Saturday, July 7, 2018

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


Honestly, I didn't expect to like this. I was underwhelmed by the previous installment, and Fallen Kingdom's Freshness Rating (barely over 50% at the moment) didn't instill me with confidence.

But it turned out low expectations were for the best - I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Despite numerous flaws (most of which were inherited), Fallen Kingdom offered one of the best experiences in the series. At the very least, it's the best since The Lost World, if not the original Jurassic Park.

It helps this was the first Jurassic Park/World movie to feel at all different. That's not to say it didn't contain some familiar beats - there were a handful of plot points and twists that felt photocopied from earlier movies - but the setting, style, and tone were altered enough to make this feel new.

If you've seen the trailers, you already know the movie features two main locations. The first returns us to the island from the earlier movies, but the presence of an active volcano makes for a fresh change of pace. The whole thing feels somewhat reminiscent of the asteroid strike that killed the actual dinosaurs (well, technically it's reminiscent of the fake narrative of the asteroid strike, but the dinosaurs themselves aren't exactly scientifically accurate, either). Regardless, the apocalypse gives new life to the action sequences and makes a final trip to the island worthwhile.

The other set piece is a gothic mansion, which evokes the dusty museums and libraries where 19th-century scientists formed the concept of dinosaurs this franchise uses. The backdrop makes for a nice change of pace. Together, the two settings make this feel like more than just another retread.

And anything new is appreciated, because this movie has plenty of old artifacts trying (and mercifully failing) to hold it back. There's a new old man filling Hammond's shoes, a new villain barely distinguishable from the guy from Lost World, and the new monster is basically a scaled-down rehash of the Indominus Rex.

That said, the Indoraptor is a lot of fun. It's a small, streamlined killing machine. It's smart, fast, and... yeah, at the end of the day, it's just another raptor. And they'll probably never beat the kitchen scene from the first Jurassic Park in terms of suspense and thrills, but this comes closer than anything since. Fallen Kingdom makes full use of its haunted mansion aesthetic to make its new raptor feel demonic. The bedroom scene you saw in the trailer was the most extreme example of this, but most of the third act plays with this dynamic. This certainly isn't terrifying, but it has a few moments that are creepy, in that 80's PG-13 way.

In terms of heroes, we're still mostly stuck with the returning leads from Jurassic World. There's nothing particularly wrong with Owen and Claire, but they still feel more like they're copied out of other franchises. But as generic POV characters, they get the job done.

This falls far short of being amazing, but it's the best Jurassic movie we've seen in quite some time. In addition, it ends on an extremely promising note... which is going to make it all the more disappointing when Colin Trevorrow returns and inevitably drops the ball.

Please prove me wrong, Colin. Please.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp


Since I started this blog ten years ago, I've tried to avoid puns in movie reviews whenever possible. It's not that have anything against puns - as a point of fact, I have immense respect for the art form - but the practice is widespread to the point of being ubiquitous. I'd like this blog to be different, and as such I've always attempted to find another path.
I bring this up to clarify that when I call Ant-Man and the Wasp a small film, it not intended as a joke, a reference, or - God particle forbid - a pun. It's merely because the movie's scope and stakes are refreshingly limited, which is both welcome and unusual for this genre.

That "God particle" line, on the other hand, was a pun. Look... I slipped up. I'm only human. Moving on.

This has already been an extremely busy year for superhero movies (this is the third MCU flick of 2018, the fourth Disney superhero movie, and the fourth Marvel superhero movie - with more on the way). I think it should be obvious this isn't topping anyone's best-of list, even limited to this genre. Ant-Man and the Wasp was a great film, but it would be unfair to compare this to the ground-breaking Black Panther or the unprecedented scale of Infinity War. 

The thing that makes Ant-Man and the Wasp worth seeing is that it doesn't try to compete. It doesn't stick a giant portal in the sky to try and convince you the world's about to end. It doesn't feature a sociopath out for world domination or destruction. There's no apocalypse that needs to be prevented. The closest the movie comes to a generic villain is a tertiary antagonist who wants to monetize Pym's technology. And not even through weaponization - he wants in on the clean energy industry.

I heard the term "romantic comedy" bandied about while this was in development, but I don't think that's entirely accurate. There are a couple romantic subplots, but overall I'd call this a family comedy. The movie is far more interested in the relationships between its characters than it is in its superhero shenanigans.

Not that those shenanigans aren't great. The movie has a lot of fun with its conventions, playing with the size-altering powers of its leads in innovative ways (though it's worth noting the trailers have given away several of the best gags).

I had to double-check the rating. I'm guessing they added some harsh language to bring this up to PG-13: it feels like it should be PG. Hell, if they'd toned down a few minor things, it could almost have been G.

And, frankly, I'm grateful. There's no shortage of uniform, edgy superhero flicks out there. Thankfully, Marvel has been willing to expand this genre in other directions. You can view Infinity War as the absolute pinnacle of the generic, gritty superhero movie. It essentially takes the formula that everyone else has failed to emulate and perfects it. Meanwhile, movies like Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-man: Homecoming, and this incorporate superheroes in other types of stories. Comic books have been doing this for ages, but it's a relatively new direction for movies to take.

It was absolutely the right choice for these characters. This was a great summer movie, the sort of pop-corn flick air-conditioned theaters were made for. But if you don't get get around to seeing this on the big screen, don't sweat that, either. It won't lose much shrunken down on your television.

Damn it! Puns again.