Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

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Dinosaurs have been appearing in cinema since the early 1900s. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the extinct creatures were fully made alive in the eyes of moviegoers. The first Jurassic Park made dinosaurs appear as real creatures; it really did look like a Tyrannosaurus Rex was standing next to a person. From there, we got The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and then Jurassic Park III. Dinosaurs would appear in other movies as well – such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Land of the Lost. But, the Jurassic Park name always carries the connotation as the “true” dinosaur film. Naturally, as with Star Wars, a popular franchise will almost always make a return. Jurassic World released in 2015, 14 years after the third film, and became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. As of publishing, Jurassic World is the fifth highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. That is certainly an accomplishment, and shows that people will always have a fascination and enjoyment for the dinos.

However, making great money doesn’t mean you’re a great film. Jurassic World was decent enough, but was hindered by flat characters. Many of the mediocre aspects of that movie unfortunately return for its sequel, Fallen Kingdom. There are some great concepts, but it seems like the film was too busy trying to make the audience laugh than tell a complex story. The tone often lacks seriousness. Still, some credit has to be given. There is at least one outstandingly emotional scene, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is vastly improved. The climax has some inventive moments. Also, unlike the first Jurassic World, there is at least one interesting human antagonist. But, as a whole, Fallen Kingdom is a stereotypical summer blockbuster: unrealistic “funny” dialogue, an often non-serious tone when one is needed, and characters with no true development. Although far superior to films like Battleship and the recent Independence Day: Resurgence, Fallen Kingdom rarely achieves excellence.

As stated, the story has some great concepts. So, the setting for act one is on Isla Nublar, where the Jurassic World theme park was held before the Indominus Rex incident. Now, it’s just an island full of dinosaurs. However, the volcano is on the verge of erupting, forcing the government to consider an intriguing question: should dinosaurs be given the same rights as other endangered animals? Ultimately, the decision is to let the volcano destroy the island. Claire Dearing isn’t keen on letting that happen, however. With resources from Eli Mills, she sets out with ex-boyfriend Owen Grady to rescue the dinos from extinction. Sadly, it turns out to be a fake mission, as Mills wishes to sell the dinosaurs, thus turning them into weapons. Claire and Owen aren’t going to stand around and let that happen, however..

Two things should stick out from that plot summary. First, there’s the debate of whether the government should protect the dinosaurs from the volcano eruption. The second thing is selling the creatures, and making them into weaponized forces. These are intriguing concepts, and under the direction of someone who takes the happenings seriously and grimly, we could have gotten an engaging tale. But, Director J. A. Bayona delivers a film that seems to be set on just being another action blockbuster with no passion, no heart. Jokes and sarcasm are used in deadly situations, as if people would actually talk that way in these scenarios.

Chris Pratt’s portrayal of Owen is enjoyable, but generic – there’s nothing that sets him apart as being special. (Give him a leather jacket and a blaster, and he’s Star Lord.) Claire’s best scenes are in the beginning. She displays a genuine concern for the dinosaurs. Owen and Claire have better chemistry here than in the first Jurassic World, but why were they broken up in the beginning? Owen apparently had stopped caring about dinosaurs. But after a couple of conversations with Claire, he’s back and it’s like their break-up never happened. (Of course, we do get another kiss.) This break-up backdrop added nothing to the story.

As for new characters, there’s Franklin Webb and Dr. Zia Rodriguez. Franklin is the comic relief smart guy, and that’s it. Some of his lines and quirks are humorous (I particularity smirked at the bug spray scene), but it’s obvious he’s there just for comedy. In a movie that often lacks a grim tone, a constant comedic character is not going to help. Worst however, is Velma from Scooby-Doo Zia. Now, Zia may look uncannily like Velma, but her personality is the opposite. Zia is bold and brash. Okay, but what does she actually do in the movie? Much of her dialogue comes off as completely unrealistic. It’s almost as if the director gave Daniella Pineda the script and said, “Say these lines in the snappiest way possible.” So, who is she, what’s her story outside of being a doctor? Does she have development? Nope to all that, she’s pretty much there just to be a character with an annoying attitude.

There are a few antagonists, with the primary one being Mills. Well, he was boring. He had some interesting dialogue with Claire late in the film, when he compared his work to her’s, but that’s about it. I don’t think anyone will be remembering him. The best villain was easily Gunnar Eversol, portrayed by Toby Jones. Jones is no stranger to playing antagonists, having portrayed Arnim Zola in Captain America: The First Avenger and David Pilcher in the Wayward Pines TV series. He brings that subtle, villainous charisma to Fallen Kingdom. One of the most entertaining scenes was the “dinosaur auction,” and it’s primarily thanks to Eversol. He should have been the main antagonist, with Mills playing the secondary role. Ken Wheatley is another antagonist, but sadly not noteworthy.

A character who deserves mention is Maisie. She was likable. There is one scene in the film when she discovers something tragic, and she hides. She’s smartly silent, but tears are rolling down her face. It’s a genuinely emotional scene. There is an intriguing plot twist regarding her that’s revealed late in the film. It’s interesting, but comes out of left field, and doesn’t really go anywhere. Hopefully this is a focus of the next movie.

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The dinosaurs are the stars, as usual. There’s a fantastic sequence when the volcano is erupting, and a Carnotaurus gets into a skirmish with a Sinoceratops. After the Sinoceratops leaves, the Carnotarus is soon killed by the T-Rex, who gets a fantastic roaring shot. The way the dinosaurs move in this movie comes off as realistic; it’s always a treat when they are on screen. The new dinosaur, the Indoraptor, is good, and its scenes are always intense. But, it does come off as a retread, because it’s pretty much a smaller Indominus Rex.

Going back to the eruption, the most well done and impactful scene of the movie is when the camera pans to a lone dinosaur that had been left on the island. Owen and Claire look sadly at the creature as it roars and eventually disappears into the smoke. It’s a haunting, emotional scene. What really hits home is that it hammers in the fact that dinosaurs are not fantastical monsters – they are just large creatures. Godzilla is a monster, a creature that can withstand even molten lava. That isn’t the case with dinosaurs, so there is a sympathy for these creatures as they run from the volcano. The climax is intense, and Blue (the main Raptor from the first Jurassic World) is a standout character. The climax is not as exciting as the T-Rex against Indominus Rex battle in the previous film, however. The soundtrack is generic, with only a few highlights. The Indoraptor does get a great theme in the climax.

There is nothing wrong with having a “fun” tone. Many films succeed by having a constantly fun, exciting atmosphere. But, it just doesn’t work when there’s an inconsistency. Fallen Kingdom tries to be dark at times, but it’s hindered by comedy and flat characters. Compare this film to 2014’s Godzilla. Director Gareth Edwards took the material seriously, with no obvious comedy. Pacific Rim was lighter in tone in comparison to Godzilla, but Director Guillermo del Toro still took the material seriously, and delivered a mostly engaging story. Fallen Kingdom would have benefited from a more serious direction. Can you imagine how great it would have been if the film went deeper into the subjects of dinosaur rights, and weaponizing the creatures? Fallen Kingdom is instead a film trying to be an enjoyable ride, and in the process, loses any special identity that could set itself apart from the other films in the series.

Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom can be enjoyable. Some sequences are genuinely funny, such as when Owen and Claire attempt to extract blood from the T-Rex. The dino scenes are always intense and fun, and there’s an emotional backdrop during the end of the first act thanks to the erupting volcano. The film can be called fun. But, a “fun” film is not always a “good” film. Many of the Marvel movies have pulled this off with stellar results. Fallen Kingdom does not pull it off. It is a film with unique ideas, but ironically, the outcome is a generic product.

5.5/10

 

Avengers: Infinity War Review

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The Russo Brothers have used the term “heist” to describe what Avengers: Infinity War looks like. Indeed, there are feelings of a race against the clock as the heroes try and stop the mad titan Thanos from acquiring all the Infinity Stones. Like the best heist films, the films moves at an expert pace with characters one enjoys watching. Of course, Infinity War is more than a heist movie. It is the culmination of 10 years of film making. It all began in 2008’s Iron Man, when Nick Fury walked from out of the shadows to tell Tony Stark, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.” From there, the Marvel Cinematic Universe became one of the most notable franchises in the history of film.

Infinity War grabs almost all the major characters -the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man- and puts them in a universe-shaking situation. Few films have combined so many characters in a connected continuity. One of the earliest examples is 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, which grabbed all the famous kaiju at that point for a world-shaking story. Infinity War however is built upon 18 movies. Everything begins to culminate here. With so many characters running around, it would be difficult to keep the picture from collapsing under its own weight. The Russo Brothers have proved masterful with an ensemble cast, as seen two years ago in Captain America: Civil War. While Infinity War doesn’t exceed Civil War or The Russo Brothers’ other MCU film, The Winter Solider, Infinity War is nonetheless a crowning achievement in entertainment.

You might hear the complaint that most of the characters aren’t fleshed out in this movie. That would be a foolish complaint however, because Infinity War features many characters whom have appeared multiple times. We know who these characters are already, so there’s no need to spend too much time on deepening their personas. The Russo Brothers do not make this film accessible for newcomers; it doesn’t have to be. The story is the culmination of a plot that began in The Avengers. With that said, the film does amazingly manage to continue character arcs seen in previous movies, which is a feat in itself. The dynamic between Tony and Pepper is touched upon, and the romance between Peter Quill and Gamora is brought to a center focus in a couple of spots.

With so many characters, many would think it inevitable that some would get the shaft. But the Russo Brothers manage to give every character a moment to shine. Even when it does feel like a major character is missing for awhile, when he/she does return to the screen, it’s a notable appearance. For a primary example of this, after Steve Rogers has his entrance (one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the film) and a couple of other small appearances, there’s this long stretch of the runtime where he’s missing. But when when the movie does return to him, it’s good stuff.

Chris Evans’ portrayal of Captain America was fantastic in Civil War, and it’s tempting to say his portrayal here exceeds it. Cap has always been a serious character, but here there’s truly no sense of irony or comedy coming from him in Infinity War. Two scenes come to mind to highlight this portrayal. A little early on, Cap tells Thunderbolt Ross that he will fight Ross if the latter chooses to stand in his way. (One can see Cap’s internal anger with the Sokovia Accords here, and his alienation with the government.) Later, as the war against Thanos’ forces is about break out, we see Cap (alongside T’Challa and Black Widow) talking with Proxima Midnight of Thanos’ Black Order. As Cap stands firm, and says that what the Black Order wants is not going to happen, there’s such a great nobility coming from Cap. Evans really shows that Cap is the greatest of all the heroes in every scene he’s in.

Because the MCU began with Iron Man, it makes sense that Tony would get a substantial amount of screen time. Robert Downy Jr. is given the usual sarcastic dialogue, but there’s an engaging seriousness to Tony’s character arc. We see early on that he cares for his future with Pepper, and later when he knows that the universe really is at stake. There’s a scene late in the movie when he’s shouting to Star-Lord not to give into rage. It’s brief, but it does the best in showing Tony’s passion in wanting to put a stop to Thanos. Speaking of Tony shouting at Quill, one of the highlights of Infinity War was seeing characters whom have never interacted together. Tony’s dialogue with Dr. Strange was fun, and Thor alongside Rocket Raccoon was a humorous dynamic. Thor was great in this movie too. One of the most powerful scenes was when he volunteered into what was dubbed “suicide” in order to buy enough time near the climax  of the film.

Two major highlights are Thanos and Gamora. This is by far Zoe Saldana’s most compelling portrayal of Gamora. This is because she has a very emotional character arc that runs through a good chunk of the movie. She being the daughter of Thanos made for a fascinating dynamic. Every scene with Gamora and Thanos was five star quality. There’s anger, and sadness in Gamora that shows when she is discussing Thanos, whether it be with Quill, or the Titan himself. Gamora is a character haunted by her parentage. Out of all the heroes, she might have been the most compelling. One of the most powerful scenes was the flashback of when Gamora, as a little girl, was taken in by Thanos. The writing in that sequence was wonderful.

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This brings us to the Titan himself. The MCU has had a problem with villains. Quite a few of them – Malekith, Darren Cross, Killian – come off as one-note and forgettable. Thanos is neither one-note nor forgettable. Thanos’ goal is to erase half the universe’s population. But it is not because he’s “bad” in the sense of just killing for the fun of it, but because he’s attempting to bring an equilibrium to the universe. He states at one point during the film that there is a finite amount of resources in the universe, so one must have the will to do what needs to be done, and in his mind, the thing to do is to get rid of half the population.

Perhaps the best sequence explaining his reasoning is when he relates his backstory to Dr. Strange, showing that his planet was once a paradise. But, there were too many people and not enough resources. So, Thanos’ told the elders his plan: wipe out half the planet’s people. He was deemed mad, but in the end, the planet died. In his mind, Thanos was proven right. Because of that, there is an unwavering conviction that drives him. Thanos is the most compelling antagonist in a comic book film since Heath Ledger’s the Joker from The Dark Knight.

There are of course other characters whom have not been mentioned, most of them good. Spider-Man is mostly engaging. Like in Civil War, where he brought up The Empire Strikes Back for an analogy of a plan of attack, he uses his pop culture knowledge again here for a fun sequence. Another brief, but excellent exchange of dialogue was between Spidey and Quill, discussing Footloose as the so called best movie of all time. Speaking of Quill, Star-Lord is fun for the most part. His exchange with Tony, “Let’s talk about this plan of yours. I think it’s good, except it sucks” was good. There is a scene later in the film that many might groan at. One can argue that Quill was being human, but with the high stakes and everything happening, it came off as more annoying than anything. Meanwhile, teenage Groot gets one compelling scene late in the film, but that’s it; everything else that comes before makes the viewer wonder why the much more compelling adult Groot isn’t back yet.

T’Challa was a highlight. Chadwick Boseman commands every scene he’s in as the Black Panther. There’s passion from T’Challa as he demonstrates his ability to lead. This is evident in the buildup to the big war sequence against Thanos’ army. Quite a few other characters appear, such as Bucky and M’Baku. They aren’t given many notable scenes, but contribute in the scenes there are in. Scarlet Witch is engaging, and her new relationship with Vision is interesting. Their dynamic takes a center focus in the climax, and it was well done emotionally. The Black Order, while not given much of a character arc, served their purpose well enough as servants believing Thanos to be enacting a righteous cause.

There is one character that sadly detracts to the story, so much so that he really took it out of the viewer in almost every scene he’s in. That character is Bruce Banner. It would be good to briefly touch upon the history here. In 2008’s The Inedible Hulk, Banner was played by Edward Norton. It was a solid performance, but Norton did not return for The Avengers, and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo proved to be a fantastic replacement. He had charisma, and it seemed like his dynamic with Hulk was at its peak; Banner proudly states, “I’m always angry,” in that he’s able to bring out the Hulk at will. That was reversed out of nowhere in Age of Ultron, where there was this melodramatic character arc of him not being able to control the Hulk anymore. Bruce reappears in Thor: Ragnarok, and is little more than a comedic character, meanwhile the Hulk has an annoying child-like persona. But at least Hulk fought when it counted and felt important to the conflict. That doesn’t happen in Infinity War.

After the opening sequence, Hulk doesn’t return, and refuses to come out, despite Banner telling him to. Banner is mostly a comic relief character, delivering unbelievable lines and just detracting from the overall atmosphere. His (and Hulk’s) portrayal is so bad, the thought, “What were they thinking?” crosses one’s mind. Banner doesn’t contribute much to the story, and Hulk comes across as weak. It’s a sad time for Hulk fans.

There is a lot of great action in this film. A lot of is divided into a few different set pieces. Everyone will have their favorite team-up battle, but every battle brought something to the table in terms of pure comic book fun. The war sequence at Wakanda was appropriately intense, and the characters’ stand against Thanos was both epic, and emotional. Who can forget Cap giving it his all as he tries to hold back Thanos? Granted, there isn’t a singular action sequence that can match up against the famous airport battle in Civil War. But to be fair, it is hard to top that one. No one should be disappointed with the action, because every character gets to be a part of it. The actual build-up to the action scenes are also excellent. Early on, a Black Order ship touches down on New York City, and chaos ensures. The scenes of people running, and Tony walking outside to see what’s happening, were some of the best parts of the film.

Like other MCU films, Infinity War has scenes whose goal is to generate laughter from the audience. Most of it is fine, and flows naturally. (As opposed to unnaturally in Thor: The Dark World.) The humor is rarely overdrawn (aside from Banner scenes), with only one scene in particular taking it out of the viewer, where Drax on the ship apparently has mastered the art of standing still. But overall, Infinity War’s tone is almost always consistent. The soundtrack is what you would expect from this type of blockbuster. While technically generic, the themes nonetheless work for the scenes and help to make them extra important. One notable theme is the usage of violin in the final part of the opening scene, as Thanos acquires one of the Infinity Stones. The violin helps to elevate the scene to one of a poetic nature.

The Verdict

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Infinity War has an ensemble cast of fantastic characters, and a compelling antagonist. The story features a universe in peril, and big action scenes. It is the definition of a comic book made into a production. There are so many moments throughout that will get a smile out of the viewer. It’s a well paced story with a unique heist element. Not everything is perfect. The character of Bruce Banner is continually mishandled, and his dynamic with Hulk was painful to watch. The humor is mostly good. All in all, there’s too much to like in this movie, and it makes sure to leave viewers clamoring for the fourth Avengers movie.

9/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

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Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s surprise hit. The characters were relatively unknown to the general public until the film came out in 2014. Now everyone knows “I am Groot” and Rocket Raccoon’s constant sarcasm. Though having a grand outer space backdrop, the film was about different characters coming together and forming a team – or better, a family. The concept of family continues on in the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Anticipation was high, and with Ego the Living Planet as the antagonist, one expects a grand sequel. Sadly, though it has some of the things that made the first film great, Vol. 2 is a mediocre sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has an exciting climax that ends with a  genuinely emotional sequence. The last 30 minutes makes the viewer forget about any mediocre things prior to the final act. Of course, as a reviewer, one has to look at the film as a whole and unfortunately there are quite a few negative aspects. The film does retain some of what made the first Guardians a blast. There are plenty of fun character interactions and space battles. The writing is sadly a lot weaker than its predecessor.

Vol. 2 is a prime example of the writing going to the extreme in the comedy department. The first Guardians perfectly balanced comedy and storytelling to deliver one of the best comic book films ever. Vol. 2 takes that comedic aspect and multiplies it tenfold. The problem is that the “funny” scenes are often obvious and forced. Even the character interactions at times were trying too hard to be humorous. The intro with the characters battling Sharktopus an Abilisk was fun, though Groot dancing went on a little too long. Since we’ve just brought him up, baby Groot is cute but by the middle act the viewer misses the adult Groot from the first film.

Pacing is one of the most key aspects of any film. The first Guardians had perfect pacing; the film moved smoothly. The second film unfortunately lacks that. Vol. 2 slows down drastically when the Guardians land on Planet Ego. Things happen, but they’re not particularly interesting. It felt like the scenes on the planet were just buying time until the climax. Yes, the core aspect of the film is Peter finding his father. But it’s not as engaging as a reunion as it should be. This could be because Ego isn’t the best antagonist. The writing gives him some meta motivations and technically his goal might be the grandest from the Marvel films, but the actual character just isn’t notable. To give some credit to the reunion aspect, some things worked well, such as the playing catch scene.

Something that worked really well was the Gamora/Nebula subplot. Nebula’s backstory on why she hates Gamora is fascinating, and also shows how evil Thanos is. The scenes with the sisters are some of the most well done in the film. Their last scene put an extra emotional touch to the final act. Gamora is one of the best characters, showcasing that hardcore warrior persona while also showing genuine emotion. The theme of Guardians Vol. 2 seems to be family, and while some of the Star-Lord/Ego scenes were a bit flat, other aspects were fantastic. We just discussed Gamora and Nebula; there’s also Yondu, who could be the best character. His scene in the climax might be the most emotionally well done of all the Marvel films.

Rocket is usually a highlight, but the film does one big negative thing with him. So, a major subplot is that an alien race called the Sovereign is after the Guardians. The reason? Rocket stole their batteries. This came off as petty and something that didn’t need to happen. Rocket does get some fun scenes with Yondu on the ship. Drax doesn’t have much of a character arc this time around unfortunately. He’s there mainly for comedy, and it can range from laugh-out-loud funny to forced. Star-Lord is a fun character like in the first film. Though, there’s a lack of well-acted emotion. He seems to have the same static face even when faced with the revelation of who killed his mother.

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As stated earlier, the climax is awesome. Fighting a living planet seems like something that could only be done in a comic book, but the film pulls it off. The visuals are fantastic (want to see Pac-Man chomping away in space?) and there’s quality emotion as the writing reminds the viewer that family isn’t always by blood. The soundtrack is very good, though not as notable as the soundtrack from the first film.

Overall, this review seemed to be a bit on the harsher side. That is because the first Guardians of the Galaxy set a high standard. Vol. 2 doesn’t live up to it. The writing is weaker and doesn’t balance the comedy properly. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing if most of the funny stuff were genuinely funny. A lot of the dialogue just doesn’t seem like what actual people would say. That might sound silly since most of the characters aren’t human, but a lot of the dialogue is obvious comedy. This is not to say the film isn’t a good time. If one enjoyed the first movie, one should like the second. The character interactions are at times priceless and the climax is one of the most exciting from any Marvel film. It’s a shame the rest of the film didn’t live up to it.

6.5/10