Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Full Review)

Few expected Jurassic World to be the worldwide box office success that it was. But thanks to the charm of Chris Pratt and some well played nostalgia, the movie managed to recapture the essence of the original Jurassic Park. But just like with the original Jurassic Park sequels, it’s tough to keep the franchise from becoming stale when the dinosaur theme park isn’t the focal point. With a weaker storyline, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom comes dangerously close to crumbling under the weight of its own outlandishness.

Jurassic_World_Fallen_KingdomA few years after the foolish decision to create a mutated dinosaur led to catastrophe and the closing of Jurassic World, the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar find themselves facing extension thanks to an active volcano. With the U.S. government refusing to get involved, a wealthy benefactor (James Cromwell) and his financial successor (Rafe Spall) launch a secret expedition to save the dinosaurs. To accomplish their mission they recruit raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Pratt), former park manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a hacker (Justice Smith), and a dino veterinarian (Daniella Pineda). It doesn’t take long for the dino-loving group to learn that the organization has dangerous ulterior motives.

Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, clearly the best two films in the franchise, worked because they kept things simple and played on the fear of people who thought they were going to experience a fun zoological atmosphere. Like Jurassic Park 2 and 3, Fallen Kingdom falls into the same plot pitfalls that make it teeter on being ridiculous. The motivations of the antagonists are beyond stupid, but they successfully set up what you come to these movies to see: people running in terror from carnivorous dinosaurs.

Any blockbuster with a flimsy plot has to tow the line between between being stupid and being big dumb fun (just ask Michael Bay). Fallen Kingdom manages to fall into the latter thanks in large part to the cast. Pratt once again delivers a charismatic tough guy performance that keeps the tone light. The newcomers, Smith and Pineda, are surprisingly welcome additions. Pineda adds wit and Smith brings a ton of sidesplitting physical humor. Thus, when things go inevitably haywire, we enjoy seeing them run and scream on screen with Pratt playing the infectious hero.

Decisions by characters we don’t care about are beyond dumb, like a hunter entering a cage of a vicious dino-hybrid to collect a tooth as a trophy. At times it almost feels like characters should turn and wink at the camera before they get eaten. But that’s part of the fun. Even when you can see the outcome a mile away, Fallen Kingdom works its way through the suspense with chilling cinematography and lighthearted quips. So while this unnecessary sequel doesn’t reinvent the wheel or create the same fun as its better predecessors, it is still an absolutely exciting summer ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Jurassic World (Full Review)

There’s a reason people love horror movies and thrillers. It’s that feeling you get when your heart races, your eyes get wide, and you start thinking “Oh s**t, oh s**t! RUN!” The first time I ever felt that feeling was when I first saw 1993’s Jurassic Park. I loved the movie so much, that I actually wanted to be a paleontologist when I was 5 years old. Two sequels followed, and while they were entertaining, they couldn’t quite capture the sense of wonder that encompassed the original. With Jurassic World, Director Colin Trevorrow and company hope they can recapture that magic that seems to have gotten lost over time.

Jurassic_World_posterFailing to include the theme park element in the plot was one of the biggest draw backs to The Lost World, and Jurassic Park 3. But this time, the park is now open. Set roughly 20 years after the catastrophe that saw dinosaurs run amuck following employee sabotage, the kinks of founder John Hammond’s groundbreaking theme park have been essentially worked out. Jurassic World, as it is now called, is fully functional with genetically recreated creatures ranging from giant sea monsters, flying pterodactyls and of course, the T-Rex.

But apparently, living dinosaurs aren’t enough. Tourists and investors want bigger and scarier and something fresh (there’s a metaphor for summer films in there somewhere). This leads to the park scientists, lead by Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong reprising his role from Jurassic Park), bio-engineering the first hybrid super dinosaur named Indominus Rex.  You can guess what happens from there.

Many of the decisions made by characters in this film are incredibly dumb. I’m talking ‘exploring an abandoned cemetery’ or ‘hearing a scary noise and going to see what it is’ type of dumb. But it shouldn’t bother you, because we all want things to go south. We want park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to ignore common sense and refuse to evacuate the island at the first sign of trouble. We want park C.E.O. Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) to try and capture the Indominus Rex alive to save his investment instead of trying to kill it. We want teenage brothers to foolishly wander off on their own in a theme park filled with deadly dinosaurs. We want raptor tamer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to be a badass who no one listens to despite the fact that he seems to be the only one who knows how to deal with the creatures. Why? Because those are the things that make horror films, disaster movies, and thrillers the most fun.

And Jurassic World is off the charts on the fun scale. Even before the inevitable disaster that sends everyone screaming in terror, the film captures the sense of wonder that a child would get at his first trip to the zoo. From the moment we hear John Williams’ iconic theme, we feel like we’re back in Jurassic Park, and that’s something none of the previous sequels manage to recapture. Once the chaos ensues, it is as heart pounding as ever even if it feels cheesy. The final sequence seems ripped right out of a Godzilla movie, and I enjoyed every second of it.

Jurassic World isn’t a cinematic classic with a ton of memorable characters. The one exception is Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady who is witty and cool from start to finish. And several subplots, particularly one about a government official (Vincent D’Onofrio) trying to weaponize raptors for the military, could have been left on the cutting room floor. But the movie is absolute gold as summer entertainment. More importantly, to fans who grew up re-watching the original over and over again, it is beautifully nostalgic.

FINAL GRADE: A-

My TOP 15 Sci-Fi Movies!!

 I decided to do a Top 15 list of my favorite science fiction films. This originally proved to be impossible, so I narrowed it down to only those sci-fi movies that have come out since 1988 (Sheds tear for The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner). I also had to narrowly define what would be considered Sci-Fi for this list. I ended up excluding any movies with superheroes, any movie based on teen novels (No Harry Potter or Hunger Games here), and any movie about zombies… mainly because I recognize those as sub-genres. I also can’t rank movies I haven’t seen so no Donnie Darko. Again… Disclaimer… These are MY favorites. Enjoy and feel free to comment if you think I’m an idiot or if I left something off of the list.

15. Tron: Legacy (2010)

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One of the most underrated movies on this list. It got bashed by some critics, but I could care less. The cool factor for this movie is off the charts from the 3D visuals to the awesome soundtrack done by Daft Punk. Favorite Moment: Sam battles Rinzler in the Games.

14. Looper (2012)

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I couldn’t include Back to the Future on this list, so it’s only fitting that I give time travel some love elsewhere. This movie was the perfect blend of mob-noir and science fiction. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great as a young Bruce Willis, but the real showstopper was Chris Gagnon as the young telepath Cid. Favorite Moment: An assassin enters his home in the middle of a farm and Cid proceeds to lose his telepathic s**t.

 

13. Equilibrium (2002)

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Before Christian Bale was Batman, he was cleric John Preston. This Matrix-esque noir film about a world void of emotion and the rebels trying to free it somehow flew under the Box Office radar. Not sure how. Bale is in top form as the antagonist turned protagonist lead and Taye Diggs is just as good as his rival. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Favorite Moment: John Preston uses gun kata, a fighting style using pistols, to take out a horde of police.

 

12. Minority Report (2002)

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Tom Cruise has been in some great movies, but this film about a police force that uses psychics to stop crimes before they even happen, is without a doubt my favorite. Not only does it feature awesome futuristic imagery and a great story reminiscent of The Fugitive, but it also manages to raise tons of philosophical questions along the way. Favorite Moment: Cruise’s  John Anderton first sees his name come up as a future murderer which leads to an epic police chase through futuristic Washington D.C.

 

11. Star Trek (2009)

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I’m far from being a Trekky, but this film made me want to be one. An amazing cast and a story that effectively gives each character their moment to shine is what makes this movie memorable. Kudos to director J.J. Abrams for also managing to make a series reboot and sequel at the same time. Favorite Moment: Kirk, Sulu, and a doomed red shirt free fall down to a drill that’s in the process of destroying Spock’s homeworld.

 

10. Akira (1988)

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I was so ecstatic that this movie made the cutoff date, because it is the best anime film ever made. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a story that involves human experimentation, children with telekinesis, and a boy going through hell and high water to save his already doomed best friend. The animation looks ten years ahead of its time and the imagery of 2019 Tokyo feels futuristic, but still realistic. A live-action adaption has been in development-hell for nearly a decade. Here’s hoping that if they do it, they get it right. Favorite Moment: Kaneda’s bike is still the coolest motorcycle ever.

 

9. Independence Day (1996)

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This may be the most realistic depiction of an alien invasion out there. It’s as much of a disaster film as it is an alien invasion drama. But it’s the characters that make it stand out; A drunken father of three who claims he was previously abducted, the scientist who no one will listen to, a President who’s willing to jump into a cockpit and fight after the death of his wife (Probably the most unbelievable element of the movie) and of course Will Smith’s witty, fearless, gung ho pilot. Favorite Moment: Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore gives an epic speech before the climactic battle.

 

8. Chronicle (2012)

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A beautiful, innovative, and thrilling film. It successfully molds comic book heroism with the new found footage revolution. Incredible performances from up-incomers Dane DeHann and Michael B. Jordan help make for a great watch and an in-depth character study into the mind of a very realistic super villain. Favorite Moment: The three teenage friends use their new found telekinetic powers to play pranks ranging from moving someone’s car into a different parking spot to scaring a little girl with a floating teddy bear.

 

7. Jurassic Park (1993)

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In the early 90’s, there was nothing cooler than dinosaurs. Combined with The Land Before Time and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, this movie actually made me want to be a paleontologist. It’s ground-breaking special effects, a family adventure, and a horror film all wrapped into one epic blend. Favorite Moment:  The two youngest characters must hide from velociraptors… in a kitchen.

 

6. The Fifth Element (1997)

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Somewhere in 1992, someone was watching Die Hard and thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to put John McClaine in space.” Five years later they made The Fifth Element. This movie personifies the sci-fi genre, from flying cars to luxury cruises in space, while also giving us the mesmerizing sequences of the over-the-top action genre that Bruce Willis is famous for. Chris Tucker’s turn as flamboyant radio host Ruby Rhod and Milla Jovovich’s breakout role as Leeloo are also notable. Favorite Moment: Bruce Willis’ Korbin Dallas comes in to “negotiate” with The Mangalores.

 

5. Star Trek into Darkness (2013)

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The sequel to the #11 movie on this list, STID was the best movie of summer 2013 and my #1 movie of the year. It continued the fantastic character development from its predecessor, managed to give us a more badass villain, paid homage to old school Trek films, and successfully presented a more compelling story than the first. Here’s hoping J.J. Abrams can resurrect the Star Wars franchise next. Favorite Moment: (Spoiler alert) Spock cries for the first time and then angrily chases after Khan following the death of Captain Kirk.

 

4. Men in Black (1997)

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Who would’ve thought Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones would make such a great tandem? Will’s wit. Tommy Lee’s dryness. It just works. And together they make this, aliens among us, action-comedy as iconic as any sci-fi movie ever. The sequels aren’t horrible, but neither remotely catches the magic of the first one. Favorite Moment: Will Smith, while competing for an MIB position with several other talented members of law enforcement, shoots a cardboard cutout of a little girl in the head while ignoring several snarling aliens. “I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some s**t, Zed.”

 

3. The Matrix (1999)

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I would call this film the ultimate mind f**k… but there’s another movie on this list that deserves that title. Nevertheless, The Matrix is the first movie to make us leave the theater with our minds completely blown due to its incredible special effects, intricate post-apocalyptic plot line, and sleek fight scene choreography. It’s also the only movie with Keanu Reeves in it where it doesn’t feel like he’s a terrible actor. Favorite Moment: So many to choose from, but I’ll go with Neo and Agent Smith facing off in the subway.

 

2. Cloud Atlas (2012)

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Shout out to the Wachowski siblings for being #3 and #2 on this list. This movie is six films with the same cast intermingled in one, and technically only two of those can be classified as science fiction; An Orison of Sonmi-451 which takes place in 2144 and Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After which takes place in 2321. Those two are good enough to make the Top 2. There are so many amazing features about this entire movie, which I ranked #1 of 2012, but the sci-fi segments, one a story about a clone starting a revolution and the other a post apocalyptic adventure, are my favorite. Great imagery, captivating characters and a beautiful narrative are what make them stand out above almost anything I’ve ever seen. Favorite Moment: Jim Sturgess’ Hae-Joo Chang and Donna Bae’s Sonmi-451 must flee from police through the window of his penthouse apartment in the middle of the night.

 

And coming in at #1…

Drum roll please…

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1. Inception (2010)

With respect to The Matrix… THIS movie was the ultimate Mind f**k. Saw this movie at its midnight premiere and couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it for a week. It’s unique, It’s visually captivating, It’s got a great score, and It’s got a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page. It also has the most fitting end to any movie of its genre. I’m still listening to theories of what the climax means. The great Christopher Nolan strikes again. Favorite Moment: Narrowing this down to one was really difficult, so I copped out and went with two;

1. While in the first level of dream sequences, JGL’s Arthur is shooting at snipers on a rooftop unsuccessfully when Hardy’s Eames pulls out a rocket launcher and quips “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger darling”. Then he blows each of their adversaries away.

2. The van in the first dream level (with each character inside it) goes spinning end over end, leading to a gravity defying fight scene in dream level two featuring Jospeh Gordon-Levitt. Extra points for this scene because it was filmed completely without the use of CGI.

 Honorable Mention: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Gravity, Elysium, Total Recall (1990), Galaxy Quest, I Robot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes