“Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom” movie review

“Your (executives) were so pre-occupied with whether or not could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Ironic, isn’t it. A haunting but accurate assessment by Dr. Ian Malcolm. Let me say first, Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time, followed closely by Sunset Boulevard and Psycho, so it’s difficult to separate fanboy me from critic me. However, I shall do my best to keep my personal bias in check. As a longtime fan of the franchise that captured my imagination as a kid and with the original filled with depth, irony, tragedy, and more, I was excited as I sat down in the theatre last night to watch Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom (JWFK). And suffice it to say, my friends and I enjoyed our time and felt entertained; however, it’s simply not a great movie. And it pains me to write those words. At the end of the day, the movie suffers from a poorly written screenplay. Some may even describe the screenplay as a generic, vapid paint-by-the-numbers summer popcorn crunching blockbuster movie. The movie is not without its thrills, but I wish more attention was paid to the plot. Director J.A. Bayona takes suspension of disbelief to far reaching levels. The life of this franchise is in the balance; how I hope it finds a way to overcome the weak sequels since the strong original in 1993 that still holds up (and I’m not talking about the technology). Reasons for why it holds up could be entire articles in and of themselves (a lot has to do with the screenplay), but we are here to talk about JWFK.

Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing return to the island of Isla Nublar to save the remaining dinosaurs from a volcano that’s about to erupt. When the search and transport operation meets with capitalistic opposition, the mission takes them to an underground arms market, they must stop the demented auction from placing humanity it mortal danger. During their covert operation, they encounter terrifying new breeds of gigantic dinosaurs, while uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the entire planet.

Unlike the soft opening of Jurassic World, the sequel begins with an opening scene similar to the tone of the opening of Jurassic Park. Encouraging, right? It’s dark, filled with tension, and ends with a kill. All this, and it doesn’t feel overstuffed with dinosaurs. Like a screenplay should, it hooks the audience without lots of gimmicks. The focus is on the drama, and not simply “look what we can do with dinos.” After this scene, I was looking forward to the rest of the movie. And even in the senate hearing with Dr. Ian Malcolm, this could’ve been used as a great setup for a dynamic ethics debate but it was not followed through. Like other ideas of Colin Trevorrow’s, many turning points, characters, and events are introduced but not developed. These elements often play off as mere plot devices to hurriedly cause something to be able to happen without having to truly develop it. Every character is flat. No dimension to anyone or anything, really. I cannot help but take note of the many opportunities that Trevorrow had to truly craft a cinematic story, and ostensibly ignored it. In an effort to help the vapid screenplay, J.A. Bayona attempted to add dimension to the flat plot but only so much can be done to fix a flawed story.

Examples of characters as mere plot devises are systems analyst Franklin and paleo-veterinarian Zia. Both were setup to be developed further beyond their main skill, but were abandoned. They exist only so two important actions can happen, but that is the extent of their respective development. Such wonderful opportunities to include strong characters, buy they are left as flat as the plot, lacking in any subplot or goals of their own. There is also a fantastic opportunity to provide some exposition on the days before John Hammond’s innovative theme park resort destination. We meet his former partner Benjamin Lockwood, and he explains how the first DNA was extracted in a state of the art lab in the basement of his mansion. There is also a nostalgic shot of a model of the original park’s Visitors Center, complete with Jungle Explorers and the famous gate. Although we have lost Sir Richard Attenborough, there is certainly ways of crafting a flashback to the first time DNA was extracted or even just a few moments of exposition through dialogue to learn about the early days and ultimately why Hammond and Lockwood split. We are given a reason that likely led to the split, but I imagine there was more to it, including the direction to go with the dinosaurs. Again, this is another example of exposition and dimension lost. Could’ve been used as character building and development time.

On the topic of nostalgia, there is plenty of fan service in the movie. Lockwood delivers a line taken directly from Hammond at the end of Lost World and we get to revisit the site of the Jungle Explorer that T-Rex pushed over the retaining wall in the original. There are other moments as well that remind me of the raptor kitchen and more. Furthermore, there are moments in the movie that act as a mirror to the original. Instead of seeking to lock the dinosaurs up, the goal is to free them. But I won’t get into details.

Whatever Universal and Amblin are doing presently, they need to stop and throw out the playbook from Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World, and now JWFK. I liked Jurassic World well enough but I thought the next installment was going to be more gripping, thrilling, exciting, but it went out with a whimper. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard it was going to be darker, closer to the horror that was the original 1993 blockbuster, but it wasn’t terrifying at all. And what parts were creepy, were already shown in the trailer (but that’s the marketing company’s fault, not the director or writer). Crichton is likely rolling over in his grave right about now, rest his soul. The next writer in the Jurassic franchise needs to be someone who understands what it takes to create a great story that CAN sell tickets and reach blockbuster status while holding up years down the road. Take the iconic Tim Burton Batman and Batman Returns, for examples. The reason why these, especially Returns, hold up so well is because Returns is a classic Tim Burton film that happens to have Batman characters, whereas the original is a Batman movie directed by Burton. So, the third installment in the Jurassic franchise needs to attach a writer and/or director who can write/direct a science-fiction horror movie that happens to have dinosaurs and legacy Jurassic Park characters.

While many critics are calling for this franchise to go extinct, this film scholar believes strongly that it can be saved. Much like Claire and Owen are determined to save the cloned dinos from a second extinction, Universal and Amblin need to go back to the beginning and study WHY the first one worked well. The short answer is the screenplay, followed by casting, and lastly the directing. An approach could be to write the screenplay without dinosaurs; write a solid, compelling narrative. Make sure there is a clearly defined goal with clearly defined opposition to the goal, simple plot, and complex characters. Then find places to add in the dinosaurs as anti-heroes. It’s far more effective to retroactively add dinos in and modify the screenplay than write it with a focus on seeing dinosaurs and write a story around them. The former is narrative-heavy with supporting, terrifying action sequences whereas the latter is spectacle heavy with a one-dimensional narrative. Subtext, subplot, and theme need to be infused back into the Jurassic franchise.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed myself. I did not feel as if my time was wasted. You know what, I had fun. And for that, I appreciate the movie. It may not have truly memorable characters or scenes, but it was a fun watch. If more fans speak up, perhaps the next film will go back to its DNA and deliver a sequel that would make the original proud.

For my review of Jurassic World click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2” movie review

Par for the course and predictable. This movie review was written by R.L. Terry ReelView contributor and writer/producer Leon Z. Coming to you all the way from Germany where Guardians of the Galaxy Vo.2  was released last week, I thought you would be interested to hear from someone other than me this week–think of it as a fresh perspective. Meanwhile, I will be watching it in Tampa tomorrow evening at 7.

“Set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand.“
-Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bit of a disappointment when compared to the first one. This might be because the novelty factor the first one had for being a funny superhero movie is gone, or because it’s just very predictable and lacks excitement and emotional engagement. Pretty much all of the CGI action extravaganzas fall flat because there is never any real danger for the characters so the viewer does not care about them. There were times in this movie where the action was pretty much all CG, which I didn’t care much about since nowadays pretty much everything can be done with a computer but audiences don’t seem to get enough of it. But fortunately, the filmmakers are not overly reliant on those scenes. The movies strong points are its humor and character development. Although most of the setup and payoff jokes are very predictable, there are still many jokes that hit. Since the movie is primarily about Peter “Starlord” Quill meeting his father, there is actually some character development; and not just for him, but also for the other guardians–well except for Groot, Rocket and Drax so basically just Gamora, but some secondary characters from the first one like Yondu and Gamora’s sister, Nebula an although some of it is clichéd it still works, mostly.

Most of the emotional moments are genuine, but some of them are a little to on the nose.

The movie also introduces new secondary characters like Peters appropriately named father Ego and his companion Mantis, which are moderately interesting, Mantis probably more so than Ego because her interactions with Drax, which cause a lot of laughter.

What drags the movie’s quality down significantly is that it is just so predictable and cliché, which makes you care a lot less because you already know what will happen most of the time.

Overall, I would recommend this movie to Marvel fans and casual moviegoers; but for more hardcore cinephiles, this movie–if at all–is a one time watch.

Written by Leon

“Passengers” movie review

passengersAn intriguing journey with lots of potential but ultimately fails to pull into the space dock. The highly anticipated visually stunning science-fiction film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt proves one thing: Pratt and Lawrence have excellent on screen chemistry and play off each other very well. With films like this one, it’s hard to know where the fault lies. Typically, a film with such potential and a powerful cast is weakened by either the writing or directing. Since the director principally works with the cast, it can be concluded that the writing lacked the drive that this film needed. On a more positive note, this film depicts deep space travel how it could likely be in the not-so-distant future. From the centrifugal force created by the rotating space craft to simulate how artificial gravity could be generated to the onboard technology to the sickbay, this film does a fantastic job of providing audiences with a science-fiction that is almost tangible. Having such a limited cast in one location can spell disaster for cinematic storytelling; but, the film is quite interesting to watch and sufficiently keeps the audience’s attention. Furthermore, the audience mostly connects with Aurora (Lawrence) and Jim (Pratt) well enough. But, the film fails to truly provide audiences with a new adventure because it amounts to a glorified Castaway set in the Disney Springs of shopping malls in outer space–just completely empty of scooters, strollers, and other park guests. Lack of surprise pretty well sums it up.

Welcome aboard The Avalon on the Homestead Company’s routine transport to Homestead II, a new earth colony. All is going well until two passengers find themselves awakened from suspended animation about 90 years too early during a cascade of ship wide malfunctions. Faced with living the rest of their respective lives on board and only the company of an AI bartender (Michael Sheen), Jim and Aurora must cope with the challenges of living together in a world that is merely 1000 meters from stem to stern. When the ship begins to increasingly malfunction and life support at risk, Jim and Aurora much solve the mystery of what originally caused the problem that began the cascade. Just as the ship is keeping a secret, there are other dark secrets on board the ship as well. Meeting with psychological, emotional, and engineering challenges, Jim and Aurora have 5000 other passengers and crew to save while maintaining their own sanity and psycho-social health.

As the movie faded to black, I began discussing it with the friends who accompanied me to the cinema last night. And we shared a mutual reaction of hmm, not exactly sure what this was or how to read it but it had some interesting components. And that pretty well covers it. The film will likely keep you entertained but with few surprises, it lacks anything to make it memorable in a positive way. Forgettable is what this movie will become in the no-so-distant future. Essentially, Passengers is what you would get if Gravity and Titanic were to have a baby. Star-crossed lovers on a ship that is self-destructing in the vacuum of space. One of the most intriguing components in the plot of the film is also highly disturbing. While love and infatuation causes many to go to great lengths in order to see desire become reality, it is a double-edged sword that can cause one to behave selfishly if not displaying signs of sociopathy. While Pratt’s performance is what is to be expected from one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood who is equally a dedicated family man, his performance is never quite on par with his Castaway counterpart. However, Lawrence delivers an intense performance as she plays off Pratt,the bartender, and The Avalon itself.

The cinematography and editing are excellent. In fact, the technical elements of the film are impressive! Not quite as groundbreaking as Gravity or Interstellar but still outstanding. There is one scene in particular that still has me puzzled as to how it was able to be achieved so flawlessly. The set design, albeit spartan, is beautifully sleek and functional. As film is a visually driven medium of storytelling, the camera often pulls in close to characters to establish intimacy but juxtaposes that against pulling back to reveal the oppressive loneliness of being alone on a massive ship in space. For a brief moment, I experienced the dread that is created in Kubrick’s The Shining when Jim meets Arthur the bartender. Interestingly, the music (composed by Thomas Newman), camera direction, dialog, blocking, an set design all work together seamlessly to establish that unparalleled sense of dread, loneliness, and self-destructive despair that are so iconic to The Shining. Unfortunately, that powerful sense of dread is lost in weak writing. Had the film embraced the potential to channel The Shining, it may have played out more memorably. But, this is a love story so the horror plot devices that could have helped the film were not integrated into the plot. Although there are may significant contributors to a film’s success, the success of a film often relies upon the direction, writing, and cast. As briefly mentioned in my opening paragraph, the director (Morten Tyldum) of a film principally works with the cast and is responsible for blocking, delivery of dialog, and perception; so, it is likely the screenplay by Jon Spaihts that is responsible for the weak story. A director and cast can work hard to makeup for a weak screenplay, but in this case, the lack of developed story showed through.

Despite sharing the screen with Aurora, this truly is Jim’s movie and others simply happen to appear in it when necessary. As a side note, I could easily see how this film could be translated into a stage production. Perhaps on stage, the story could evolve to leave more of an impact on the audience.

Review of “Jurassic World”

JurassicWorldBack with a roar! The Jurassic Park franchise returns from the dead with a vengeance in the newest and highly anticipated installment since the original back in 1993, and certainly since The Lost World in 1997 and Jurassic Park 3 in 2001. Jurassic World will take you back to the island that started it all and deliver the same WOW factor as the original beloved favorite. Return to Isla Nublar to experience the park John Hammond envisioned but could never have dreamed would become a reality. “The park is open!” Enjoy the adventure, pseudo-science, character development, plot, the acting, and the music that you loved about Jurassic Park (1993) in a film that holds true to the very essence of what made the original such a great film but adds in the visual storytelling technology we enjoy today. For lovers of the ride at Universal Studios (FL/CA), you will enjoy experiencing the park in ways you may have only dreamed of, and for lovers of the franchise, despite the poorly produced past sequels (even though they are still fun to watch), prepare for your expectations to be greatly surpassed as you return to your childhood and experience Jurassic World.

Jurassic World takes us back to Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica. Just south of the original park, a new theme park has been opened and is bustling with park guests and dinosaurs alike. The luxury theme park and resort is jointly ran by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and of course the once chapter 11 InGen BioEngineering company founded by John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough). For the last few years, the guest satisfaction ratings have plateaued at Jurassic World and Claire has worked with InGen’s Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to develop a genetically modified hybrid to wow the guests and increase profits. But as Ian Malcolm once so eloquently put it “life will find a way,” the attempts to control the park’s “assets,” will not go as planned. After the newly minted genetically modified hybrid Indominous Rex cleverly escapes the paddock, it is up to Claire and her unconventional Navy veteran turned dinosaur control/safety expert Owen (Chris Pratt) to save Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) as well as the over 20K park guests from the jaws of history’s top notch predators.

Where to begin? It seems so much easier to write a critique for movies that are just okay or even terrible. When working with such an incredible movie, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin and even harder to know when to stop. Going into the movie, I had my reservations-especially after seeing what I thought was a ridiculous scene from the trailer of Owen facing off and talking with the raptors–but I can honestly say that is this movie that I, as well as millions of others in their mid-to-late 20s and early 30s, have been waiting for since we saw the original as kids in theaters. It truly embodies everything that made the original great and capitalizes on it by adding in the digital effects and visual storytelling techniques we enjoy as part of modern cinema. The best movies are those that simultaneously embrace current technologies whilst remaining grounded in the very essence of what a movie should be: exceptional visual storytelling in terms of the art and science of filmmaking. This truly is the sequel we have been waiting for since the helicopter left Nublar 22 years ago.

I was watching Jurassic Park 3 with a friend in order to finish the first three movies prior to seeing Jurassic World last night, and I asked him and myself  “what was it about the first one that makes it such a great film and in the top 20 grossing movies of all time (and that’s even when adjusted for inflation)? We talked a little, and both decided that is was the dynamic plot, clever writing, memorable characters, and that wow factor of seeing dinosaurs like never before on the big screen that made the first movie not just a successful movie but a GREAT movie. That same dynamic plot filled with subplots and subtext, memorable characters, and more is captured by the current installment. Yes, this movie is high concept as summer blockbusters usually are; but just because it’s high concept doesn’t mean that we cannot experience character development, subtext, exceptional writing, and great visual storytelling. From the moment that I heard the all-too-familiar music and returned to Isla Nublar, I knew then that this was going to be one of the most exciting and phenomenal movie-going experiences of my life. And you know what? It was as exciting as seeing the original for the first time. Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and Legendary Pictures harnessed the power of what made the first movie great and brought a nearly extinct franchise back from the dead.

Just like the characters from Jurassic Park (1993) helped to make the movie what it was, so do the characters of Jurassic World. You have Claire who, much like Hammond, is a dreamer. Although, she is definitely more concerned with money than Hammond ever was. Witness as she goes from a cold shrew business woman to a courageous and loving aunt to her two nephews. Speaking of whom, witness the transition of Zach as the older mean brother who couldn’t be bothered with his sibling to risking his life to save his brother Gray’s. Dr. Henry Wu reprises his role as the genius behind the science that made Jurassic Park and now Jurassic World work. Every movie needs that hero who is unconventional and has subtle sexual tension with the strong female lead, and we get that, in spades, with Owen. There is the chief financier Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) who is concurrently overly concerned with making a profit but still genuinely concerned that his park guests are having fun. And finally, we have Lowery (Jake M. Johnson) who sports an original Jurassic Park t-shirt and has rubber dinosaurs on his desk because he loves the original park and is thrilled to work at the new one. Each of the characters has very unique personalities and traits that are meticulously woven into the plot in order to continually advance the story.

I also wanted to touch on the references to the previous films in the franchise. Early on, it was made known that the old Visitors Center would make a cameo appearance, but I did not expect the extent to which the old compound plays an intricate part in Jurassic World‘s diegesis (narrative). Claire is even dressed in all white like Hammond. Not only is the music powerful–almost to the point of tears–and harkens back to the first time you heard it, but the movie helps to make Jurassic Park feel like a real place because of Lowery’s t-shirt he bought off eBay and the banner of “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” now covered in dirt and mold that fell from the ceiling at the close of the first movie. Although not formerly acknowledged, there are many references to not only the first movie but also 2 and 3, and even the Jurassic Park Ride. From lines of dialog to easter egg camera shots and even to the Jurassic Park 1992 Jeep Wrangler, Jurassic World uses material from its storied past to support the current narrative and evoke fond memories. Interestingly, the movie also deals with the element of third party companies grossly sponsoring attractions and exhibits in theme parks. Just like even Disney’s Magic Kingdom is now sporting a Starbucks on Main Street, the same can be seen in many theme parks. Sometimes it seems like theme parks are sacrificing storytelling and creative theming for the almighty dollar. Perhaps this movie shows us what happens when greed overpowers creativity.

I feel that Universal Pictures (a Comcast Company) has been searching for its cash cow franchise like Disney’s Pirates, Avengers, and now Star Wars or like Warner Bros. Harry Potter (even though Universal rakes in the dough from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at it’s Florida and soon California parks), like MGM’s James Bond, or 20th Century Fox’s Avatar or X-Men, but after the two failed sequels to Jurassic Park, all seemed lost. Until now. This installment in the 22 year-old franchise has been successfully resurrected and could quite possibly be a contender and a worthy opponent in the franchise competition. The way the final shots of the island were in the movie, I have a feeling that this was the official goodbye to this chapter in the Jurassic Park novel and the opening of the floodgates for followups to this movie that will hopefully continue the embrace of the essence of the original whilst continuing to advance the story of what happens when man creates and manipulates dinosaurs.

I don’t know what you have planned this weekend, but you NEED to get to the theatre to see this movie. I am even planning to see it again this weekend myself. But, I need to find an IMAX that is showing it in 2D (yes, that is correct 2D). Prepare to be taken back to your childhood and relive the experience all over again in the newest chapter of Jurassic Park.

As always, if you liked this review, please follow or subscribe or at least share the link on social media.

For my review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

Thrillz (theme parks): Thrillz.co