Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

I loved 2015’s Jurassic World. I know, in this day and age of internet cynicism, it’s a popular movie for people to hate on because the characters make some illogical choices here and there (apparently the people complaining forgot they were watching a movie about a dinosaur amusement park running amok), but damn it, it was the sequel the original 1993 Jurassic Park always deserved. Just as important to me on a personal level, it also reminded me of that almost mythic outlook on dinosaurs that I had as a kid. Dinosaurs are always interesting, but Jurassic World made them wondrous again.

That’s why it saddens me that it’s sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, lacks that magic. It’s still ultimately a thrilling and exciting addition to the franchise, and even cleverly veers the series into horror territory. But it never has that same sense of wonder as its predecessor or the 1993 original.

Three years have passed since the events of Jurassic World, and now the island that housed the ill-fated amusement park is facing an impending doom, as a volcano on the island is now active and threatens the remaining dinosaurs (man, this theme park was doomed from the start! If it’s not an Indominous Rex it’s a volcano!).

Returning heroes Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) become a part of an expedition to rescue as many dinosaurs from the island as possible, before the inevitable eruption (take a hint people! God wants these suckers dead!). The expedition is helmed by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Jurassic Park founder John Hammond’s old partner. Lockwood wants to save the dinosaurs, feeling that mankind brought them back to life, and thus it’s their responsibility to save them. But the well-meaning billionaire is gravely ill, and his conniving right-hand man Eli Mills – who is in charge of Lockwood’s company’s future – has ulterior motives for the rescued dinosaurs. This of course leads to a series of set pieces taking place both on the doomed island, and Lockwood’s castle-esque home.

This brings me to one of the reasons I was disappointed with Fallen Kingdom, too much of the movie takes place in Lockwood’s mansion, making things feel considerably smaller than they did in Jurassic World. On the plus side, this benefits the film when it ventures into the horror genre territory, as many of the thrilling set pieces have a claustrophobic feel to them. But after Jurassic World gave us the whole island – let alone the theme park – to house both adventure and suspense, this sequel feels strangely unambitious by comparison. It works for what it is, but Fallen Kingdom often feels like it would be better suited as some kind of spinoff with different main characters, as opposed to the continuation of a movie as big as Jurassic World.

“The Indominous Rex made you hate it for killing the “real” dinosaurs. But the Indoraptor feels like just another raptor.”

Another downgrade is in both the film’s human and dinosaur villains. Mills comes off as a generic businessman villain, which falls short of Vincent D’Onofrio’s hammy-yet-somehow-dead-serious Vic Hoskins of the previous film. Meanwhile, Fallen Kingdom introduces us to the “Indoraptor,” a new hybrid dinosaur created from Jurassic World’s Indominous Rex and a Velociraptor (didn’t the Indominous Rex already have Velociraptor DNA?). Not only is the Indoraptor not featured nearly as much as its predecessor, but it fails to leave a terrifying presence like the Indominous Rex did.

Before things start sounding too negative, I will say that I had fun watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Yes, it still features characters making baffling decisions that seem to go against the obvious, but I guess I’ve also never been chased by a hungry dinosaur, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. More importantly, the action set pieces, and the darker moments that veer into horror, are effectively entertaining. I admit I jumped out of my seat on more than one occasion, and clenched my knuckles in anticipation to the outcome of an action scene just as frequently.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a good piece of entertainment, then. The problem is that its 2015 predecessor was a great piece of entertainment, and in many ways matched up to the beloved 1993 film. Fallen Kingdom follows suit with the usual assets of the franchise (people running from hungry dinosaurs), and continues some of the lingering plot threads of Jurassic World to connect it into a proper trilogy. But for all the pieces Fallen Kingdom gets right (action, suspense, and trying its hand at horror), it lacks the sense of awe and wonder that made both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World standout.

There’s still another film to go in this Jurassic World trilogy within the greater Jurassic Park franchise, and here’s hoping that the third installment can add a bit of newness to the series while also bringing back its magic. Action and suspense are fun and all, but nothing I can’t see in other movies. When I see one of these dinosaurs on screen, I want it to mean something.

 

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Top 10 Films of 2015

2015 was a fantastic year for movies (for me anyway, I don’t know about you). There were so many great films in so many genres that I had difficulty ranking a top 10. But ranking a top 10 I must, and I feel I’ve finally managed to properly list my ten favorite films from 2015.

You may (once again) notice that my list won’t look like a whole lot of others. I like what I like, and I try to be honest with that. This of course means I’m not just going to sprinkle in some indie films and Oscar-bait just so I look “credible” to the hipsters and snobs of the internet. Some Oscar movies and indie flicks always have the potential to make it as some of my favorites of the year (and in the case of the former, some did this time around), but only if they had enough of an impact on me personally.

I have to admit, a number of films I really enjoyed, such as The Revenant, Ant-Man and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, didn’t quite make the cut. 2015 was such a good year for movies that those films, contenders in their own right, miss the mark.

Also keep in mind that, although these ten films are ranked, some of them (particularly numbers 3 through 5) are pretty interchangeable. So if I ever say something down the road that contradicts what I say here, it’s not an inconsistency. Opinions fluctuate.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2015.

Continue reading “Top 10 Films of 2015”

Inside Out and Jurassic World: Proof That Classics Can Be Topped

Jurassic World

I’m going to make two very bold statements: I think Jurassic World is better than Jurassic Park. And I think Inside Out is the best Pixar movie to date.

Again, two very bold statements, considering the former blatantly says that *gasp!* I think a modern sequel in a franchise is better than the nostalgic favorite 90s originator, and the latter states that I think the newest entry in the Pixar canon is superior to their incredible back catalogue of classics, which includes the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many others.

That’s just the point I’m trying to make. Sometimes, classics can indeed be topped.

Now, I’m not one to suggest that newer automatically equates to better. I’m normally quite the opposite, and usually think that classics that prove their timelessness are indeed quite difficult to surpass. But I also roll my eyes at the growing trend that people seem to think older automatically equates to better as well. Sure, a good deal of my favorite films (and video games, and other things) would be considered retro, but I’m also open to the idea of newer things sitting alongside old favorites, provided they’re good enough.

I know Jurassic Park was revolutionary and influential for its groundbreaking visual effects, and that just about every visual effects-heavy blockbuster that has been released since 1993 owes a debt of gratitude to it. I know that Jurassic World can’t hope to have that same kind of revolutionary impact. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lesser movie.

Jurassic World, I feel, managed to capture the same spirit of Jurassic Park in a way that the previous sequels never could. But it also benefits from having an overall more entertaining cast of characters than the original film. Sure, there may not be any character in the franchise quite as memorable as John Hammond (who is an infinitely more compelling character on screen than his generic villain counterpart in the original book, but that’s besides the point). But let’s face it, Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler were a pretty stock hero and heroine. They were there to move things along, but didn’t exactly give us enough reason to care about them specifically. We may not have wanted them to get eaten by a T-Rex, but you could also easily imagine any other character in their shoes (which may be why Ian Malcom, a supporting character in the first film, was promoted to the main role in the ill-fated second installment).

"A great movie, but rather bland main characters."
“A great movie, but rather bland main characters.”

Now, I’m not about to say Jurassic World introduces a whole new depth for characters in an action/thriller blockbuster, but it does give enough attention to the characters to make you care about them individually.

Owen Grady would feel right at home as a 90s action hero, but he has a more grounded, everyman aspect to his personality and a good sense of humor (courtesy of Chris Pratt) that make him feel more relatable (and mortal) than the 90s heroes that probably inspired him. Claire Dearing is also a much more memorable heroine than Sattler before her, since she gets some good character development (growing from thinking of the dinosaurs as mere “attractions” into appreciating them as living creatures, for example) which makes her more interesting than Sattler, who could be summed up as “the female lead” in the original film.

Jurassic WorldJurassic World also does a terrific job at meshing suspense and action in a way that not only does the first film justice, but may actually surpass the original Jurassic Park in this regard. Of course, this could be the benefit of being a sequel, since a large portion of Jurassic Park’s first half needed to explain all the “how did it happen?” in regards to the dinosaurs which, admittedly, could sometimes feel slow. Jurassic World can bypass all that exposition and use the added time to let us know more about the characters and double up on the action and suspense. We all know the premise by this point, now we’re given time to just soak it all in and enjoy the ride right from the get go.

This is not to say anything against the original Jurassic Park, as that film holds a special place in my heart for numerous reasons (it’s honestly the earliest film I can remember seeing in a theater, and then there’s that theme music!). But I’d be lying if I said Jurassic World isn’t everything I look for in a Summer blockbuster. It’s pure, unbridled entertainment through and through.

Inside Out

But now let’s address the bigger question: Is Inside Out really Pixar’s best? I’ve certainly come to think so.

Now, I’ll probably write more in-depth about the finer details of what makes Inside Out so mind-blowingly awesome at a later date, but for now I’ll just run down some of the more obvious things to avoid spoilers and such.

The idea of Pixar films making audiences cry has almost become a running joke at this point, given the studio’s penchant for bringing audiences to tears. But in all honesty, Inside Out really did make me cry my eyes out. Even long after seeing it, as it ruminated in my mind, just thinking about the depth and delicate beauty of its story continued to make me misty-eyed. I always find it wonderful when any film can move me in such a way, and it’s true that some other Pixar movies have had a similar effect on me, but not nearly to this extent.

One thing I was beginning to question about Pixar movies, even with their quality, is why the most emotional moments were always depicted through montage. There’s nothing wrong with an emotional montage, of course. But it was becoming such a habit for Pixar that I actually began wondering if it was simply an easy way out. A convenient means to bring on the tears through melancholic music in case the writing couldn’t get the job done on its own. The melancholic music is still there in Inside Out (in fact, I’d say it’s the best score of any Pixar film), but much to my surprise, I found the film had a profound way of creating emotion in simpler, quieter moments in a way not unlike the films of Hayao Miyazaki. I do not mean to dismiss the likes of Up or Toy Story 3 for their use of montages, as they are lovely films, but there’s something to be said about the emotional impact Inside Out can create even when it’s doing so little.

Inside Out also has a wonderful sense of invention in just about every scene. Pixar has always used a particular “schtick” for each of their movies (toys, bugs, fish, etc.), but it kind of got to a point where they were beginning to corner themselves with these motifs (you can only do so much with anthropomorphic cars, after all). Up was previously the closest thing Pixar made that could have potentially set their imaginations free to run wild without being confined to a singular motif. But Up’s best ideas all come and go within the first twenty minutes, after that it’s a great, but admittedly less whimsical movie than its opening suggests. Not so with Inside Out, as its idea of exploring the mind – fittingly – gives its filmmakers the opportunity to throw in seemingly whatever fantastic ideas popped up in their heads. And it never lets up with its creative genius, and in some moments it goes into such levels of whimsy and surrealism that I must once again say it’s comparable to Hayao Miyazaki’s features.

Inside OutThere’s much more I could say about Inside Out (and I no doubt will), but suffice to say I think it has all the hallmarks of Pixar’s classics of the past, but takes them to a whole other level in terms of imaginative storytelling and emotion.

I must repeat that I normally am not so easily swayed to say that a beloved classic is bested, with the only other recent example I can think of being Frozen, which I’ll happily say is the best Disney animated feature in the studio’s history. But seeing as Frozen was released in late 2013, and Jurassic World and Inside Out now join this club of quality newness, that’s three movies in less than a two year timespan that I can claim trump their beloved predecessors, which once seemed untouchable.

Could this be a new trend in quality that I can expect to see more of in the near future? Probably not. But it is wonderful for me personally to have had two animated masterpieces and one of the best popcorn movies ever released within a relatively short timespan, as I feel it’s lifted some of my jadedness towards the modern movie scene. At the very least, it has me eagerly anticipating if Star Wars Episode VII can join this club.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World

I went into Jurassic World with very little expectations. After all, aside from Mission: Impossible -Ghost Protocol, how many fourth installments in franchises end up being very memorable (Star Wars doesn’t count)? Not to mention the whole setup with a genetically engineered dinosaur sounded downright silly.

I was wonderfully surprised when the movie was over, as not only did Jurassic World not suck, but it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a movie in years. Not only is it the best non-animated blockbuster since Guardians of the Galaxy (which, interestingly, also starred Chris Pratt), but I’ll even say it’s my second favorite film of 2015 so far, after Inside Out (which I now feel I underrated in my review, but more on that another time).

So where did Jurassic World go right where so many other blockbusters go wrong? First and foremost, the characters. Jurassic World takes time to properly introduce its characters to the audience before all the mayhem starts, and even once all the dinosaurs start running amok, it still provides some breathing room and gives us extra moments of character development.

Jurassic WorldChris Pratt’s Owen Grady is an action hero right out of the 90s, but with a bit of an everyman touch added to make him a bit more believable. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) probably goes through the most character evolution throughout the film, and even the kids are more capable and much less annoying this time around.

All of the characters are given time to develop interactions and stories. Jurassic World makes you actually care about the characters, and because you care about them it makes you care about what’s happening around them. Compare that to The Avengers: Age of Ultron, where characters are rapidly introduced seemingly for the sole purpose of marking a checklist of how many super heroes from the comics the movie can cram in.

Now about that genetically engineered dinosaur. It was a risky move, but somehow Jurassic World pulls it off. I was a little worried at first since the movie itself is quick to make fun of the “Indominous Rex.” Yes, the idea of a brand new, mixed up dinosaur is a little silly, but I don’t want the movie to make fun of itself about it. Too many blockbusters these days make jokes of themselves, I’d hate to see that happen with Jurassic World. Thankfully, it doesn’t. After the initial jokes come and go, the movie quickly changes its tone on the creature from that point on. It addresses the potential ridiculousness at first, and then, appropriately, treats the Indominous Rex as a terrible threat for the rest of the movie. The Indominous Rex could have been a disaster, but it ends up working well as the film’s primary threat.

As you might expect, Jurassic World plays up the nostalgia card. But it does so tastefully, creating some moments of pure nostalgic joy (and melancholy) in regards to the first movie, but it never simply relies on it. The movie also makes the wise decision to ignore mentioning the events of the second and third films in the franchise. The climactic sequence even largely plays up on fanservice, but it does so in such a clever and genuinely entertaining way that I couldn’t help but applaud it. It was a moment that made me feel like a kid again.

Jurassic WorldJurassic World succeeds in regards to action, suspense and horror in a way that so few blockbusters do these days. It may not have been directed by Steven Spielberg, but Jurassic World has the same beating heart of Spielberg’s best blockbuster movies. It’s an expertly crafted piece of entertainment through and through.

Not too many blockbusters have won me over these past few years, with most of them relying too heavily on excessive destruction and garish visual effects. But Jurassic World takes the best kind of blockbuster from the 80s and 90s and makes it feel brand new again. I went into Jurassic World not expecting much, but came out thoroughly entertained.

Simply put, Jurassic World is awesome.