Review of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

The once dormant volcano on the island of Isla Nublar has come to life and will soon destroy all the dinosaurs at the abandoned Jurassic World theme park. Former park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has started the Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG) to lobby Congress to help rescue some of the prehistoric animals. Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) testifies before a congressional committee the dinosaurs should be allowed to die and correct the mistake John Hammond made in cloning them and they agree with his opinion voting to not become involved in what is a private business matter. Claire receives a call from Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) with a proposal: He will bankroll a rescue mission on behalf of his employer, an eccentric billionaire with a connection to Hammond, and save 11 species and possibly more. Claire’s handprint is needed to access the tracking system used to locate all the dinos on the island. Mills is especially interested in saving on specific raptor known as Blue. Claire knows capturing Blue will be nearly impossible without the help of one man: Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) raised Blue from birth and the two have a special bond. Claire and Owen’s relationship ended and she’s not looking forward to asking him for this favor. Apparently resistant to the idea Owen shows up to fly to Isla Nublar and try to rescue the dinos and especially his Blue. Once on the island Claire, Owen, paleoveterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and tech specialist Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) along with a team of well-armed mercenaries and big game hunters begin the search for the creatures. With the volcano spewing lava and blowing giant boulders at them like bombs the hunters and soldiers leave Claire and the others to fend for themselves and the group quickly figures out this isn’t a rescue mission at all.

The fifth film in the Jurassic franchise had big expectations as its release date approached. “Jurassic World” made $1.6-billion worldwide and desire for a sequel was instantaneous. The pressure was on director J.A. Bayona to deliver the thrills and dino action fans of the series require as well as a story that makes sense to continue the franchise to the next installment. He got it almost right.

One thing you can’t complain about in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the number of action scenes and the number of dinosaur species on display. Right in the opening sequence we get a look at the aquatic Mosasaurus and the granddaddy of them all Tyrannosaurus rex. Of all the species my favorite is the Stygimoloch. It has a bony dome on the top of its head it uses as a battering ram. That gets put to good use in helping Owen and Claire escape as well as disrupting the plans of the bad guys. The creature is used mostly as a convenient way to keep the plot moving while also being a bit of comic relief. Despite it being a plot device, I enjoyed how it was used in the movie.

While this film isn’t bloody there are probably more deaths by dinosaur than in any other chapter. Some of these deaths are extremely satisfying as there are some odious characters in the film. A couple of standouts include Ted Levine as the leader of the mercenaries Ken Wheatley. He takes pleasure in the suffering of the dinosaurs even ripping a tooth from each one to turn into a souvenir necklace. Toby Jones is also vile and slimy as Gunnar Eversol, a seller of rare and illegal things. He doesn’t care that the animals he’s selling will be used as weapons against innocent people by totalitarian regimes as long as he gets his commission. There are a couple of other really terrible people in the movie that wind up in the belly of a dinosaur and no one we see die on screen could be considered an innocent victim as they are all involved in the plans of the villain.

The cast of good guys puts in some entertaining performances led by Chris Pratt. Pratt’s Owen Grady retains his disdain for ceremony and formality from the first film. His only interest is protecting the animals from the plans of the bad guys while finding the time to toss off a quick joke or light jab at those he feels deserve it. Bryce Dallas Howard shows she can be as much of a bad ass hero as Pratt in a couple of scenes in the film. Howard feels like a more rounded out character this time. Her resolve is more focused and she’s looking out more than in. Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith make for great comic relief on opposite ends of the spectrum: Pineda’s Rodriquez is a tough, no-nonsense character that tells it like it is while Smith’s Webb is constantly in fear for his life and wondering out loud why he’s involved in what’s going on. While you know these polar opposites will probably be a couple by the end of the film it’s fun to see them interact with each other and the rest of the cast.

While the action and the special effects are great the story is somewhat less so. Writers Derek Connoly and Colin Trevorrow have put together a bare bones script that gets some of the dinosaurs and all our main characters off the island and into an implausible situation. Implausible situations are common for movies, especially those set in impossible scenarios like dinosaurs living in modern times; however, there isn’t much else going on. The relationship between Claire and Owen seems to be stalled in neutral and the situation with the dinosaurs is very reminiscent of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” While the idea of an auction of dinosaurs to the super rich and the infamous is interesting it doesn’t exactly cause excitement or make for much more than a location primed for disaster. Why I’m looking for something deep and meaningful in the movie is a bit of a mystery. I suppose I like my movies to say something beyond what’s on the screen, but I can also enjoy a film that’s one action scene right after another and filled with dinosaurs like “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. The dinosaurs eat people…frequently. Some of them also headbutt and step on various nameless characters. There is a little gunplay but all of it is aimed at dinosaurs. Foul language is limited to one usage of the word “damn” and the implication of “s**t.”

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is doing very well at the box office in both North America and the rest of the world. The final film in the “Jurassic World” trilogy has been penciled in for release on June 11, 2021 with both Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard to return. Seeing these incredible animals brought back to life with the wizardry of both animatronics and computer animation is always going to be a thrill even if the story leaves something to be desired. I am hopeful we’ll get a complete movie with both a compelling story and mind-blowing visuals the next time around.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” gets five stars.

This week Marvel’s littlest heroes and how a day of death and mayhem began will grace the screens of your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The First Purge (Opening July 4)—

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6)—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in movies, TV and streaming available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

 

Review of “Thor: Ragnarok”

Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) finally returns to Asgard after his quest to make sense of his dreams of Ragnarok, or the destruction of everything. When he arrives he sees Odin (Anthony Hopkins) but knows instantly it is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki takes Thor to Earth where he left him but the retirement home has been torn down. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) guides Thor and Loki to Norway where Odin is standing on a cliff looking over the ocean. He tells the two he is weak and can no longer hold back Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. When she returns to Asgard she will become more powerful than even Thor. Hela appears and Thor tries to defeat her with his hammer but she catches and destroys it. Loki calls for the Bifrost Bridge but Hela also hops on and is able to knock both Thor and Loki out of the transport beam. Thor lands on a planet called Sakaar, is captured by Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) and is brought to meet the leader named the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster runs gladiator fights to keep the masses entertained and the only way Thor can leave the planet is to fight and defeat the champion: It’s Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). His quinjet crashed on Sakaar two years earlier and he’s been in the Hulk form the whole time. When they meet in the arena the fight ends in a tie. Thor tries to convince Hulk to join him, find a way off Sakaar and return to Asgard to take on Hela. During his time on the planet, Thor learns that Scrapper 142 is the last surviving Valkyrie; a group of female warriors that fought for Odin in his war against Hela. Back on Asgard, Hela has made Skurge (Karl Urban) her executioner but he’s having second thoughts about working with the new queen. Heimdall (Idris Elba) has stolen the sword that opens the Bifrost Bridge and is trying to hide as many Asgardians as possible to keep them safe. Things are looking dark for the God of Thunder and the citizens of Asgard.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a much more light-hearted and funny film than any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It never takes itself terribly seriously even though the events within the comic book story universe are very life and death. It makes for a film that is both funny and exciting in equal measure. It’s a rare feat for a movie to have laughs and action with one or the other not getting shortchanged in the process.

According to an interview director Taika Waititi did with MTV at Comic Con, about 80 percent of the dialog in the movie was improvised on set. This usually makes for a film that is choppy and disjointed with lots of quick edits so the best lines, along with the ones that move the story in the proper direction, wind up in the final cut. “Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t have that feel. The director and stars must have been very comfortable with the story and confident in their improvisation abilities to come up with a funny movie and coherent narrative.

With a cast this large it’s difficult for a secondary character to stand out; but Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster certainly makes an impression. Charming, quirky and evil, the Grandmaster is a hedonistic dictator looking to be entertained at all times. He enjoys the blood sport that brings crowds to his arena and loves being the larger-than-life holographic ringmaster projected in the center of the ring, towering over his subjects. Goldblum’s non sequiturs often go unresolved and those that do are preceded by a fair bit of yammering. Those familiar with Goldblum and have seen his recent interviews will notice a similarity between his speaking style and that of the Grandmaster. It appears to be the perfect actor in the perfect role.

Cate Blanchett seems to be having the most fun in her role of Hela. Blanchett is at times smoldering, sarcastic, pitiful and vengeful. All of it makes sense and all of it is played with just the right intensity. She never chews the scenery so much for it to become camp despite gnawing on a few sets from time to time. Blanchett is measured in her excess and it makes for a particularly delicious villain.

The most of the rest of the cast turns in energetic and entertaining performances. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is finally given a chance to do more than just be a hissing, snotty bad guy. Idris Elba’s Heimdall is allowed to be a proper hero. Tessa Thompson is an entertaining and worthy addition to the under-staffed stable of Marvel female heroes. If I have to take points off for any performance it is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Ruffalo’s Banner acts like a meth addict that needs a hit. While we only see the human version of the Hulk for a relatively brief amount of time, Banner is twitchy and frankly annoying. He complains about being freaked out and whines to Thor about being on an alien planet. It’s the one performance that feels like it was a decision made on set at the time of shooting and it was the wrong choice.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material, action and intense sci-fi violence. The only thing suggestive I remember is a reference to an orgy on board one of the Grandmaster’s spaceships. There are numerous fights with scenes of soldiers and others stabbed and impaled by swords. There is very little blood. One character loses an eye. A giant wolf attacks and bites Hulk causing green blood to come out. Foul language is scattered and mild.

With films of this type the majority of the time everyone on screen is CGI. If you see a character thrown 100 feet through the air and crash into and through a brick wall you can be certain no actors or stunt people were harmed in the making of that scene. Much of “Thor: Ragnarok” has been created in the processors of computers. That makes the achievement of the film that much more impressive. Despite all the special effects, costumes, makeup and other worldly locales, “Thor: Ragnarok” still manages to be a superhero movie with a great deal of heart and humor that is dependent on the performances of very real and talented actors. Director Taika Waititi has pulled off a minor miracle and made a funny and entertaining film involving Thor. I wasn’t sure that could be done.

“Thor: Ragnarok” gets five stars.

This week there are a comedy sequel and a train of death coming to a movie screen near you. I’ll be seeing at least one of the following:

Daddy’s Home 2—

Murder on the Orient Express—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest movie news and more, follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Independence Day: Resurgence”

It’s been 20 years since the alien invasion was turned back with a combination of a brave military, an inspiring speech by then President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and plucky cable TV repairman and virus software writer David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). In the two decades since, a new multi-national military force called the Earth Space Defense (ESD for short) has been established using a combination of human and alien technology. There has been peace and prosperity since the attacks and to celebrate the 20th anniversary, current President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) is hosting a giant celebration on the lawn of the rebuilt White House. President Whitmore is troubled by nightmares of a new alien invasion. He believes the aliens are coming back soon. Levinson is now in charge of the ESD and is brought to an African country by that nation’s leader Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) to see an alien ship that had been dormant since the attack has now come back to life. Inside, Levinson discovers the ship is sending a distress signal. On the ESD moon base, pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) and his co-pilot Charlie Ritter (Travis Tope) have just finished the installation of a massive new weapon when an alien ship appears from out of a wormhole. The new weapon is used to shoot down the spherical craft despite the objections of Levinson who says it looks nothing like the ships from the original attack. Morrison takes a spacecraft and heads to Earth to pick up Levinson so he can see the wreckage. As they are investigating, a massive alien ship that more closely resembles the vessels from 20 years ago appears and quickly destroys the ESD lunar base. Morrison and Levinson, still at the scene of the downed sphere, discover a piece of the craft that looks like it could be important. They are able to scoop it up and nearly escape the moon when they are captured by the gravitational field of the alien ship and dragged along back to Earth to face an uncertain fate.

Above is a very much abridged plot synopsis of approximately the first 20 minutes of “Independence Day: Resurgence.” I could have mentioned about a dozen more characters and several more subplots and bits of backstory that are crammed into the same amount of running time but that would make this introduction to the film about four pages long. There is a great deal going on in “Independence Day: Resurgence” and most of it doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans as the only thing anyone is interested in is when will the aliens show up and start destroying everything and when will someone give a rousing speech that brings the whole world together in the fight against the alien menace. It doesn’t take long to get to the destruction but the speeches (there are two) require sitting through most of one very dumb movie.

What makes “Independence Day: Resurgence” so dumb, dumber even than the original, is the utter implausibility of most of what happens. I’m not talking about the alien invasion parts. I’m talking about the human interactions and the amount of coincidence and head-scratching illogic on display. For instance, Umbutu, a government bean counter, a former girlfriend of Levinson’s and Levinson all wind up travelling to the moon and then to Area 51 together. The presence of three of the four of them cannot be rationally explained by anything other than they were given a ride. There is not even a reason for them to exist in the film for more than a scene or two. “Independence Day: Resurgence” is full of this kind of thing: An aide to the current president is the daughter of President Whitmore and she is a former fighter pilot and friends with Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher), the stepson of Will Smith’s character while also being engaged to Morrison but he and Hiller hate each other because of a flight training accident but they will run into each other because Hiller is headed to the moon base where Morrison is stationed. Again, none of this has anything to do with the alien invasion and the film stuffs much of its two hour running time with meaningless trash, subplots and backstory.

The movie also doesn’t mind giving everyone abilities and knowledge from out of nowhere: President Whitmore can fly the spacecraft Morrison brings back to Earth. Human military pilots are able to operate alien fighters (just like Will Smith from the first film). Guys looking for sunken treasure are able to monitor how deep the aliens are drilling into the Earth’s crust and report back to Area 51. It all is utter lunacy.

All that being said “Independence Day: Resurgence” does have some pretty spectacular visuals including a 50 foot tall alien and the sight of buildings being uprooted by the massive mothership then being dropped on other cities thousands of miles away. There are dogfights where the sky is filled with craft from both sides yet it is fairly easy to keep track of what is happening. While it is difficult to get a real impression of the size of the mothership (said in the movie to be 3000 miles across) it is impressive nonetheless. All the various bits of merged human and alien technology have a pleasant blue/green glow to them. And of course, the film gives the audience what it really wants with heartwarming reunions and celebrations of a job well done. It panders to the base instincts of moviegoers with easy answers given out by pretty people. It may be lazy filmmaking but it does deliver a kind of dirty satisfaction.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action, destruction and some language. As described earlier we see buildings uprooted from one city and dropped on another. While death is talked about we see mostly dead aliens except for one onscreen human death with a small amount of blood. There are deaths of human characters but we don’t actually see the deaths, only the explosions that cause them. Foul language is widely scattered and very mild.

When “Independence Day” came out, I didn’t see it in a theatre. My first viewing of it was when if premiered on one of the pay cable channels. I really liked it on first viewing but then repeated viewings made its weaknesses stand out. It only took one viewing of “Independence Day: Resurgence” to see how much of this film is silly; far more silly than even the original. It’s like director Roland Emmerich and the four other credited writers thought it had been so long since the first film and the buzz for this movie had been going on for so long they didn’t need to try and release something with a coherent story or much in the way of logic. Emmerich has even been recently quoted as saying Marvel’s superhero movies are “silly.” Based on his latest effort, he appears to be an expert in silly.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” gets three stars out of five but only because of the special effects. Everything else in the film is a waste of time.

This week there be giants, an ape man and the wholesale murder of anyone and everyone for 12 hours.  I’ll see and review at least one of these films:

The BFG-

The Legend of Tarzan-

The Purge:  Election Year-

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and contact me via email at stanthemovieman@comcast.net.