Tag Archives: film review

Terrible Reviews: A Dog’s Purpose (or, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying)


No, that’s not rain outside your window. My wife and I are just watching A Dog’s Purpose, and, well, let’s just say Noah didn’t see my flood of tears coming.

I haven’t wept like this since I first grasped mortality at the age of six.

Normally, I’d write a lot more, but we’ve been packing for three days straight; I’m exhausted and ninety percent brain dead. Verdict on the movie? If you want to walk around red-eyed and snot-nosed for the weekend, you know, maybe check it out.

Watch your step on the way out. My wife walked through bawling and I haven’t had the chance to get the mop. Mostly because I’m bawling myself.

This mini-post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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Pareidolia, Foie Gras, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2: A (sort of) Terrible Review


Have you ever been in the midst of a dream, and then realized that you were dreaming? You’re there, and you’re standing naked in front of the class, or you’re taking the stage and you’ve forgotten your lines, or you’re soaring in the sky with psychedelic dolphins or whatever, and it clicks: this isn’t real. It can’t be real. The world doesn’t work this way.

Suddenly, the dream is a lot less convincing. Probably you wake up. Or maybe you turn into Neo and you’re able to change the dream to suit your whims or something. Either way, it’s like one of those pareidolia images of faces in everyday objects: once you see it, there’s no unseeing it. You can’t ignore it and go back to believing that the dream was real.

pew-pew-pew

What’s all this about, then? Well, the wife and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last night. And about halfway through the film, like Neo in The Matrix, I woke up. Not that I had fallen asleep — no, as is Marvel’s wont, the action is cranked to eleven in this offering. Rather, I looked around. Noticed the seams on the walls, the jagged edges at the periphery, the hidden patterns in the carpet. And the spell was broken. I wasn’t just watching a movie anymore, I was in a world that I knew had been crafted deliberately, created to work surreptitiously on my subconscious.

(Spoiler note: This isn’t exactly a review, and there’s nothing explicitly spoiler-ific here. But if you’re planning on seeing it, and want to be able to immerse yourself fully, you might want to don your peril-sensitive sunglasses now.)

Now, sure, movies are designed to do this to you anyway. Hell, so are stories. Creators craft these things to manipulate your brain from top to bottom: telegraphing some story elements to invite you to make predictions. Playing to well-known tropes to help you find your footing in a strange world.

And GotG2 does that. But this isn’t that. I wasn’t discerning the hand of the creator in the brush strokes. Rather, I was discerning the hands of the studio execs molding the story externally as it was crafted. A whole new matrix within the matrix.

Here’s what I mean: Marvel’s using a pretty simple formula these days. Stories get bigger and bigger. Crazier, wilder villains (see: Doctor Strange doing battle with a god). Savvier, snarkier self-satirizing heroes (see: the entirety of Deadpool). And a sequel is always measured against the yardstick of the original.

And how do you make a sequel better than the original? Easy, you take the same characers, craft an entirely new storyline that plays to their developing relationships and strengths that tests them in all new ways, encouraging more growth, more development, more feels from the audience. Right? HA HA HA no. The way you make a sequel that plays as well as an original is you take everything the original does well and you do it more.

Don’t sweat the storyline so much: you’ve already got viewers baked-in. Just ratchet up the things they loved about the first movie. Give the funny characters more funny. Make the romantic tension a little more taut. Make the explosions even more explodey.

What made GotG1 so much fun — what audiences loved about it — were a few things. The old-school music soundtrack laid over a futuristic world. The irreverence. The niche-ifying of every character (there’s the snarky central guy, the badass no-nonsense chick, the brick-joke, doesn’t understand sarcasm or interactions in general dude, the jerk-store a-hole raccoon, the mute monster with a heart of gold. See also: Five-Man Band.)

And about halfway through the film, I realized that this film wasn’t actually doing what a sequel should do. There was very little new development. Not much added to the larger universe of which this story is a part. Instead, this movie was focus-grouped to make me want to watch it by giving me more of what I liked about the first one.

Let me not drive this into the ground: a few examples will prove the point.

Musclebound Drax, whose brick humor was the cornerstone of his character development (what, again, does he actually contribute to the team?) is tossing out even more deadpan sarcasm-proof jokes here, at what felt like a ratio of twelve-to-one over the original.

Angry little ball of sentient fur Rocket, in GotG1, made his place by throwing out sarcasm and lashing out when people called him a raccoon and just general dickery. His character development here: he’s a total a-hole to everybody, with at least two characters specifically pointing the fact out to him along the way.

And of course, the soundtrack is just as jarring in its strange setting, but there feels like even more of it, and it even becomes a focal point of the story itself: the central villain spins one of the songs into a metaphor for his own development. It’s well done, mind you. What at first seems like this big, romantic yen about wanderlust morphs into a twisted, sociopathic rejection of humanity (and all lifeforms in the galaxy, actually — readers of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will hear echoes of the denizens of Krikkit in the villain’s desire to wipe out everything in the universe that isn’t him).

There’s nothing wrong with any of the above. But once you hear the voice in your head — the voice that says “OH YOU ENJOYED THIS THING ABOUT THE ORIGINAL MOVIE? HERE HAVE MORE OF THAT THING” — you see it everywhere in this movie. Douglas Adams wrote brilliantly about humor that what makes it so lovely is its rarity. In the midst of a hot summer, you run out into a surprise thundershower for the joy of splashing around in the puddles, for the sprinkle of the rain on your face, because these things are rare and not happening every day. But when humor is everywhere — when it’s been raining for weeks and weeks, each day like the last, with no hint of the sun — the rain is a little less magical. GotG2 is like that: it’s a week-long deluge when what I really want is the surprise afternoon shower.

Put another way: they make foie gras by force-feeding geese until their stomachs explode. Having watched GotG2, it feels that I’ve been force-fed in the single aim of extracting more dollars from my wallet. And my stomach is near to bursting.

I say all that to say this: GotG2 is good fun. It’s perfect summer fare — lighthearted, action-packed. If you liked the first one, well, you’ll probably like the second one; not least of which for the reasons I’m talking about here. But if you miss the movie? Well, you’re not missing much.


Terrible Reviews: Rogue One (with bonus terrible review of a terrible review)


Whether the downplaying of the formidable cast’s charismatic energies is an intentional downplaying of the potential risk to the characters that they play—whether it’s a matter of not actually allowing viewers to get too attached to characters or actors, not allowing viewers to be bummed out by bad news but rather breezing past it in a spirit of fealty not to these characters or performers but to the franchise—is the kind of corporate Kremlinology that would rightly take the place of criticism in assessing the substance and tone of the movie.

That’s culled from Richard Brody’s review of Rogue One in The New Yorker, and holy crap. I mean, holy crap. That’s one sentence. One. I challenge you to read that sentence without going glassy-eyed.

But let me circle back to that review in a minute.

I saw Rogue One this weekend. It’s good. Overhyped, I felt, but then, what in the recent Star Wars universe isn’t a little bit overhyped?

The film sort of paints itself into a corner, though. It’s branded as a stand-alone chapter in the Star Wars Universe, not part of the saga, but just a story living in that particular story world. Which … kind of … okay, I guess? It was important that we learn how the rebellion got hold of the Death Star plans, maybe? I dunno. “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” was a bit too glib for some, I guess, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell the particular story of how they came by the plans.

Except, the story’s a bit too flat, a bit too pat, a bit too much rehashing of old tropes with not enough of the Star Wars sweeping grandiosity and magic for me. I know, I know. Rogue One‘s selling point is: no Jedi, no magic, no Skywalkers, no soup for you. Still. For me, it’s a bit of a miss, but one that still hits some targets — like aiming for that one stormtrooper that’s running right at you, but missing him and hitting the big crane behind him that dumps a big load of space rocks and crushes, like, five stormtroopers instead. Except then, you get shot down by that one stormtrooper, which is totally demoralizing, not just because you got blasted, but because you got blasted by a stormtrooper.

So let me explain (and here’s where I flash the big red SPOILER sign).

The best thing about the movie is Jyn.

Wait, scratch that. The best thing about the movie is Alan Tudyk’s K2S0, but if you’ve read any other reviews, you know that already. He’s Marvin, the Paranoid Android, of HHG2G renown, but with a healthy dose of ass-kickery thrown in for good measure, and he’s an absolute delight.

But yes, Jyn.

She’s the second heroine of the Star Wars Universe under the Disney regime, which is nice. Orphaned, scrappy, disillusioned, all par for the course; possessed of a convenient-but-not-gamebreaking skillset that will allow her to go far, but not without the help of some well-placed allies. Look, as a character, she’s fine. You’ll get no argument from me on Jyn, just like you’ll get no argument from me on Rey from TFA.

And I’ll go ahead and insert here the obligatory: the cast is diverse, which is a good thing. Female lead? Non-white males in major roles? Villains portrayed by the white dudes who would otherwise be excluded? Check, check, and check. Disney is making sure to show us that there are other things besides white guys in the galaxy. Some people might call that pandering, but for my money, there’s nothing forced about it. And that’s a welcome change.

The problem comes in, not with the actors playing the parts, but the characterization of  everybody else in the movie. I’ll be honest: I’ve entirely forgotten their names, and that’s not just because it’s two days after the fact and I’m up way past a martini. It’s because the characters are entirely forgettable.

There’s the captain of the ship, who’s tasked with bringing Jyn to a rebel leader for some help. He’s about as bland as they come, with hints of a dark past, but don’t go looking for any fleshing out of that dark past, because this is a stand-alone movie.

There’s the comedy-relief rock ’em sock ’em duo of Donnie Yen and another scraggly guy with a big heavy blaster. Yen is a blind monk who desperately wants to be in touch with the Force, and he kind of is, but not really? And his buddy is … well, he’s along for the ride, but we don’t particularly know why, and we won’t be finding out, because again, this is a stand-alone movie.

And there’s a defected Imperial pilot, who of course helps the ragtag band of adventurers sneak into the heart of the Empire to do the thing, and while it might be nice to find out why he defected or what he hopes to accomplish outside of suddenly-coming-to-his-senses-and-laying-down-his-life-for-the-good-guys, we won’t be finding that out either, because, as has been established, this is a stand-alone movie.

Look, it’s serious-spoilers-for-real time again, but remember how we established earlier that this movie painted itself into a corner? By dint of its placement (before episode IV, but after the prequels, which will not be mentioned) it practically shouts at you that none of these characters will have relevance outside of this movie. Which is shorthand for saying that they aren’t gonna make it out alive. I know, right? It’s a shock, except that it isn’t, because if Jyn and whoever the rest of these scrubs were actually played a role in the events that followed Rogue One, then where were they and why have we not heard of them in episodes IV through VI?

And therein lies the problem. We know from the start that they won’t be making it out of this — or even if they do, they retire to the edge of the galaxy and sip on blue milk for the rest of their lives — and so their stake outside of this movie is nil. Which means that, as far as an audience is invested in them, we have to make it count right away, right now, in this movie, in this moment.

But it doesn’t count. There’s no backstory for any of these guys except the standard Empire is evil, let’s band up and take them out because this is a movie and hey why not. Donnie Yen’s blind kung-fu master is awesome for a few fight scenes, but he gets himself killed because of course he does; he’s a blind man in the midst of a nutty laser battle. Then his buddy gets himself killed avenging Yen because what else is he gonna do? Imperial defector plays his role, too, and so does Captain NoName, and the bodies keep piling up.

Jyn, at least, has a lovely character arc established, and damn, if we don’t feel something when she goes. Problem is, what we feel is frustration, because we’ve been made to care about this heroine who then gets wiped off the table with all the ceremony of swatting a gnat.

So, Rogue One kinda sucks.

Except it doesn’t. It’s fantastically paced, visually striking (the overall drabness of the film as a whole contrasted with the final battle on a tropical beach planet? Superb), and witty — if mostly in the guise of the humble droid. It’s firing on many of the same cylinders as TFA, which, given it’s the second iteration of the franchise under Disney rule, isn’t surprising.

But TFA has something that Rogue One doesn’t, and that’s the give-a-fargo factor.

Rey and Finn, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Luke and Leia, Kylo Ren and Snoke? Yeah, I may be missing some backstory on some of them (*glares hard at Rey and her deliberately mysterious past*), but I know those details will be given to me in future chapters. These characters are woven from a larger tapestry, they expand beyond TFA, and that means I don’t mind being strung along a little in TFA because there’s a payoff coming. Jyn and captain guy, kung-fu dude and heavy blasters, K2s0 and imperial defector pilot? This is all we’re getting of them. There’s no more to come, so I’m not nearly as invested.

So, Rogue One, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t measure up to The Force Awakens. It just doesn’t. It’s a good Star Wars movie — I might even say it’s a decent movie in general — but TFA, for all its recycled tropes and paper-thin homages to the original films, is better in every phase of the game.

Still, Rogue One is way better than the prequels. Which isn’t much of a yardstick, but anyway.

Which brings me back to the review I quoted at the top.

The review is subtitled “Is It Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise,” and I know that the hotness these days is provocative, clickbait-y titles, but holy shark. Maybe The New Yorker‘s target demographic is a bit more intelligent than the average bear, but just try re-reading that sentence. Try it. That single sentence has more tentacles of dangling modifiers and criss-crossed clauses than Cthulhu, and more self-important verbal masturbation than Donald Trump’s twitter feed.

“Corporate Kremlinology”? “Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise”? Did I just watch another bit of fluff in the Star Wars Universe or a goldfingered treatise on socioeconomics in the alternate realities of a fascistic puppet regime?

Star Wars, for all that it’s a product of our times, and as such, has meaning beyond itself, and everything is symbolic, and yadda-yadda-English-teacher-babble blah blah blah. Fine and good. But sometimes? Sometimes we go to the movies to watch the rebels stick it to the Empire, whether the narrative is “perfect” or not, whether the movie delivers in all respects or not.

So can we maybe cool it on the microscopic overanalysis of a film which is, at its heart and core, just a bit of fluff and filler? A plate of cheesesticks and mozarella, delivered to us to keep Star Wars in our hearts in anticipation of ep VIII next year? THINGS DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO MEAN THINGS.

TFA is a more perfect piece of the Star Wars Universe than Rogue One. It handles its characters better, it plays on the motifs of the saga and panders to its audience better. It’s a bloody fantastic aperitif for the banquet that looks to be in the making. (I watched it again this afternoon. It’s still awesome. When Ren freezes that laser blast in the beginning? The literal darkness overtaking Ren before he kills his father? Rey summoning Luke’s lightsaber right past Ren before their climactic duel? I STILL GET CHILLS.)

But that doesn’t mean that Rogue One is part of the prequel dumpster fire. It isn’t. It’s savvy and sharp and compelling like TFA, it’s got shout-outs and nods to the old, grizzled fans like myself while delivering enough of its own punch to stand outside of the saga as a whole, albeit less strongly than I’d like.

All of which is to say, it’s not a perfect film, by any stretch. But it’s a damned good time, a thrilling bit of escapism. And given the 2016 we’ve all been having, a bit of escapism is exactly what we need, no matter how flawed.

I give it three out of four Imperial AT-AT Walkers in smoldering ruin.

Constrained by a flat and inexpressive script, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” lets neither its characters nor even its special effects come to life.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN OLLEY / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES / LUCASFILM LTD. / EVERETT

Anyway. I know some people out there (including my dad!) think that Rogue One is basically the best thing to come out of Star Wars, but it didn’t do it for me. Your thoughts?


Terrible Reviews: Deadpool


I can’t say I was dying to see Deadpool. It wasn’t even necessarily on my list of films to check out when they hit DVD. But it was Valentine’s Day weekend, my wife and I had the kids out of the house for a few days, and we needed something to do in public that made us feel like adults.

Short of going bar-hopping and ending with our heads in the gutters, there’s not a ton of stuff for a couple of crazy kids like my wife and I to do without driving to downtown Atlanta, which is not a thing we undertake unless we must. We decided to check out the latest Marvel offering instead. The reasoning went thusly:

(One of us, can’t remember who): I guess we could go to a movie.

Wife: What’s out that’s worth seeing?

Me: I dunno. I’ve heard interesting things about Deadpool.

Wife: What’s that?

Me: The new Marvel superhero movie. It’s about a guy who basically can’t die or something, I think.

Wife: Who’s in it?

Me: Ryan Reynolds.

Wife: SURE WE CAN SEE THAT

And so we ended up in a packed house the day before Valentine’s Day seeing the most buzzworthy film since Star Wars. And we really should have done some more research first. Not because we couldn’t handle the film, but because we weren’t properly prepared for it. You know how you like to have an idea that it’s fifteen degrees out before you crack the front door? Not because you can’t handle a blast of cold air to the privates or anything like that (what, you don’t open your front door naked in the morning?), but you want to know what you’re stepping into.

Deadpool is not for the faint of heart.

Here’s a film that knows exactly what it is, and exactly what it’s trying to do. It’s raunchy, irreverent, self-aware, and it pulls no punches. There’s gratuitous and excessive filthy language. There’s boobs and butts and … let’s just say unconventional sex. There’s straight-up murder perpetrated by the “hero” (though he does disclaim himself as “not a hero” pretty immediately). And I have no problem with any of those things! I just wasn’t prepared for it as I bought the ticket — I hadn’t even known it was rated R.

Which is entirely my own fault. And I do have some thoughts about Marvel suddenly releasing such a balls-to-the-wall, potentially offensive movie like this, when most of its product lives squarely in the PG-13 arena, but that’s a post for another time. For today, we’re here for the review, so let’s dive in.

This is the part where the review gets spoilery, so be forewarned. I’ll also disclaim that I know nothing about the character or the story outside of the film. I don’t read comic books. So if I’m missing out on some of the inside jokes … well, whatever.

What’s Good:

The writing and the central construct. Deadpool (the character) knows he’s starring in a movie. He regularly breaks the fourth wall to speak with the audience. He knows our expectations for the superhero movie we’re watching and he takes great joy in subverting those expectations. This little device could easily turn campy were it a thing the film simply dabbled in, but the writers don’t dabble — they throw us into the ocean. The film pretends to be about a guy who finds himself imbued with superpowers who must then go on to right a great injustice and save his girl into the mix, but it’s really about the sharp-witted protagonist taking us on a wild ride and messing with us every step of the way. It’s different, it’s fresh, and it works.

Feminism! One of the film’s central heroes is a young recruit at the X-Men academy (yeah, it’s a crossover, I didn’t know that either). She’s not gorgeous, she’s not troubled and fighting for revenge, she’s not that blightedly cliched Strong Female Character. She’s a grouchy teenager who’s a lot more interested in her phone than in saving the world; she just also happens to kick a serious amount of ass when she jolly well decides to feel like it. Likewise, one of the antagonists sort of fits into the same mold. Essentially she’s a lab assistant to the big bad, which lends itself to a certain set of traits by default. She’s nastyish and unsettling, but it’s not like, “oh, this is a woman who’s filling the role of a sadistic torturer,” rather it’s just “That character is messed up … I wonder what horrible thing she’s going to do next.” And then she ends up beating the hell out of a dude made of metal — with her fists.

So many films looking to get good female characters in there (as well they should) feel the need to justify every aspect of the character. This is why she’s strong, this is why she’s not afraid of men, this is where she still gets together with her girlfriends to get good and sloshed on a weeknight after she’s done saving the world. And that’s fine — but it often comes across as too much. Paper Towns was a good (or rather, abominable) example of this. They worked so hard to make the central female compelling and interesting that it all felt forced and ridiculous, ultimately stretching my credulity until I wanted to use the DVD as a drink coaster rather than finish the second half of the film. (I still finished the movie, though, because apparently I’m a glutton for punishment.) The women of Deadpool — with one notable exception — just are who they are, and that makes them so much more compelling.

The Not-So-Good:

(Lack of) Feminism! While the film’s peripheral women are outstanding, the central woman is a big swing-and-a-miss. She falls into the “Cool Girl” trap as outlined in Gone Girl: she’s that too-perfect combination of everything guys want. She’s quick with a geek-culture reference, down-to-earth enough to knock back beers with the guys, and just freaky enough in the sack to make you a little uncomfortable. Ryan Reynolds’s character remarks at one point something to the effect of: “did I create you with a computer?” This is maybe a little bit self-referential on the part of the writers, but still. The film’s climax happens because she essentially gets stuffed into a fridge. For a film which seems so savvy about the genres it’s toying with, the character is a bland disappointment.

Where’d that character go? The aforementioned bad ass sidekick woman literally just disappears from the film in its closing moments. One moment she’s fighting with the X-Men, then she gets beaten while Deadpool is up finishing off the Big Bad, and the next moment the film is over and my wife and I looked at each other and said, “but what happened to what’s-her-name?” (I saw the movie a week ago, okay? I’ve forgotten ninety percent of it.) It’s not like she vanished in a ooh-I-wonder-what-she’s-going-to-do-in-the-sequel way, it’s more like the filmmakers forgot to resolve this character in any way whatsoever. An unfortunately jarring note at the end of the film.

It’s Kinda Boring. To be fair, the film is much more about the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking, not-your-average-superhero taking you on a ride than it is about the “superhero story” itself. Problem is, the film is still centered around that “superhero story.” Average guy acquires superpowers. Superpowers are awesome but they kinda ruin the guy’s social life. Superhero must find a way to balance superpowers with the life he wants to lead, and oh yeah, has to deal with a villain who threatens to ruin his personal life further. The tropes are stretched awfully thin, and again, in a film which really delivers in some other areas, for the plot to be so picked-over is a disappointment.

The Verdict:

Shortcomings aside, the movie is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s witty and sharp, and pokes fun at itself and its entire genre with hilarious abandon. If you like superhero movies, and you can stomach the f-word in large quantities and more than a few dick jokes and other perversions, it’s worth checking out.

Just don’t take your kids.

To the best of my knowledge, all images above are the property of 20th Century Fox.


Terrible Review: Jurassic World


Who doesn’t love a good monster movie? I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but I hope you’ll forgive me. Finding childcare to go to the movies while my wife is working full-time is not the easiest of tasks, but we finally did it, and got the chance to sneak away and see the film we’ve been dying to see all summer.

Jurassic Park 3 v. 1.2: THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL

Er, I mean, Jurassic World.

This is the part where I’d usually say something like “there be spoilers ahead”, but seeing as the movie has been out for, what, like six weeks now? It’s on you if you are trying to stay unspoiled and ended up here. Instead, this is me being extremely upfront about NOT saying “spoiler alert.” Totally not saying it.

Let me say upfront that I had mixed feelings about going to see this film from the first trailer. I mean, I saw this promotional image:

And my first thought was, so the raptors are allowing Starlord to ride a bike within scenting distance — hell, within shredding distance — and they haven’t served him up with a side of motorcycle tires? How am I supposed to take this seriously? But then I remembered that I was going to a blockbuster summer film, and “taking it seriously” was the last thing I should be doing. It’s got Chris Pratt, and that one girl from that one movie (Zero Dark Thirty, right?) (I’m kidding, I know she isn’t Jessica Chastain) (but only because I leaned over to my wife during the film and made a joke about how she might find Osama in one of the dinosaur caves, and she was all like “you know that’s not Jessica Chastain, right?). I loved Jurassic Park the first, I didn’t mind Jurassic Park the second, and I don’t even remember Jurassic Park the third (it had pterodactyls or something, maybe), so this one was guaranteed to at least hold my interest for the space of an afternoon.

Well, buckle up, and spray yourself down with anti-raptor juice. You didn’t bring your anti-raptor juice? Oh. Well… just stand downwind, I guess.

What’s Awesome?

  • The special effects. No, really. Perhaps the computer-generated Indominus Rex and its less invented-name kin lack some of the magic of the practical robots and puppets from the original, but things have come a long way from the pseudo-lizard CGI monstrosity sloppily hacked into the streets of San Diego in The Lost World. The only moment I had where I thought, boy, that looked fake was toward the opening, where they had an extreme close-up of a hatchling busting out of an egg. Aside from that, everything looked really well done, and more importantly, was edited smoothly into the scene and cleanly acted by the cast to give it all a seamless appearance.
  • The Top-Billed Cast. Chris Pratt’s performance is charming and charismatic as ever, while disparate enough from his showing in Guardians of the Galaxy to show some range, which is nice. Bryce Dallas Howard and her high heels started off obnoxious but then sort of grew on me not unlike a series of barnacles on a moored ship, and I’m not sure if that’s a result of the writing or the actress. Either way, a pleasant surprise. I also felt that their inevitable love connection, while obligatory by dint of their presence in said summer blockbuster franchise, had its share of chemistry. I didn’t hate them together, is what I’m saying, not that I went to see this film looking for the love story angle.
  • The Showdown. This film, perhaps more than the others, follows the Big Bad construct — the one major villain that everybody must band together to stand against. For comparison, the first film was kind of about the danger of dinosaurs as a whole (the raptors had some kills, the T-Rex had some kills, and that one thing with the umbrella on its head got to eat Newman); the second film had a lot of human antagonists (the bald guy trying to up the wow-factor by opening a park in San Diego… and screwing it up by unleashing the T-Rex on the city, and don’t forget bumbling paleontologist Julianne Moore who seriously makes every mistake ever); and the third film was… god, who even remembers? Pterodactyls, right? …Anyway, everything in this film is tied to the Indominus Rex, a genetic invention that (of course) gets loose and wreaks hell on the park. The film ends with not just humans banding together, but the other dinosaurs on the island getting a piece as well. Believable? Fargo, no. But fun as hell.
  • The Comic Relief. Some might argue that there was too much of it, but I found myself laughing out loud just when tension reached a high point due to what I felt was some brilliant comic relief. The bit parts played by Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame) and Lauren Lapkus (of Orange is the New Black) were glittering gems of giggles for me, but Pratt and Howard had their moments too. The director struck a nice balance between showing just how fargoed the park was and not taking himself too seriously to have a good time.

What’s Not So Awesome?

  • The supporting cast. Outside of the two leads, name a character and they’re pretty awful. The kids? Wanted to shoot them. The military dude trying to subvert the project and turn dinosaurs into a weapon? Completely one dimensional and boring; he might as well have been twirling an oiled mustache rather than lugging around his ridiculous gut. The parents outside the park? Snore. I can’t even figure out why these characters are present. There’s a subplot about the parents getting divorced, but really, who gives a sharknado? I can barely bring myself to care about the obligatory romance between Generic Male Lead and Generic Female Lead, I can’t be bothered with an offscreen relationship on the rocks.
  • The gimmicks. Okay, remember a while ago when I said you can’t take a film like this seriously precisely because it’s a big summer blockbuster? Yeah, that only goes so far, because a film still has to maintain its audience’s willful suspension of disbelief. This film takes that and chucks it out the goldfingered window.
    • The gyrosphere.Nope, uh-uh, no way. A free-rolling, user-operated pinball amongst dinosaurs that are probably better than five tons? Forget it. They take this thing under the feet of (what I think were) brontosauri, five stories tall. The liability would be crushing. Not to mention how inefficient it seems for the sheer number of visitors to the park. And all it takes is a few beers (don’t pretend they aren’t selling alcoholic beverages at the park) and you’ve got a couple of drunk rednecks playing Atlasphere with these things. Oh, you don’t remember Atlasphere?
    • Kayaks. Down the river. Again, around the feet of dinosaurs who, if spooked or upset or even simply careless, could crush a person like godzilla crushes cars. I don’t care how neat the idea is, it would never, ever, ever happen.
    • Raptors in formation with the motorcycle. I mentioned it already, and yeah, I get it; they’re trained, he’s the Alpha, and it’s that eye-catching WOW moment from the preview. But, sorry, no. Ask Siegfried and Roy how things go when you get ONE well-trained animal in a semi-controlled environment, and then ask them if they’d take a platoon of somewhat-trained flesh-eaters out on a HUNTING MISSION. By all means, send the raptors, but if I’m the trainer I’ll be leading the hunt from an armored vehicle, thanks very much.
  • The mini-reversal. Toward the end of the film, while the raptors are out on the hunt for the big game, they track it down, move in for the kill, and … suddenly they start talking to it — in dinosaur chirps and clicks, mind you — before they turn on their human caretakers. Because the Big Bad “had some raptor in him.” Look — the Indominus was enough of a stretch to begin with: Camouflage? Check. Ability to control its body temperature to fool thermal cameras? Check. Mental capacity to stage an elaborate prison break? Check. More teeth than an alligator with dental implants? Check. And I know that things have to go “from bad to worse”, but by that point, the park is a smoldering ruin, the body count is in the hundreds, and the movie is already at the hour and a half mark. You just don’t need the raptors joining up with the Big Bad. And to make it even dumber, THEY TURN RIGHT BACK after they dispatch the military guys because of course they do.

What’s Hard to Quantify?

  • The science. This is a sticking point for lots of critics of the film. I don’t think it is for me. Because if you start with the premise of reanimating dinosaurs after millions of years of extinction, nothing is too much of a stretch. (Splice them with frog DNA? Lizard DNA? Potato DNA? Why not?) For me, I think every film in the franchise is monster flick first, science-fiction imaginarium second, but some don’t see it that way, and would like to see the film being more scientifically sound. Bollocks, I say. Who cares if raptors were nowhere near the size they are in the film, or if a lizard the size of Indominus would never be able to support its own weight? THEM DINOSAWRZ ARE SCARY IN THE MOVIE.
  • The kids. Why does the franchise keep involving kids in the movies? The only time the kids didn’t suck bowling-ball sized eggs was in the first film. (I still laugh my donk off seeing the little blond kid get blasted off the high-voltage fence.) Since then, what have we had? An adopted gymnast whose gymnastic training allows her to best a raptor in hand-to-hand combat? Shenanigans! Some kid who managed to survive in the wilderness with dinosaurs for several weeks using… what, his charm? (Seriously, I don’t remember the third movie at all.) And now this film, with the nerdy kid whose encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs helps him NONE, and the goofy-looking older brother who shamelessly makes eyes at every teenage female within groping distance despite his girlfriend at home who totally loves him?Seriously, we know this isn’t the kind of movie where they’re going to let a dinosaur eat the younger-than-adult familial relations of one of the lead characters, so why are they even here? Just to get traumatized and make me want to stab their eyes? Maybe this kind of stakes-raising works for some in the audience, but not me. The only way they do work is by making Claire scramble and find her inner high-heel wearing badass to save them, but even that’s kind of a cop-out. I think it’d be more compelling if she just released the beast without having family members thrown into a fridge first.

The Verdict:

Shortcomings aside, this film was easily the most fun I’ve had at the cinema since the raw we’re-having-fun-in-here-and-you-can-either-come-with-us-or-gtfo-who-cares-if-it-makes-sense whimsy of Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate to compare this film to that; it feels lazy seeing as they share the same star. But summer movies should be, above all else, enjoyable and action-packed and visually impressive, and Jurassic World fits the bill on all counts.

And you don’t even have to have seen the prior films to understand anything going on with this one. But honestly, who hasn’t seen the prior films, or at least the original Jurassic Park? Sidenote: I recently learned that my own father, who is responsible for much of my education in blockbuster film, hasn’t seen it. So… yeah. Seriously, just go see it.

All images are property of Universal Pictures. Except for that one from American Gladiators, which is property of MGM Worldwide.


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