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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Skyscraper (2018) – Review

Blending a disaster movie with a heist plot is nothing new – though the latest one being The Hurricane Heist was god awful – and having it star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is definitely going to put more bums in the seats, but sadly the filmmakers never thought further than the premise of The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard – having a plot was apparently considered inconsequential – and so, we are left with a generic action flick that may help sell popcorn, but it will most likely be forgotten by the end of the year.


Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) lost his leg ten years ago – during a hostage situation that went very badly – and now he is a security consultant that’s been brought to Hong Kong to inspect and give his outside assessment on the integrity of the world's tallest skyscraper, which they call "The Pearl" — a towering structure standing at 3,500 feet high. Unfortunately for Mister Sawyer, a group belonging to a criminal syndicate, led by the villainous Kores Botha (Roland Møller), have their own agenda, one that involves setting the building on fire. There is a ridiculous amount of expository dialogue tossed out to explain what is basically the dumbest plan in the history of dumb plans – Hans Gruber would have slapped these guys silly for even suggesting such an idiotic scheme – but it is all just needless set up so that The Rock can leap from giant cranes, run from explosions, and beat up bad guys.

 

Dwayne Johnson, able to leap glaring plot holes in a single bound.

This is the kind of movie that if you stop to think, even for just one second, the plot will immediately start to unravel. We are introduced to the building’s owner, Zhao (Chin Han), who has incriminating banking information on the syndicates, an ex -FBI agent Ben (Pablo Schreiber), who was once part of Will’s SWAT team and now seems a tad bitter - he's also the one that got Will this job - and finally there is a British dude (Noah Taylor) who couldn’t look more guilty if given an eye patch and a goatee. The criminal’s scheme is ripped right from the pages of the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia – where Watson used a smoke bomb to make femme fatale Irene Adler think the place was on fire, so she would head for the hidden secret panel and retrieve an incriminating photograph – only in this case, the villains set fire to a giant skyscraper so that Zhao will bring out the flash drive they need, and if that doesn’t sound like the most dangerously over-complicated plan to steal something, well it gets worse.

 

The Rock shown here trying to hold the plot together.

The gang also needs to steal a computer tablet that Zhao gave Will – which can access all the building's security measures, and will allow them to shut off the fire suppression systems – but the tablet has facial recognition software, so only Will's face can unlock it. This is a plot point even the movie seems to forget, as the gang had earlier tried to steal it from Will – failing because Will had moved the tablet from his bag to his jacket pocket – but without Will’s face, the tablet would be useless to them. Eventually, Botha’s chief badass assassin, Xia (Hannah Quinlivan), retrieves the tablet from Will – holding his face to it so that it will open – but this leaves us with the question, how did they originally plan to access the building’s security systems if they needed Will’s face to open the tablet in the first place?

 

Xia is incredibly hot, but Irene Adler, she is not.

Of course, this is just a big dumb action film - plot holes are supposed to be overlooked while the hero is thumping the villains and things explode - but as charismatic and fun as Dwayne Johnson is to watch, and he does give his all in this film, it’s not enough to stop one from realizing just how ridiculous the plot is, and how idiotic his opponents are. I have to assume the decision to make Dwayne’s character a partial amputee was just to give the villains a fair shot at winning – Will Sawyer is easily the most handicapable person in the history of film – but the script also gave him a tough-as-nails wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), the Naval surgeon who saved Will’s life after the opening hostage disaster, and her ability to fight off mercenaries was a nice departure from the standard damsel-in-distress that you tend to find in these movies. This just adds another thing to the plus column for our hero. By the end of the film, you are almost feeling sorry for the bad guys.

 

“I’d be pitiable if I wasn’t so generic and boring.”

As a typical summer action flick – one that is not going to be around during awards season – there are certainly a lot worse examples out there, and if you liked Dwayne Johnson in his disaster film San Andreas, or the ridiculous video game adaptation Rampage, then you will most likely get a kick out of this film. Skyscraper in no way compares well to either The Towering Inferno or Die Hard, but I don’t think writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber had any allusions that it would, and if you go into the theater to see this film, with the right frame of mind, you will probably have a good time.

Stray Thoughts:

• Will gives a briefing on the building's security measures to a room full of people who would all be completely aware of how the building works.
• At one point Kores Botha states he needs Zhao alive – if dead, the syndicate’s secrets automatically get sent to the authorities – but mere minutes later Botha is seen firing his machine gun at Zhao. Does he have the memory of a goldfish?
• The jumbotron – that the spectators watching the fire are viewing – must get its footage from magical cameras, as it’s constantly getting impossibly great shots of The Rock climbing on the building.
• The Chinese police inexplicably bring Will’s wife to where they believe the villains will be rendezvousing.
• The final fight takes place in a digital hall of mirrors, a neat homage to Enter the Dragon.
• The Rock doesn’t kill anybody with his prosthetic leg.  What’s up with that?
• Sarah and her kids are surprisingly immune to heat and smoke.

 

Even fire knows not to mess with The Rock’s family.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Proud Mary (2018) – Review

In 1969, the song “Proud Mary” was written by John Fogerty - for his band Clearance Clearwater Revival - but aside from the title character of this movie being named Mary, there isn’t much else they have in common. The original song was about a woman who worked as a maid for rich people - Fogerty has stated in interviews about the song that, "She gets off the bus every morning and goes to work and holds their lives together and then she has to go home" - later, Stu Cook introduced the riverboat element to the song, and thus “Proud Mary” went from being about a maid to being about a boat. Now, in 2018, we have a movie called Proud Mary - that is neither about a maid nor a boat - but it does include the song, so I guess that’s something.


Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is a hit woman who works for an organized crime family in Boston - led by her mentor/father figure Benny (Danny Glover) and his son Tom (Billy Brown), who has a romantic history with Mary - and the crux of the movie is that Mary is one of those “Killers with a heart of gold” who eventually takes in a young kid named Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), who was orphaned by Mary when she killed his father on orders from Benny. Killers with a conscience are certainly nothing new in movies; Leon: The Professional, The Bourne Identity and La Femme Nikita just to name a few, but with Proud Mary - whose guilt over orphaning a kid leads to her decision to abandon her life of crime to become a mother - fails to work, as the writers of this movie hadn't bothered to actually give us a character with more than one dimension.

 

"I'm here for my Foxy Brown audition."

The plot kicks into gear when Mary kills a rival gang member (Xander Berkeley), who young Danny had become an abused ward of after being orphaned by Mary. The killing of this particular asshole - and several of his Russian goons - sets off a gang war between Benny’s organization and the Russian’s led by Luka (Rade Serbedzija), and so for the first half of the movie we get Mary trying to keep Danny safe - while also hiding the fact that she was the one that started this whole mess by killing some Russian asshats. Then things shift into the common territory with the cliché of our hero wanting to get out of the mob business, and the "family" not allowing this to happen.

 

"I'm still too old for this shit."

Proud Mary has some decent action sequences - a hot woman with a gun is always a good selling point - but for the most part, I never found myself emotionally invested in any of it. Taraji P. Henson had already proven she could play the badass assassin type in the movie Smokin’ Aces, but here she is almost too reluctant and lethargic for me to buy her as a top level killer for the mob. This failure has nothing to do with Henson’s acting ability - what the script gives her she delivers with aplomb - but the writing she is given is simply terrible, with such scintillating dialog as, “Newsflash, asshole! I am the mothering type!” This seems more like a cheap punchline than any kind of earned dramatic moment. The forced mother/son bonding between Mary and Danny is never really believable - weakening what was already a cliché ridden plot - and sure, we don’t always need fresh and original ideas in our action movies, but if your three act structure is going to be something that the average film goer is going to see coming a mile away, well than you better amp up the action sequences to make up for your lack in story.  Yet as stated above, the action moments in this film, though fairly decent, are just nothing to brag about.

Couple of stray thoughts:

• Mary kills a bookie on orders from Benny only to immediately discover that the man had a son, and this upsets her. Had all her previous hits been on people without wives, husbands, or children? If you’re a hired killer you'd have to know there will be some kind of fallout from what you do for a living.
• Mary and Tom raid a country estate to take on a couple dozen Russian gangsters. How understaffed is Benny’s organization that he only sends two people two take out an unknown number of enemies, in a building that could easily hold a hundred gun toting assholes. Jason Bourne and Rambo do this shit alone because they are "on their own" but there is no reason for Benny not to send more of his soldiers to help Mary and Tom.

 

"We're good as long as these assholes continue to be terrible shots."

I didn’t expect a Tarantinoesque blacksploitation type film from Proud Mary - with it being directed by the guy who brought us the craptacular London Has Fallen, that was a given - yet I was still hoping to get an adrenaline fueled action ride with a badass black heroine. Instead what we got was a hackneyed script that wasted a very talented cast. Proud Mary is mostly guilty of being instantly forgettable - I would have rather watched a movie about a hard working maid, one who maybe had a river boat named after her - so I advise you to pop in the song and give this movie a pass.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Housebound (2014) – Review

Whenever I’m watching a haunted house movie at some point I’ll invariably ask, “What the hell are you people still doing in that bloody house?” Call me crazy but when walls begin to bleed – or spectral voices are crying “GET OUT!” – I’d be changing my zip code as fast as humanly possible. I don’t see the point in waiting around to see if a spirit is of the Casper the Friendly Ghost variety or the revenge type phantoms found in films like The Ring. In the 2014 horror movie Housebound New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone posits the question, “What if you couldn't leave, that you were under house arrest in a haunted house?”


The protagonist of Housebound is one Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly), a young woman with serious anger issues, who – after a spectacularly failed robbery of an ATM – is sentenced to eight months house arrest in the one place she would least like to be…home sweet home. She is put under the watchful eye of her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), a woman who thinks that there is a very good chance her house is haunted – objects disappearing and strange noises abound being her chief evidence of this – and to say that Kylie and Miriam don’t “get on” would be a vast understatement. Kylie is quick to mock her mother’s belief in the supernatural – after hearing her call-in to a local radio program to discuss her haunting experiences – but when a disembodied hand grabs Kylie's ankle – while investigating noises in the basement – she starts to give her mother’s idea a little more credence. Unfortunately Dennis (Cameron Rhodes), her court appointed clinical psychologist, accuses Kylie and Miriam of both being delusional.

 

Note: Dennis is an unobservant twit.

Lucky for Kylie she does have one authority figure in her corner – the local police being about as useful as tits on a bull – and that would be Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), the security contractor who keeps track of her movements via her ankle monitor. When she tells Amos of the strange goings on in their home he doesn’t scoff at all – in fact his first instinct is to try and contact the spirits – and the two slowly become friends as they work together to solve the mystery. Could the fact that the place Kylie calls home was once a halfway house for juvenile delinquents be a factor? And what of the girl murdered 14 years ago in the very room Kylie now sleeps in? Could a vengeful spirit be stalking the halls of Kylie’s home, or is something more bizarre and sinister going on? And how does the creepy neighbour, who skins a lot of possums, figure into all of this?

 

Step aside Nancy Drew we have new heroes in town.

What sets Housebound apart from many of its brethren would be the comedic aspect – noble and paranormal loving Amos providing many of the laughs – but the humor never gets too broad, always keeping the film and its characters grounded. There are quite a few good horror/comedies out there – from Young Frankenstein to Shaun of the Dead – and though Gerard Johnstone doesn’t go for the big laughs found in those films he manages to infuse enough humor to elevate Housebound above many of its contemporaries. The only real negative thing I can mention is that though mystery itself is quite clever – and I don’t want to get into spoilers here – but at times it does stretch credulity a tad.  With Housebound we once again find that New Zealand can produce really solid horror films – especially if they include a dash of dark humor – and thus I highly recommend fans of the genre checking this one out.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Nanny (2017) – Review

In horror films, if you hire a babysitter or nanny, there is a good chance they will turn out to be evil – whether they be a woman seeking revenge, as in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, or something more supernatural, like William Friedkin’s The Guardian – but regardless of the nature of the film’s childcare services, we know things will most likely not go well for the family. Today, we will look at Joel Novoa’s 2017 horror film The Nanny - which has a little bit of the revenge plot as well as supernatural elements to it – and we will see how effective one can be on a low budget.


The film’s protagonist is a young girl named Noa (Jadin Harris), who is quite protective of her little brother Michael (Christian Ganiere). When Noa and Michael’s overworked mother, Anna (Schuyler Fisk) hires a nanny to take care of them, it is up to Noa to prove that Leonor (Jaime Murray) – the seemingly ideal nanny – is not who, or even what, she seems to be.

 

A dark Mary Poppins?

With a brief running time of 80 minutes, it is quite clear from the outset that this movie had bitten off more than it could chew – giving us a cold open prologue that never gets properly explained is one of many examples of this – but the film fails mostly from cramming in too many moments of expository dialogue that never feels organic, as well as seeming rushed. We are told that Michael is hearing voices – ones that tell him to do horrible things – but after the school informs Anna of this, as well as showing her Michael’s disturbingly bloody drawings, her only response is to hire a nanny. Doesn’t this town have a child psychologist? This kid probably needs some serious mental therapy, but instead of seeking professional help, the mom ops for a live-in babysitter.

Note: Anna is a single parent who has to work double shifts to make ends meet – Question: How is she affording a live-in nanny?

The mysterious Leonor is able to use some sort of “mental whammy” on Anna to secure her position as the kid’s nanny – and even mentally messes with Frank (Nick Gomez), the deputy sheriff, to further divert suspicion – but Leonor taking over the household is too rushed, even if the explanation is as lame as, “A wizard did it.” We get cryptic clues throughout the film as to what Leonor’s true nature is – a creature of the Fae who wants her children back – but all of the film’s hinting of a “larger world” leaves the viewer wishing to see a bit more of that world, and not just the half-dozen people that seem to be the town’s only residents. When the film re-introduces the character of David (Nicholas Brendon), who in the prologue we saw lose his daughter to some creature in the woods, we think the story is going to possibly show David saving his missing daughter, but instead it took a delightfully dark turn that I did not expect. The Nanny really had me on board for awhile - the basic premise was quite intriguing - but unfortunately, director Joel Novoa had no time to properly explore any of the characters he sets up, and thus none of them come across as relatable or even believable. For example, Noa inexplicably goes out into the night to meet up with David, a man she doesn't know from Adam. I know kids can be stupid at times, but this moment was ludicrous.

 

Apparently Noa was never given the “Stranger Danger” talk.

The mythology of the Faerie Courts is just rife with possibilities – if you’ve seen Guillermo del Toro Pan’s Labyrinth, you know what I mean – but with what was basically a direct-to-video budget, that’s a harder thing to pull off. Jaime Murray does a decent job as the mysterious nanny – giving creepy stares whenever required – but when we see her glued on wings, it takes us right out of the moment, and the film never quite wins us back.

 

They're not quite Papier Mâché wings but almost as bad.

The film’s twists and turns take the “Evil Nanny” genre in what could have been an interesting direction – once again, if time and money hadn’t been a factor – but what we are left with is something that looks a little bit like a pilot episode for a new show on the WB, resulting in a film that is rather forgettable. There are some positive aspects to this movie – both Jaimie Murray and Jadin Harris are quite good – but the whole production is hamstrung by squandered possibilities. The Nanny is not a terrible example of the genre, it does have a couple nice moments with the fae, but clearly the subject matter was somewhat beyond the reach of the filmmaker’s abilities and or budget.

 

Meet this film’s $1.99 version of Swamp Thing.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) – Review

In 2015, Marvel’s Ant-Man could easily have come across as a low-rent Iron Man – both featuring high-tech costumed heroes – but instead, the studio doubled down on the comedy and we got an incredibly fun caper flick that surprised many a viewer. Now, with 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, we get the answer to the much asked question, “What was Scott Lang doing during the events of Avengers: Infinity War?”  (Note: Still no revelation as to what Clint Barton/Hawkeye was doing), the answer is that he was under house arrest. Seriously, the fate of the universe is hanging in the balance, and one of the most versatile heroes is sidelined by an ankle monitor?

 

"Tell the universe I'm busy."

Once again directed by Peyton ReedAnt-Man and the Wasp follows the events of Captain America: Civil War – where breaking the Sokovia Accords in Berlin landed Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in jail – and now he has just three days left of house arrest. How his being locked up in The Raft (A high security prison maintained by S.H.I.E.L.D) during Civil War was commuted to house arrest in this film is never explained — Lang must have the best lawyer in the universe. Scott has since been spending his time trying to keep his daughter amused – in a way any kid would die for – and running a personal security firm for ex-cons with his pal Luis (Michael Peña). It’s when Scott is hit with a dream/vision of the Quantum Realm that could be coming from Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s been trapped inside for decades, that the movie’s plot is sent into hyper-drive.

 

The team-up we’ve all been waiting for.

Of course, popping into the Quantum Realm isn’t like going down to the corner store for a bag of crisps – Scott Lang being the only person to have ever returned – and the dangerous science behind this rescue isn’t even the major problem; aside from the fact that both Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are still mad at Scott for running off to Berlin with one of the Ant-Man suits – putting both of them on the FBI’s most wanted list – he also has to deal with black market tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a team of Federal Agents led by Agent Woo (Randall Park), and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a masked opponent who wants to get her hands on Pym’s quantum tech for her own, and very personal, reasons.

 

Ghost is another in the ever increasing list of excellent Marvel villains.

With director Peyton Reed having to juggle multiple opponents – all with their own agendas – it’s not surprising to find that the tonal shifts the movie makes do not always work – the switching between dramatic moments like a mother missing for decades in a mysterious microverse to Lang’s goofy ex-con buddies could be considered a tad jarring – but the movie’s amazing action set-pieces will keep even the most jaded viewer enthralled. The use of switching sizes mid-combat – turning themselves and vehicles from big to small at the drop of a hat – makes these fight sequences totally insane and completely original, and then when you add in the Ghost’s ability to quantum shift – which allows her to phase in and out of attacks – you get some of the best superhero combat and chase sequences ever put to film.

Note: The Ant-Man films still stay fairly separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and can be enjoyed by people who haven’t seen any other Marvel movies.

Where the original Ant-Man movie focused on comedy – with Michael Peña stealing many a scene – this entry is more plot and action driven, with the biggest danger it faces is in getting in it's own way.

Stray Thoughts:

• Marvel’s actor de-aging software is getting better and better.
Bobby Cannavale returns as the husband of Lang’s ex-wife, and his character bucks the trend of asshole movie stepdads.
• The movie could have used a bit more Wasp action, what we got was fantastic, I just wanted more.
• Having enlarged ants as laboratory assistants was bloody brilliant
• That Janet Van Dyne managed to stay sane while being trapped for 30 years in the Quantum Realm is quite impressive
• It’s a shame that Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) never offers Scott Lang the Blue Pill.
• I’m not sure how the contents of Hank Pym’s shrunken building survive all the jostling they experience during the movie’s “Great Keep-Away” chase Sequence.

 

Maybe it has some kind of internal stability field?

The Ant-Man movies are sort of in the same vein as the Guardians of the Galaxy films – both relying heavily on the comedic aspects of their characters – but unlike the Guardians’ movies, Ant-Man and the Wasp continue to keep their adventures on a less cosmic scale, barely having an effect on even a global level, which I find kind of refreshing. Ant-Man and the Wasp may not be reinventing the wheel with this entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – though it does take combat tactics to a whole new level – but the result is still a remarkably fun film, with an engaging cast of characters and a new fully developed antagonist who is even more sympathetic than Michael B. Jordan’s character from Black Panther. If you want thrills, laughs and super-heroics, you could do a lot worse than Ant-Man and the Wasp.

 

See this on the big screen if you can.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Final Girl (2015) – Review

Taking popular horror tropes and turning them on their heads is nothing new - the “final girl” trope is easily the most recognized of such - but the key to making such a twist work is in how well you execute it, and in having the “final girl” being someone the audience can actually get behind. In Adam Wingard’s 2011 horror film You’re Next, we got what seemed to be your typical slasher film, but then Wingard turned things around by revealing that hunters may have picked the wrong target this time. Now, we look at 2015's Final Girl to see another attempt at basically the same thing, only it doesn’t quite work.


The movie opens with an interrogation-type interview with a five-year-old girl named Veronica; she has just been orphaned, but seems to take the news of her parents' death surprisingly well. Her interviewer is a man named William (Wes Bentley) who finds her emotional displacement, the ability to solve puzzles rapidly, and that she has total memory recall, to be ideal attributes to join his organization. Twelve years later, we find Veronica (Abigail Breslin) finishing her training with William - her road to being a badass assassin complete - and there is some sexual tension between pupil and master.

 

 Don’t worry about this relationship because neither the writer nor Shields seems to care.

Her first mission is to take out a group of seventeen-year-old dudes who have apparently hunted and killed over a dozen girls; the murderous group consists of Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), Danny (Logan Huffman), Nelson (Reece Thompson), and Shane (Cameron Bright), and for some reason these guys feel they need to dress up like Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack for these hunting parties. Veronica goes on a recon mission to the local diner where the boys hang out (This movie seems to take place either in the late 50s or early 60s, but it's never made clear), and from Shane’s girlfriend, she intuits that the boys are on the verge of falling out. How is this information useful? Will it be her key to taking down this group?

 

Why are there tuxedo-wearing Pandas?

When you sit down to watch Final Girl, you will quickly tally up a shitload of questions - none of which the director or writers apparently thought were worth addressing - and this is really the downfall of the film. Now, I’m not the type of person that has to have everything spelled out for them - a little ambiguity in a horror film can be great thing - but almost from the first frame of this film, the audience is left in the dark as to why any of the characters are doing what they are doing, or how they are getting away with it. It would appear that director Tyler Shields was just interested in seeing the “defenseless” girl turn the tables on her killers without bothering to work in any backstory as to why we should care. The amount of questions that we are left with by the end of this film is staggering, but here a few key ones.

• How did Veronica’s parents die? Was it the work of serial killers?
• What kind organization recruits five-year-old girls to be trained as killers?
• Does William care for Veronica beyond the master/student relationship?
• How did these guys find twenty girls willing to get into a car with four young men, men they don’t know?
• To rack up twenty kills, did these asshole start their killing when they were ten?
•  How do four seventeen-year-old assholes hunt and murder all these girls in a small town and not get caught?

 

Are the local authorities that incompetent?

The big question comes when we finally arrive at the third act - where we get to see Veronica kick some serious psycho ass - and I was left wondering what was the point of all this; "What is this secret organization’s ultimate goal?" Veronica is able to slip a hallucinogenic to three of the killers, so they can apparently confront their worst fears, and then she kills them, but if the organization is aware of this particular group of serial killers, why the elaborate sting operation? Why not just have William kill these asshats? What’s the point of having a “victim” turning the tables? Is seeing your worst fear before dying some kind of Tales From the Crypt ironic punishment?

 

Being axed in the chest has always been one of my fears.

The movie is beautifully shot - though at times it seemed that this particular forest had a surprising amount of studio lights hidden in amongst the trees - and Abigail Breslin did a fine job as the La Femme Nikita-type killer (though if she had been training to be an assassin for twelve years, these high school kids put up a surprisingly good fight), and Alexander Ludwig was especially chilling as the leader of the Wolf Pack. Final Girl has the germ of a good idea but the filmmakers drowned it under a plethora of “crazy banter” and unexplained backstories. The movie at no point engages the audiences and thus becomes rather boring and forgettable, being well shot and well-acted is not enough to save this film nor enough for me to recommend it.


Note: Actor Alexander Ludwig - in the very same year as this film - starred in a nice meta-horror film that was funnily enough called The Final Girls.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) – Review

Do you remember Jurassic Park founder John Hammond having a partner? If you don’t you shouldn’t feel too bad, as he didn’t have one up until this fifth entry of the franchise. This is because director J.A. Bayona, along with screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, seemingly have no interest in franchise continuity, and have also made it abundantly clear that their sole interest is in getting dinosaurs off the island so that they can terrorize the world — how this comes to pass is definitely not important to them.

With Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom we don’t so much as get another sequel, but something more akin to a placeholder — an installment simply there to fill in the gaps between Jurassic World and the inevitable Jurassic World 3. Basically the whole movie is an airless filler, with everything presented on-screen as just stuff to set up the next movie — a movie that the filmmakers seem more interested in making than the one we are watching today — and so we are all left wondering...

 

“What was the whole point of it all?”

Taking place three years after the events of Jurassic World, we learn that Isla Nublar’s volcano is about to erupt – which would once again make dinosaurs extinct – and former park manager Clair Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), now working for a Dinosaur Protection Group she founded, is striving to save the noble beasts. We have a nice, if somewhat pointless and very short cameo of Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in front of Congress where he prattles on with his old rhetoric about how dinosaurs should no longer exist, and that letting the volcano wipe them out may not be such a bad thing. With the many deaths at the claws and teeth of the dinosaurs – especially in the last film – one can’t easily come up with a good rebuttal to Malcolm’s argument, but this franchise has never been short of insanely stupid people doing completely moronic things, so we have Claire leading the charge to save the dinos.

 

She at least trades in her heels for something more sensible.

Claire is hired by John Hammond’s old partner, billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to return to Isla Nublar and help rescue the dinosaurs by transporting them to a remote island where they would be safe from the prying eyes of mankind – they need her biometric handprint to access the islands dinosaur tracking system – and they also want her to convince Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join the expedition because they need his expertise with the raptors to capture his old dino pal Blue.

Continuity Note: This film seems to have forgotten Jurassic Park: Lost World exists because in that movie we were introduced to Isla Sorna – also known as Site B – which was the "factory floor" to Jurassic Park, and the last time we saw that island, it was still populated with dinosaurs. In fact, the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar were originally shipped from Isla Sorna, so what is the problem with just shipping them back?

In Jurassic Park: Lost World, we had Ian Malcom not wanting to go back to the park – a sane and rational standpoint – but when he found out his girlfriend was already there, he had to strap on his big boy pants and ride to the rescue. Now, in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Owen does not want to return to the park – once again, a feeling anyone could understand – but when ex-girlfriend Claire shows up to convince him to take the job, he caves – after a very weak first refusal – and thus, we get the first of many repeated plot points and call-backs to previous entries in the series. This film is so loaded with nods, winks and blatant call-backs to the first movie, that the end result is a film that simply has no identity of its own.

 

Cue stirring film score.

The one element this film does ratchet up is the villain quotient. Now, there have been human antagonists in the previous entries – in the first movie we had greedy Dennis Nedry, and in the second Hammond’s idiot nephew – but those characters were always just tertiary to the threat of rampaging dinosaurs. It wasn’t until Jurassic World that we got true villains. In this entry, ailing Benjamin Lockwood may want to preserve the dinosaurs – much as Hammond did in Jurassic Park: Lost World – but unbeknownst to him, his aide Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), an evil capitalist who has teamed up with mad scientist Dr. Wu (BD Wong), plans on bringing the dinosaurs back to America so he can sell them at auction – to other evil capitalists – and use that seed money to create weaponized dinosaurs. Is it just me, or does the plot of this film sound like something you could have come up with playing Mad Libs? Yet those two baddies aren’t enough villains for a film like Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, so we also have mercenary Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) – who, if he had a moustache, would be in a constant state of twirling. Wheatley tries to kill our heroes by leaving them behind on an exploding island, and aside from being a duplicitous, murderous asshat, he also has the strange hobby of pulling teeth out of live dinosaurs.


 

Guess how his story arc ends?

The film’s first act brings us back to the island – where our heroes somehow miraculously survive a volcanic eruption amongst stampeding dinosaurs – but it is in the second act that the film takes quite the tonal shift from previous entries. Instead of our heroes being stalked by a variety of dinosaurs through lush tropical jungle, we now find Claire and Owen running down the darkened hallways of a gothic mansion. It’s these scenes that really set the film apart from its predecessors – director J.A. Bayona is clearly a master of shadowy composition – and it is here where the film becomes a true monster movie.

Wait, I know what you are all thinking, “Aren’t all the Jurassic Park movies basically monster movies?” True, sort of, but the first few films in the Jurassic Park franchise were basically “man against nature” films – even if the particular nature on hand was genetically grown dinosaurs – and so not technically horror films. But, in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we are introduced to Dr. Wu’s latest creation, an even more lethal combination of dinosaurs trained to kill on command, a creature that prowls the mansion’s hallways like something out of one’s worst nightmares.

 

"Oh, but, grandmother, what terribly big claws you have."

In Jurassic World, director/writer Colin Trevorrow introduced the concept of weaponized dinosaurs – we briefly saw them in combat against the genetically created Indominus Rex – but how exactly prehistoric creatures would function as military assets is never made clear. In this movie, we get some half-assed explanation as to how animals in the past have been used as weapons of war, i.e. horses, elephants and even plague rats, but the filmmakers kind of leave out the fact that technology has advanced, so we no longer need to use such animals in war. Yet in this film, mad scientist Dr. Wu creates a new hybrid dinosaur called the Indorapter, and for some reason it is trained to attack laser-designated targets. How does this make it an effective weapon?

  

This thing isn't even bullet proof.

Question: What is the point of the laser targeting system for the Indorapter? Laser designators provide targeting for laser-guided bombs, missiles, or precision artillery munitions, so the idea of using this system for a dinosaur to kill one person makes no sense. If the laser site on your rifle is hitting the person you want dead, why not just pull the fucking trigger, what does a charging dino add to the equation?

 

If you could train the Mosasaurus, now that'd be something.

If fun dino-action is what you are looking for, then Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will certainly fit the bill – though the complete lack of blood during the dinosaur attacks does get a bit ludicrous at times — and the creatures themselves look simply marvelous, but if you hope to encounter anything more than a series of action sequences populated by two-dimensional characters — and I'm being generous here, as most characters in this film strive to have one dimension — then you will most likely be disappointed. As I said earlier, this film is a placeholder – a “necessary” bridge if you will, to the story that Colin Trevorrow actually wants to tell – and thus, the resulting movie is rife with characters doing pointless and idiotic things that will leave many a viewer scratching their heads. That all said, I will admit to having some fun watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it was a big, fun-filled dinosaur extravaganza – and I’m a sucker for those – but I just wish they’d spent a little of that extravagant CGI budget on a few more rewrites.

Jurassic Notes:
  • Lava in this movie doesn’t actually harm you; it has no radiant heat and can even drip on your arm without so much as leaving a burn.
  • Our heroes outrun a volcano’s pyroclastic cloud – with Owen briefly being encompassed by the ash – and survive this despite gases in those clouds reaching temperatures of about 1,000 °C.
  • In Jurassic World, we learned from Jimmy Kimmel that the gyro-sphere vehicles are impervious to gunfire, but good ole Owen – while underwater – is able to put two bullet holes in one.
  • The villains keep Owen and Claire alive for no particular reason.
  • Once again the series includes the now apparently required “small child in danger” element.
  • And how come the pteranodons – who we saw freed in the second film – didn’t make it to the States until film five? Were they stuck at bloody customs this whole time?
  • Half of the cool shots from the trailer take place during the film’s epilogue.

 

This film is basically a 128 minute commercial for Jurassic World 3.