Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – HUMANS NEVER LEARN

The Jurassic Park franchise has always been based on people making really stupid decisions. Why don’t we ever learn? Because if we did, then there would be no more Jurassic movies, and the studio executives would make no money.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels like a movie that was made as a bridge of sorts. The third Jurassic World movie is already set for release in 2021, and Fallen Kingdom feels like the middle of a trilogy, in that it doesn’t have much of a beginning and its ending doesn’t even try to wrap things up.

The movie was directed by J.A. Bayona, a talented Spanish director whose previous films include The Orphanage, The Impossible, and A Monster Calls. I haven’t seen them, but I’ve heard good things about all three and they’re on my ever-expanding watch list, so hopefully I’ll get to them soon. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a well-directed movie with dazzling special effects, but is severely let down in the script department.

Images: Universal Pictures

The script was written by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, who also co-wrote the previous film in the franchise, 2015’s Jurassic World, which Trevorrow also directed. They should not be allowed to write the third film, because every single character in both of their Jurassic World movies is an idiot who learns nothing.

At the end of Jurassic World, the titular theme park closed for good after a colossal disaster led to the release of the dinosaurs and a bunch of unlikable/boring people being eaten. Three years later, the volcano on the island that formerly housed Jurassic World is on the verge of erupting, and the dinosaurs are in danger of becoming extinct once again. Why anyone would build a theme park on an island with a potentially active volcano on it is yet another mystery that may never be solved.

A debate rages about how to handle the situation, with some people (including Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, who is in the movie for less than five minutes) thinking that since it was a bad idea to bring the dinosaurs back in the first place, it is not a bad thing that nature is about to once again remove the dinosaurs from existence. Others, such as Claire Dearing (played once again by Bryce Dallas Howard), think differently.

Claire, the former operations manager at Jurassic World, has since become an animal-rights advocate who wants to save the dinosaurs. She is recruited by an aging billionaire named Benjamin Lockwood (played by James Cromwell) and his right-hand man Eli Mills (played by Rafe Spall) to go to the island as part of a rescue operation to relocate the dinosaurs to a new island where they will be safe. She agrees and recruits her ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) to assist. Owen trained the park’s velociraptors back in the day and has a special relationship with Blue, the sole surviving raptor.

If saving a bunch of extremely dangerous giant reptiles from an island with an erupting volcano on it sounds like a dumb idea, that’s because it objectively is. But this is only the first of many dumb ideas the characters of this film have up their sleeves.

From here on out, there are going to be spoilers. It can’t be helped. You have been warned.

It turns out that the dinosaur rescue operation is only half the story. After a sufficient number of dinosaurs have been recovered, instead of transporting them to a different island, they are instead brought back to Lockwood’s mansion, where his evil assistant Mills plans to sell them off to the highest bidders. As an extra incentive to potential buyers, Mills has had Jurassic World geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (played by B.D. Wong, who along with Jeff Goldblum is the only actor from the original Jurassic Park film to appear in the new movies) to create a new, genetically-engineered dinosaur.

You may recall from Jurassic World that the main reason everything went to shit in the first place was because Claire authorized Wu to create the Indominus Rex, a genetically-engineered super-dino who promptly escaped containment and went on a rampage. Well, clearly we stupid humans have CONTINUED TO LEARN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, and Wu has created the INDORAPTOR, a hybrid of Indominus Rex and velociraptor DNA, a creature designed SPECIFICALLY FOR HUNTING AND KILLING. THERE IS NO WAY THIS COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG.

Now, to be fair, the Indoraptor is actually pretty cool. The reasons for its creation may be deeply stupid, but it’s a cool-looking creature and I enjoyed watching it create havoc and mayhem after its inevitable escape. I called it the Murdersaurus, which is what I will refer to it as for the remainder of this post. Generally, the Jurassic World films have done a good job with the dinosaurs and a poor job with the human characters, since most of them are dull and make dumb decisions.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both charismatic and likable actors but they don’t have much chemistry in these movies, and I found it difficult, verging on impossible, to care about their on-again, off-again relationship. The supporting cast includes some good actors but most of them get nothing to do. Besides Jeff Goldblum and James Cromwell, both of whom are thoroughly wasted, take Ted Levine. He plays a grizzled mercenary whose name escapes me whose sole character trait is that he enjoys using pliers to rip dinosaurs’ teeth out. You don’t need me to tell you that this macabre proclivity comes back around to bite him (if you see what I mean) as soon as he makes the catastrophically-stupid decision to take the tooth of a drugged Murdersaurus. Let’s just say that tranquilizers don’t keep the Murdersaurus down for very long.

I could go into a lot more detail about all the things in the plot of this movie that make absolutely no sense, but based on what I’ve written above you can probably figure most of them out for yourself. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the kind of movie that’s a lot of fun to watch with friends and drinks and talk about all the dumb things in it, but it’s very hard to take the movie seriously.

My feelings about this movie are similar to my feelings about RAMPAGE, which came out back in April. That movie was also dumb as hell and full of people making drastically bad decisions, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. I enjoyed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom for much the same reason. It was fun. I knew I was in for a good time when the movie opened with a scene involving a helicopter and a T-Rex. More movies should open with scenes involving helicopters and T-Rexes.

Fallen Kingdom is a dopey movie but I still got quite a bit of enjoyment out of it, despite its MANY issues. It looks terrific and the dinosaurs are photorealistic, even the made-up Murdersaurus looks damn good. There are fun and suspenseful action sequences that had the people around me in the theater literally gripping the armrests of their seats and the woman sitting next to me visibly recoiled away from the screen during some of the more intense scenes. It may be dumb but it’s certainly effective, and Chris Pratt is always watchable, even if his character is badly-written.

Speaking of bad writing, Fallen Kingdom ultimately falls prey to the same problem that afflicted The Last Jedi: it’s well-directed but badly-written, and ends up being more than a little bit messy. Still, it’s loaded with fun and intense dino-action, which should be enough for summer moviegoers.

Long live the Murdersaurus. Oh wait, it died. Shit.

MONSTER MOVIE BINGE!! (AKA SUMMER MONSTER MASH)

I love monster movies. If a movie is full of creatures, I’m good and happy. Recently I discovered how easy it is to watch movies on Amazon Video that might be hard to find on Blu-Ray, and I’ve been on a tear of highly-entertaining creature features. Here are a few of my favorites, because there is never a bad time to watch people get eaten by tentacle monsters.

Deep Rising (1998)

Deep Rising was written and directed by Stephen Sommers, who went on to make The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Van Helsing, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The movie was originally called “Tentacle.” These two facts should tell you what kind of movie Deep Rising is: it’s not remotely scary, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The main character is Finnegan, played by Treat Williams. The producers wanted Harrison Ford, but he turned them down. The character is clearly inspired by Han Solo, except instead of a spaceship, he has a boat. He and his crew are hired by a shady group of mercenaries for some nefarious purpose that is not immediately clear, but as long as the pay is good Finnegan doesn’t particularly care what the job is.

This is a practice he will come to regret, because wouldn’t you know it, the mercenaries’ target is a state-of-the-art cruise ship which just so happens to be completely infested with slimy, sharp-toothed tentacle monsters.


Image: Buena Vista Pictures

There are a few more wrinkles in the plot, but it’s pretty rudimentary stuff. The various mercenaries are picked off in grisly ways, and there are a few survivors on the boat, one of whom is played by Famke Janssen, fresh off the success of GoldenEye a few years previously, and two years away from another hit with X-Men in 2000.

The creatures are mostly CGI, and while they do look somewhat dated by today’s ridiculously high special effects standards, they still look pretty good. The look of the creatures is fairly basic, they’re essentially tentacles with sharp-toothed maws at the end, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Is it weird that I had a lot of fun watching the mercenaries get eaten and dismembered? Because I really did. The movie is goofy and gory and predictable, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The Relic (1997)

The main thing people tend to remember about The Relic is that it’s really, really dark. Not “dark” as in “thematically dark”, like it deals with weighty issues and themes. “Dark” as in “lost in the woods in the middle of the night without a flashlight” dark. For much of the movie, it’s kind of hard to see.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, not being able to see clearly can create tension, since you don’t know where the monster is going to come from if you can’t see much. On the other hand, watching a movie carries with it the completely reasonable expectation to be able to see what’s going on.

So yeah, The Relic is a bit of an oddity in that regard. It’s still enjoyable though, and it’s definitely scarier than Deep Rising, though not as much fun. The movie was based on the best-selling novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, which I haven’t read. The basic plot summary is: ancient South American monster runs amok at museum gala opening in Chicago.

The monster in question is the Kothoga, a massive, wheezing monstrosity that rips people’s heads off and eats the hypothalamus in their brains. That’s a thoroughly nasty way to kill someone, and The Relic features some gruesome kills that are genuinely disturbing, but also kind of funny in a macabre sort of way.

Image: Paramount Pictures

The main human characters are Vincent D’Agosta, a police detective played by Tom Sizemore, and Dr. Margo Green, the museum’s evolutionary biologist, played by Penelope Ann Miller. Sizemore and Miller are likable leads and the only people in the movie I did not want to get eaten. The Kothoga claims quite a few victims, and most of them I didn’t care about, either because they were jerks or I didn’t know who they were.

The Kothoga itself was designed by legendary makeup artist Stan Winston, and as a result it looks pretty great. The Relic was directed by Peter Hyams, who would later make the utterly insane 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller End of Days, which I covered in a previous post a few years ago.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely wouldn’t want my head ripped off and part of my brain eaten by a wheezing, reptilian beast, and that thought alone gives The Relic a lot of weight in the horror department that the popcorn thrills of Deep Rising can’t provide. If you want an action movie, watch Deep Rising. If you want a horror movie, watch The Relic.

Leviathan (1989)

Leviathan is probably my least favorite movie in this first round of Monster Movie Binge, but it’s still fun. It stars Robocop himself, Peter Weller, as a geologist supervising an underwater mining operation. The crew comes across the wreck of a Russian ship called Leviathan, which holds a deadly secret.

An underwater base is a good location for a monster movie, since the characters have very limited options once the tentacles show up. The monster turns out to be the result of Russian experiments with mutagens on the crewmen of the Leviathan, and they scuttled the ship once the experiment got out of control. The same mutagens infect Weller’s crew, and a mutant that looks sort of like an angler fish with human faces sticking out of it starts running amok, killing and assimilating the various crew members. Angler fish are creepy as hell by the way, google them if you don’t believe me.

Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer

The main problem with Leviathan is that it feels very derivative. It’s basically Ridley Scott’s Alien meets John Carpenter’s The Thing, only underwater. It’s also a bit too leisurely, since it takes about an hour into the 98-minute movie for the monster to really start causing havoc. It was directed by George P. Cosmatos, who made one the quintessential American action movies in 1985 with Rambo: First Blood Part II. His foray into horror wasn’t as successful, but it’s still worth checking out for monster fans. It’s got another monster designed by Stan Winston, so at least it delivers in that department.

Mimic (1997)

Okay, so I wrote the entries for Deep Rising and The Relic before I saw Guillermo Del Toro’s deeply unsettling English-language debut, Mimic. If you can’t stand creepy-crawlies or the words “mutant cockroaches” are enough to make you reach for the barf bag, you will want to stay VERY FAR AWAY from Mimic. It is easily the scariest movie I’ve watched in Monster Movie Binge so far.

As the movie opens, a disease called Strickler’s disease is killing hundreds of children in Manhattan (you know things are serious when a movie starts with a DISEASE THAT ONLY KILLS CHILDREN). Deputy CDC Director Dr. Peter Mann (played by Jeremy Northam) and entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) work together to create what Susan calls the Judas Breed, a genetically-engineered insect which will release an enzyme that causes the metabolism of the Strickler’s disease-carrying roaches to accelerate, thereby causing them to starve to death.

The plan works, Strickler’s disease is eradicated, and Peter and Susan get married. But three years later, all is not as it seems. The Judas Breed were supposed to die off after a couple months, but they have not only survived, they have thrived, and are far more dangerous (and numerous) than anyone could have imagined.

This movie got under my skin. It is a truth universally acknowledged that cockroaches are vile and disgusting, and they get so much worse when they are human-sized and have developed the ability to imitate humans.

Image: Miramax Films

ICK ICK ICK NO NO NO.

Del Toro didn’t have a good experience making Mimic, since he frequently clashed with producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (yes, that Harvey Weinstein). The Weinsteins were so difficult that for a long time Del Toro disowned the film, until he was able to put together a director’s cut, which was released in 2011 and is the version he prefers. This is the version I watched, and it is damn effective. I was cringing away from my computer screen for most of the movie.

Due to its gruesome subject matter, this is not a film that will be to every viewer’s taste. I liked it overall and appreciate the craftsmanship of it (one of the creature designers was Rob Bottin, who worked on The Thing, which has some of the coolest and grossest monsters in cinematic history), but I am in no hurry to watch it again. It’s harrowing. Still it shows why Del Toro’s name has come to be synonymous with monster movies.

So there you have it, Monster Movie Binge Part One. I’ve got more creature-filled flicks on my watch list, and there’s no time like the present to watch a monster movie.

Solo: A Star Wars Story: I Have an Okay Feeling about This

“Iconic” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but rarely is it more appropriate than when talking about Han Solo, one of the most beloved and influential sci-fi characters of all time. He’s a scoundrel with a heart of gold, a good-for-nothing troublemaker who becomes one of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance and best friend and most trusted confidante of Luke Skywalker.

A movie about such an irresistible character should be a slam dunk. And yet, Solo: A Star Wars Story went through serious behind-the-scenes upheavals on its way to hitting theaters. Long story short, the movie was originally going to be directed by 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were fired several months into production and replaced by Ron Howard, who subsequently re-shot most of the film. We’ll never get to see Lord and Miller’s version of the movie, and we’ll probably never know the whole story behind their firing. But the movie Howard put together, while not a classic in the making, is still a lot of fun.

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm

Han is played by Alden Ehrenreich, a 28-year old actor. He had big shoes to fill, since Han Solo is one of Harrison Ford’s most iconic (there’s that word again) roles. It would be difficult for any actor to play such a character, and Ehrenreich does pretty well. I’d imagine playing young Han Solo would be the kind of role every young actor would want, since who wouldn’t want to play such a famous character and hang out in such a fun universe. At the same time, no one would want to play young Han Solo because of the inevitable comparisons to Harrison Ford. Let’s get this out of the way: Alden Ehrenreich is not as good of a Han Solo as Harrison Ford, but to be fair to the guy, who would be?

The movie begins on the planet Corellia, a backwater that Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (played by very likable Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke) are desperate to escape from so they can see the galaxy together. They almost succeed, only for Qi’ra to be arrested and separated from Han. Seeing no other options, Han enlists in the Imperial Navy in the hopes of becoming a pilot, getting a ship, and returning to Corellia to save Qi’ra.

None of this happens. Han ends up meeting a Wookiee named Chewbacca and the two of them fall in with a smuggler named Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his partner Val (played by Thandie Newton, so amazing in Westworld and criminally underused here). From there, the movie becomes a series of adventures as Han and his new pals jet across the galaxy, getting in heaps of trouble at every turn.

There’s not much of an overall plot here, it’s more of a series of adventures that, while fun, end up feeling somewhat inconsequential. Han and Co. are caught up in a mission to steal a supply of coaxium, an extremely valuable (and dangerous) starship fuel. Starship fuel, while undeniably cool, is kind of boring as a plot point. The movie’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t feel like much is at stake. You know Han and Chewie aren’t going to die, so you’re not worried about their long-term prospects. The suspense is short-term and comes from wondering how our intrepid heroes are going to escape from whatever predicament they currently find themselves in.

The story also doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the overall Star Wars universe. Rogue One, the other Star Wars spinoff movie, was a direct prequel to Episode IV, and felt strongly connected to the rest of the series. It told the story of desperate people on what they knew would most likely be a suicide mission, but they did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. It was a movie with a strong sense of purpose and a genuine moral compass. Solo, by contrast, has neither. It feels untethered from the rest of the series and its characters are either in it for the money or to save their own skins. As understandable as these motivations might be, they don’t necessarily make for compelling drama.

Despite the lack of dramatic heft, the movie is perfectly enjoyable as a piece of entertainment. There are a lot of fun and exciting action sequences and there is an undeniable thrill in seeing beloved characters in a new light. It’s fun to watch Han and Chewie meet and become friends, it’s fun to watch them meet Lando Calrissian and hop into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon for the first time. These are all things you knew would happen going into the movie, but it’s fun to see them regardless. I especially enjoyed watching Han and Chewie’s growing friendship, since they’re a classic duo and Wookiees have always been one of my favorite Star Wars creatures.

Speaking of Lando Calrissian, the filmmakers could not have found a better actor to play him than Donald Glover. He is absolutely perfect. He’s smooth as hell, but you don’t trust him for a second. I would happily watch Lando: A Star Wars Story, with Glover in the lead. He steals the movie.

One of the strangest and most surprising/disappointing things about the movie is how bland it looks. The special effects are good, as one would expect from a Star Wars movie, but for some reason Ron Howard shot the film with a shockingly dull color palette. In stark contrast to the vivid blood red that characterized The Last Jedi (say what you will about the story but that movie looked amazing), Solo is mostly shades of brown and grey. If I had to pick one word to describe the visual experience of watching the movie, that word would be: meh. This is never good for a sci-fi movie that cost $250 million to make. I don’t know why Ron Howard made it look so drab. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Despite its many flaws, I enjoyed the movie overall. There are fun and creative action sequences (the train heist is particularly fun), the acting is solid (Paul Bettany has a good time hamming it up as a scarred, red-eyed crime boss named Dryden Vos), and it’s a fun and entertaining sci-fi adventure. But the bland visuals and lackluster story keep it from being as good as it could have been.

The movie made around $80 million in its opening weekend, a respectable take but well below what Disney was projecting the film would make. I’ve already seen headlines online wondering if Disney and Lucasfilm will start rethinking their strategy regarding Star Wars movies, at the same time it’s been announced that a Boba Fett spinoff is in the works from Logan director James Mangold. That sounds promising, and there’s always Episode IX, which is due out next year. Whatever you thought about Han Solo’s first solo outing, rest assured that for the foreseeable future there will be more Star Wars movies on the horizon.

Avengers Infinity War: The End of the Beginning

The screen cut to black, and the credits started to roll. And everyone in the theater sat in stunned silence.

I suspect this was the case in theaters across the globe last weekend at the conclusion of Marvel’s epic Avengers: Infinity War, in many ways one of the biggest movies ever made. It’s a damn good movie, one with such a devastating ending that I simply must talk about it. I try to avoid spoilers for new releases, but in this case it can’t be helped so be aware that this post will include spoilers.

There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.

First off: there are a LOT of characters in the movie. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Vision, War Machine, Falcon, Winter Soldier, Star-Lord, Groot, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, Mantis, Nebula, Wong, Loki, Heimdall, Shuri, Okoye, and the Mad Titan himself, THANOS.

Images: Marvel/Disney
Whew. One of the movie’s many pleasures is seeing combinations of characters that haven’t met before. I particularly enjoyed Thor’s scenes with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man and Star-Lord bonding over 80’s pop culture references. Infinity War is frequently a very funny movie, and many of the funniest lines and moments come as a result of these characters being thrust together in unexpected ways. The only characters that aren’t in the movie are Hawkeye and Ant-Man, and Ant-Man will be in theaters again later this summer in his own sequel, Ant-Man and The Wasp. Don’t know about Hawkeye though, maybe we’ll see him in Infinity War Part Two.

Speaking of part two, it’s important to remember that Infinity War is the first part of a two-part story, and the two films were shot back-to-back. So as devastating as that ending was, keep in mind that this is NOT THE END. More on this later.

Infinity War is a movie that requires a level of patience from the viewer, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are so many characters and so many things going on that it can be an effort to keep up with it all. The movie follows one group of characters for a while, then switches to a different group, meaning that the viewer has to frequently reorient themselves.

This can be a bit difficult, but it’s not a complaint. Infinity War is a movie that requires the audience to engage with it. It’s not a mindless blockbuster. There’s a lot of intelligence and heart behind it, and it benefits from a decade’s worth of audience engagement with the previous movies. It doesn’t have to make the audience care about these characters because if you’ve been watching every movie for the last ten years then you already do care about them, which is another thing that makes the ending such a gut-punch.

There’s not a whole lot of room in the movie for individual character development, but there doesn’t need to be since we already know all the main characters. If I had to pick one character that I would describe as the most important character in the film, it would be Thanos, the greatest villain the Avengers have ever faced.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been teasing Thanos since the first Avengers movie in 2012, and carefully introducing the Infinity Stones in various movies. Infinity War is the movie where it all comes together, and it’s incredibly satisfying. Thanos is everything fans could want from the character. As soon as he appears onscreen, which happens in the movie’s first scene, no one is safe. The stakes feel very real. One thing about the various Avengers’ solo films is that there’s no doubt the protagonist will survive to the end, but in Infinity War, everyone’s lives are very much at stake.

Thanos could easily have been portrayed as a generic bad guy, but he isn’t, and it is to the credit of directors Joe and Anthony Russo, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and actor Josh Brolin that Thanos is portrayed so well. The movie gives us some of Thanos’ backstory, and we learn that his home planet of Titan was overpopulated and everyone except him died. Since then, he has been trying to preserve life by conquering planets one by one and destroying half the population of each. This is a time-consuming process, and the powers of the Infinity Stones will give him the means to wipe out half the population in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Thanos doesn’t see himself as the villain. He sees his actions as being right, and is aware of the cost, but to him the preservation of life as a whole is worth the destruction of half of it.

Josh Brolin is excellent as Thanos, and his performance, the excellent writing and directing, and top-notch special effects make Thanos one of the greatest comic-book-movie villains of all time. I counted twenty-five characters in the list above, and all of their combined efforts are not enough to stop him.

Thanos wins.

Or does he?

It’s time, my friends, to talk about The Snap.

Despite all their efforts and the ferocious and thrilling battles that are waged along the way, the Avengers are ultimately unable to prevent Thanos from collecting all six Infinity Stones, and as Thanos and Thor grapple, Thanos extends a gauntleted hand…

…and snaps his fingers.

And people start to die.

It starts with Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, Captain America’s best and oldest friend. He drops his rifle and disintegrates as Cap watches, helpless.

Others follow.

Falcon. Scarlet Witch. Black Panther. Doctor Strange. Star-Lord. Drax. Mantis. Groot.

And, finally, devastatingly, Spider-Man. Peter Parker. A high-school kid. “I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark,” he says to Iron Man. He’s beginning to disintegrate. He collapses into Tony’s arms, sobbing. “I don’t want to go Mr. Stark, please, I don’t want to go…” he begs. Tony tries to comfort him, but it’s too late, Peter is gone, and Tony is left literally empty-handed, having just witnessed the death of a kid that he feels responsible for having dragged into this mess in the first place.

Oh.

My.

God.

I seriously didn’t get through writing that without tears.

Going into Infinity War, I was aware of the possibility of losing some of these characters that I love. But never did I think that there would be so many, or that their losses would be so devastating.

Especially Peter.

Batman will always be my favorite superhero, but Spider-Man is a very close second. I love the guy, and I love Tom Holland’s portrayal of him. Hearing the fear in his voice and the desperation in his eyes as he fades away tore my heart out and stomped on it, and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in that crushing moment was also superb. Earlier in the film, Tony and Pepper Potts, his fiancée, had been talking about getting married and having a family, and later, a kid for whom he had become a surrogate father literally fades away in his arms.

I’m sorry, I’m crying again.

Judging from people’s reactions on the internet, I’m not the only person who was hit so hard by that.

But it is important to once again emphasize that THIS IS NOT THE END. Time for some theorizing and rampant speculation.

First of all, there is no way Marvel and Disney would kill that many franchises in one fell swoop. The Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel already has a release date for 2019, and there is already talk of a Black Panther sequel and more Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which logically would have to take place after the events of Infinity War. Also, Black Panther just made more than a billion dollars worldwide and became a cultural talking point, there’s no way Marvel and Disney would simply shrug their shoulders and say, “Sorry guys, no more Black Panther movies!”

I don’t doubt that some of these characters will be back. I also don’t doubt that some of them won’t be. We’ve probably seen the last of Loki and Heimdall, and it’s hard to see Gamora coming back after Thanos sacrifices her to obtain the Soul Stone. Another thing I do not doubt is that reclaiming what was lost will require further sacrifice. The survivors of The Snap are mostly original Avengers such as Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, and War Machine. Perhaps Infinity War Part Two will involve the efforts of the older Avengers to find out some way of bringing back the newer ones, even at the expense of their own lives.

It’s also worth remembering that two of the Infinity Stones are the Soul Stone, which can bring people back to life, and the Time Stone, which gives its wielder the power of time manipulation (used to great effect by Doctor Strange in his solo movie, and used to much more nefarious effect by Thanos in Infinity War). It’s not hard to see how those could be used to resurrect some of the heroes we lost, but doing so will require the remaining Avengers to somehow get the Stones from Thanos, which will be even more difficult at half-strength.

If/when some of the departed heroes do return, their loss in this film will still resonate, and will still affect the survivors moving forward.

Who knows what will happen in the as-yet unnamed Infinity War sequel? All I know is that it’s due out on May 3, 2019, exactly one year from the day I am posting this.

And now the wait begins…

RAMPAGE is Exactly What You Think it is

RAMPAGE is a deeply silly movie, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The movie is based on a series of arcade games that started in the 80’s. I never played any of them but from what I can tell they’re mostly plotless, and are simply concerned with letting the player control giant monsters and wreck lots of stuff.

This is totally fine, but presents problems for an adaptation, because there is no plot. The movie invents a plot that is profoundly silly and wildly implausible, and makes for a movie that is absolute tons of fun. I had a blast with RAMPAGE, despite its many obvious flaws. This is one of those movies where I was having so much fun that the movie’s problems didn’t bother me at all.

Images: Warner Bros.

Here’s my attempt to explain the ludicrous plot. The movie invents an evil corporation called Energyne which is run by two complete dipshits who are conducting some kind of genetic research that is so dangerous it has to be carried out in a space station. This inevitably goes horribly wrong (“The test subjects have gotten loose!” is one of the first lines of the movie) and canisters of dangerous experimental goo end up falling to earth. This is a movie where plot devices LITERALLY FALL FROM THE SKY. And wouldn’t you know it, various wild animals find those canisters and begin to transform into giant mutant creatures. This leads to the titular RAMPAGE, and yes, I will be capitalizing the word RAMPAGE every time I write it, so you might as well get used to it.

One of the animals exposed to what I will call the Genetic Goo of Doom is an albino gorilla in the San Diego zoo named George, who is best friends with Davis Okoye, played by none other than DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON, one of my favorite actors. I freaking love the guy. He’s got charisma for days.

His character Davis is a former special forces soldier turned primatologist, which is a resume that I’m pretty sure no actual human being has ever had. The man is a true pioneer. He rescued George from poachers when he (George) was a cute l’il baby gorilla, and the two are best friends. They communicate using sign language, and some of George’s language is a bit, shall we say, colorful. By which I mean that he is rather fond of flipping the bird. As with every animal specialist in every movie ever, Davis gets along with animals better than he does with humans.

So when Davis gets to work one day and discovers that George has grown several feet and killed one of the zoo’s grizzly bears, something is obviously awry. Meanwhile, a wolf elsewhere in the United States has discovered one of the canisters of the Genetic Goo of Doom, and promptly slaughters an Energyne security team sent to bring him in. There’s also an alligator in the Florida Everglades who gets exposed to the Genetic Goo of Doom, although the movie keeps this particular creature mostly offscreen until later in the film.

Soon, George breaks out of the zoo and is apprehended by shady government agents, among them an agent named Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan from The Walking Dead, who says things like “Assholes like us gotta stick together” with a Southern accent. He’s pretty great, because he’s initially positioned as an antagonist but ends up having more to do than being a generic government bad guy, and gets several funny moments.

There’s also a disgraced geneticist who used to work for Energyne, and whose research is largely responsible for creating the monsters. She’s played by Naomie Harris, a very talented actress whose talents are largely wasted in the movie. She does her best but there’s not much to her character. One thing I noticed is that she always has utterly flawless hair. Even right after she wakes up in the morning, hell, before she’s even had time to put pants on, her hair is absolutely gorgeous. That must be some kind of superpower.

Then there are the two evil corporate dipshits I alluded to earlier. They’re siblings whose names escape me. One of them, and the only one who has any brains, is played by Malin Akerman, an actress perhaps best known for playing Silk Spectre in Watchmen (a movie which Jeffrey Dean Morgan also starred in). The other is some idiot played by some guy, whose incompetence and stupidity are mainly used as sources of comic relief. They’re both soulless and shallow characters, whose only concern is money.

They activate some kind of beacon designed to lure the monsters to their corporate headquarters in Chicago so that they can capture them and, uh, make money off them somehow. The movie isn’t super clear on this, nor is it clear why they think that luring three giant unpredictable creatures to their corporate headquarters in the middle of one of the most highly-populated cities in America is a good idea. Clearly, critical thinking is not something these two are particularly good at. They also have actual RAMPAGE arcade machines in the middle of their office, which is something I’m sure that rich CEOs do all the time.

I talk a lot in my movie reviews about tone and the tone of RAMPAGE is all over the place. There is a tremendous amount of violence for a theoretically family-friendly movie, much of which is played for laughs. People are squashed, trampled, blown up, swallowed whole, and chucked off buildings. I admit I did find some of this funny, which is probably due to my own rather warped sense of humor, but parents with small kids might want to think twice before taking their kids to see this one.

The movie was directed by Brad Peyton, who previously worked with Dwayne Johnson in the movies San Andreas and Journey 2 The Mysterious Island. Peyton does a good job with the destruction scenes and the special effects are quite good, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the trio of monsters climb buildings and create mayhem, even if the considerable amount of collateral damage is glossed over. The entire movie is so insane and over-the-top that I couldn’t help but find myself swept away in its tidal wave of monsters and mayhem, anchored by a characteristically charismatic performance from my good pal Dwayne Johnson. He’s such a badass that getting shot partway through the movie doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

I’m not going to lie, RAMPAGE is a very dumb movie. It is also a very enjoyable movie. It’s surprisingly violent for a PG-13 rated blockbuster, and can even come off as a bit mean-spirited at times. But I had a ton of fun watching it and would happily watch a sequel.

Also, the wolf flies. Because of course it does.

Next week is going to be good, with the return of HBO’s Westworld on Sunday and Avengers: Infinity War on Friday. Expect posts about both of them very soon.

More Thoughts about The Last Jedi

When I started writing about The Last Jedi, I had a whole list of things to talk about. About 2200 words into writing about the movie, I figured it was time to wrap up the post, only to glance at my list and realize that I had only covered around half of the items on it. I decided to end the post anyway because I didn’t want it to become too long and cumbersome, and I figured I had hit the most important points.

Be that as it may, I have a lot more to say about The Last Jedi. So, I figured I would do something I have never done before and write about the same movie for two weeks in a row.

Let’s start by talking some more about good old Luke Skywalker. Specifically, there was one other big question regarding Luke that I have been pondering since I re-watched the movie.

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm

Namely, why does Luke die?

Think about it. He can’t be that old. The new trilogy is set thirty years after Return of the Jedi, and Mark Hamill was in his early 30’s when that movie was released. Assuming Luke was around the same age, he’d be in his sixties in the new films. That’s not old. So he couldn’t have died of old age. He also hadn’t sustained any fatal wounds, or any wounds at all for that matter since he wasn’t actually on the planet Crait when he had his final showdown with Kylo Ren and the First Order, having projected himself there from the planet he had exiled himself to (the name of said planet escapes me).

I think the sheer exertion of projecting himself across such a vast distance was too much strain for him. Force projection is not an ability we’ve seen utilized in any other Star Wars movie, so presumably it’s not used very often. Maybe that’s because it’s such a huge energy drain that use of it could prove fatal, especially since Luke is using it project himself across such a vast distance, from one planet to another. I like this idea because if that is indeed the case, it would mean that Luke knew using it might kill him. But he did it anyway, sacrificing himself so that the few remaining rebels could escape.

I like this explanation because it would provide redemption for Luke, and a way to help assuage his guilt over having screwed up with Han and Leia’s son and subsequently shutting himself off from the rest of the (metaphorical) world. The problem with this explanation is that it is all rampant speculation on my part. I have no idea if any of this is accurate with Star Wars lore, but it’s an explanation that makes sense to me so I’m going to go with it.

On the subject of rampant speculation, there’s another small moment at the very end of the film that’s worth mentioning. In it, one of the kids on the casino planet who helped Finn and Rose escape picks up a broom and stares hopefully at the sky. But if you pay close attention, you can clearly see that the broom moves into the kid’s hand before he touches it. Is the kid using the Force here? If so, is he even aware of it? I really don’t know what to make of this. Talking about the potential significance of a kid picking up a broom strikes me as ludicrous, but you never know.

I mentioned Rose in the previous paragraph, who is a new character I didn’t have time to talk about in my previous post. She’s an absolute sweetheart, but I wish she had a more interesting subplot than that casino planet nonsense. Rose is played by Kelly Marie Tran, who is also a sweetheart. There’s a really charming story on the internet about how she was in a pub and listened to people at a nearby table talk about the movie in minute detail for an hour, and then walked over and introduced herself. She is a cool person and I hope her breakout role in Star Wars leads to a lot more acting gigs for her, she stole the movie in my opinion. I also hope Rose gets more to do in Episode IX, and doesn’t get stuck with another extraneous subplot.

I talked about Snoke a lot in my previous post, but one thing I didn’t talk about was the actor who plays him. Snoke is played by Andy Serkis, a true chameleon of an actor. Serkis’ most famous role is probably Gollum from Lord of the Rings, but he also played Caesar the ape in the recent Planet of the Apes movies and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. He’s played loads of other characters, and recently played a villain in Black Panther. On the Blu-Ray of The Last Jedi, one of the more interesting special features is a few of Snoke’s scenes from the film that are just Serkis wearing a motion-capture suit.

Snoke is a fully CGI character, and it’s amazing to see Serkis’ performance without the special effects. His facial movements and gestures and body language are so expressive. Even though he’s wearing a goofy-looking motion-capture suit and is covered with electrodes and cameras, he’s ACTING the absolute HELL out of that character, and I highly recommend anyone who bought the Blu-Ray to check out that feature.

Another thing about this movie that stands out to me is the color red. Blood red is all over the movie and is the dominant color in most of the posters. From Snoke’s red throne room and red Praetorian guards to the vivid red colors during the final battle sequence on Crait, red is all over the place. It’s an interesting color choice for a variety of reasons, one of them being that red is of course the color of the dark side, and every dark Jedi throughout the series wields a red lightsaber. It gives the movie a unique look that I really like and sets it apart visually from other entries in the series, and other sci-fi movies in general.

I also want to address one more thing that bothers me. This isn’t a criticism of the movie, but of the response to it, which has been frequently toxic. The movie was critically acclaimed but got a much more mixed reaction from fans, which is understandable. What is not understandable is how absolutely awful some people were about it. I read comments on the internet by arrogant idiots stating that if you like the movie, then you’re not a “true fan” of Star Wars.

Words cannot describe how much I loathe that appalling statement.

If you liked the movie, that’s totally fine. You are still allowed to be a fan of Star Wars and are not beholden to some random jerk’s definition of what a “true fan” is supposed to be. This is emblematic of a lot of toxic fan culture these days. If your opinion is different then you “just don’t get it,” which is stupid and is a total cop-out. I could go on for a long time about this but I don’t want to because it makes me angry. I just wanted to say that if you like this movie that’s completely fine. You are still a good person.

After having had a chance to watch the movie again and put down my thoughts about it, I like the movie more now than I did after the first time I saw it. I still have a lot of issues with it but writing about it has helped me sort out my feelings about it. In many ways this has been one of the most difficult movies I’ve ever written about, so thank you for coming on this journey with me. Next week’s post is going to be about RAMPAGE, with Dwayne Johnson and a bunch of city-destroying monsters. See you then.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is as Frustrating as it is Exhilarating

Like many people, I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi when it was in theaters, and like many people, my feelings about it were mixed to say the least. Now that the movie is on Blu-ray and I’ve had the chance to watch it again, I figure the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired and it’s time for an in-depth discussion. There’s a lot to talk about so let’s get started. There will be spoilers aplenty, so if by some bizarre circumstance you want to see it and haven’t yet, go see it. Love it or hate it (or both), it’s worth a watch just to see what all the fuss is about.

My thoughts on The Last Jedi are complicated, but can be boiled down to one basic summary: the movie is beautifully directed, but poorly written. The Last Jedi was written and directed by Rian Johnson, who is a very smart guy and a very talented writer/director, and his twisty 2012 time travel thriller Looper is one of my favorite movies. His Star Wars movie looks amazing and the action sequences are among the best of the entire franchise, and there were times watching the movie when I thought, this is why people got excited about Star Wars in the first place.

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm

Unfortunately, I also have a LOT of problems with the movie.

Let’s start with one of the big ones: Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke was one of the biggest mysteries in The Force Awakens: who is this guy? How did he become the Supreme Leader of the First Order? How did he lure Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia and nephew of Luke Skywalker, away from the light side of the force and into the dark? In the leadup to the release of The Last Jedi, I was looking forward to getting some answers to these burning questions.

And then the movie came out, and did not answer a single one of these questions.

The movie does not address Snoke’s background at all. He’s as much a mystery at the end of Episode VIII as he was at the end of Episode VII.

Now, I get that there is a lot going on in The Last Jedi, and there is not time to provide a detailed backstory for every single character. But I don’t care that much about Snoke’s background, I care about how he was able to turn Ben Solo to the dark side and make him become Kylo Ren, and cause him to hate his parents and his uncle to the point of trying to kill all of them (and actually succeeding in the case of Han Solo in The Force Awakens).
The conflict between Kylo and Luke is arguably the most important plot point of the entire sequel series, since it provides the reason for Luke’s self-imposed exile and his abandonment of the Jedi Order, which presumably helped give rise to the First Order. Giving no indication whatsoever as to how this happened leaves a gaping hole in what should be the emotional core of the entire movie. All we’re told is that Luke could sense Ben being led to the dark side, and a misunderstanding between Luke and Ben, as well as a moment of weakness on Luke’s part, led to Ben destroying Luke’s new Jedi Order, Luke’s exile, and so on. That is simply not enough.

I also don’t buy that Luke would completely turn against the teachings of the Jedi Order as quickly as he does. The entire original trilogy sets up Luke as being the one to bring the Jedi back, and then he makes one mistake and just gives up? Says screw it, I’m done? What kind of way is that to treat one of the greatest and most influential sci-fi protagonists of all time? I like Rian Johnson, but what the hell, man???

This is my biggest problem with the movie. Snoke is just the tip of the iceberg, because his actions are key to the story and knowing nothing about him damn near kills a crucial plot point. And now he’s dead, and who the hell knows what will happen in Episode IX.

But we’re just getting started. My other biggest problem with the movie, and the best example of how sloppily written it is, is embodied in the character of Admiral Holdo. Holdo is played by Laura Dern, who I’m sure is a very nice lady but her character makes not one but two of the most bafflingly stupid decisions I’ve ever seen in a movie.

The viewer spends a large portion of the movie thinking she’s evil, or that she must at the very least be a First Order spy who is deliberately attempting to sabotage the rebellion’s escape attempts. Her behavior is so blatantly suspicious that it’s obvious to the viewer (and the other characters in the movie) that she’s bent.

And then she isn’t.

Yes, it turns out that Leia and Holdo had an escape plan all along, and Holdo was simply carrying out that plan. But here’s the problem: why the bloody hell would she not tell anyone that??? What is the freaking point of having everyone think you’re evil? Why would you not tell everyone what the plan was? Why would you not just say hey, here’s what we are going to do? Can’t you see you’re just causing more problems?

But Holdo’s inexplicable stupidity doesn’t end there. After the escape pods are loaded, Holdo stays behind on the mothership to lure the First Order away, only for the First Order to promptly begin blasting the escape pods to smithereens. And then Holdo just stands there watching and DOES NOTHING!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, WOMAN!?!?!?! YOUR FRIENDS ARE GETTING ANNIHILATED AND YOU’RE JUST STANDING THERE!!!

WTF?!?!?!

Whew. Sorry about all the capitalization and punctuation marks, but I needed to get that out of my system.

Holdo does eventually redeem herself, at least partly, by crashing the Rebel mothership into Snoke’s flagship at lightspeed, which cripples the First Order’s fleet and is one of the most spectacular special-effects sequences I’ve ever seen. When the First Order’s ships break apart and it’s all completely silent, you could feel everyone in the theater holding their breath.

It was amazing, but why the hell did Holdo not do this as soon as the Rebel escape pods left the mothership? I get that sacrificing yourself is not a decision to be made lightly, but the entire reason she stayed on the mothership in the first place was to lure the First Order away, which presumably would have ended with them killing her anyway. So as soon as it became apparent that that plan wasn’t going to work and the First Order begins blasting the Rebel ships into nothing, why does Holdo wait so long to do anything about it?

I have absolutely no idea.

I also have no idea what the point of the stupid casino planet subplot is. Finn, the reformed former stormtrooper from The Force Awakens, goes on a mission to a planet called Canto Bight to find a codebreaker who can get him onto Snoke’s flagship so he can disable it, but the entire subplot feels inconsequential. Why couldn’t the movie just have had Finn go directly to Snoke’s ship himself? What’s the point of the codebreaker character and subplot? Removing it would have made the story much more streamlined. The entire sequence set at the casino on Canto Bight feels like a waste of time.

What it really feels like to me is an attempt by Disney to generate more merchandise for the film. There are tons of weird creatures and whatnot at the casino, and the obvious effort put into designing and creating so many different characters is impressive, but that effort could have been better spent elsewhere. The entire subplot feels like filler in a movie that doesn’t need filler. Get rid of the filler and focus on the stuff that matters, like the Snoke/Kylo/Luke story. This is Star Wars, there shouldn’t be any filler. I just can’t help but feel like the Disney overlords told Rian Johnson to make the movie as merchandisable as possible, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said okay.

It also doesn’t help that I’m not that invested in Finn as a character. He’s fine I guess, but I care a lot more about Rey, who is more important to the overall story anyway, and I’m not just saying that because I have a crush on Daisy Ridley, who is really great in the role. One of the other biggest mysteries left over from The Force Awakens was the question of Rey’s parentage, and why they left her alone on a backwater planet in the middle of nowhere. Fan theories abounded, one of the most convincing being that Rey was the daughter of Han and Leia, and therefore Kylo Ren’s sister.

But, nope. The only scrap of information that we get from The Last Jedi is when Kylo tells Rey that her parents were nobodies. It’s hugely anticlimactic, and feels like another tease from the previous movie that the makers of this movie just didn’t care about. Also, how does Kylo know who Rey’s parents were? Did he use Space Google? There’s always the possibility that he’s lying and is just trying to manipulate her, but for now it feels like another big plot point that the movie doesn’t care about.

On the Blu-Ray of the movie there is featurette called Balance of the Force, in which Rian Johnson talks about how in the original trilogy, the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is the worst thing that could have happened to him, since it turns out that the evil he’s trying to fight is a part of him. Similarly, the revelation that Rey’s parents were nobodies is the worst thing that could have happened to her, because it denies her the answers she’s looking for.

One of the most compelling aspects of The Last Jedi is Rey’s search for answers about her role in everything that’s going on. For me, the most moving scene in the film is when she tells Luke, “I need someone to show me my place in all of this.” As someone who has yet to find his place in life, this resonates strongly with me. Johnson’s argument that her parents were nobodies is the worst thing that could have happened to her is compelling from this standpoint, since if she had turned out to be Luke’s daughter or Han and Leia’s daughter or something like that, it would have helped give her a sense of purpose and identity, and denying her that means she’ll have to keep looking.

I like this explanation, but it still feels like Johnson is pulling the rug out from under the viewer’s feet. The entire Balance of the Force featurette on the Blu-Ray strikes me as odd, since it’s mostly Johnson explaining some of the more controversial aspects of the story. It feels like an attempt on the behalf of the filmmakers to cover their butts and explain away some of the aspects of the story that understandably angered fans.

The movie is also tonally uneven. There are too many attempts at humor, many of which feel out of place and detract from the drama of the moment. This is best exemplified with porgs. Porgs are cute little creatures that are like a combination of a puffin and a guinea pig. They may be cute little buggers, but the movie relies on them too much for comic relief and cuts to them at odd moments. For example, during the final battle on the mineral planet Crait, when Rey and Chewbacca swoop in on the Millennium Falcon to provide some much-needed help to the Rebels, there’s a damn porg on the Falcon that keeps screeching. Seriously Chewie, just bite the damn thing’s head off already! Why Johnson is so obsessed with the bloody porgs is yet another mystery that the movie leaves unsolved.

Despite my laundry list of problems with the movie, I don’t hate it. It didn’t ruin Star Wars for me. There are sequences in the movie that are some of my favorites in the entire series. I love the opening space battle, Rey and Kylo’s epic fight against Snoke’s crimson-clad Praetorian guards, the fight between Finn and Captain Phasma on Snoke’s burning command ship, and the epic final battle on Crait (aside from the porg, anyway). The movie looks absolutely stunning and the acting is top-notch. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher both give soulful performances in iconic roles, and Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are both excellent as the two most important characters in the new series.

But the movie has crippling problems that I can’t ignore. There’s plenty of material I didn’t cover in this post, so there might be a follow-up at some point in the future, since I don’t want this post to become too long and unwieldy. But I’ve hit the most important points, and it feels good to do so, since all of this has been swirling frantically around in my head ever since I saw the movie. The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie, and it’s not hard to see why.

What will the future hold for Star Wars? Only time (and JJ Abrams) will tell.