pan, a financial embarrassment), but it is hard to tell if he or the script is to blame for his characterization.  Wilde does okay in her role, but this is her least engaging performance.

Though Hedlund isn’t exactly the next James Dean, the script he is given doesn’t give him a lot to work with. After a decently tense opening act, the movie drops the potential “thriller” aspect in exchange for a predictable sci-fi narrative. It’s as if the filmmakers put 95% of their time and effort into the world of Tron, and the other 5% into creating an interesting story within it.  Sam’s character arc is generic and predictable, and the religious metaphors near the end of the film are insultingly obvious.  I like the idea of a world within a computer, but this movie simply doesn’t do anything unique with it.

Disney seriously needs to revamp its live-action division, as many of their recent efforts (Maleficent, Into the Woods) have had fascinating ideas and great marketing, but fallen short of their potential.  A third film in this series was planned due to surprising box office success, but was cancelled after the financial embarrassment known as Tomorrowland (a film whose biggest detriment was its overly mysterious marketing campaign).  It was no classic, but it was a fun family action movie with a great message and cast (George Clooney, Hugh Laurie)

All in all, Tron: Legacy is a visually appealing, yet thematically dead movie that fails to meet its complete potential.  Rent it if you want some decent action, skip it otherwise.

Rated PG for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action Violence and Brief Mild Language