Onward

The strength of Pixar films has always been the way they manage to take an original idea and flesh it out into something the audience can relate to. Some of the concepts have been straightforward; a family of superheros, the secret life of toys, cars as people. Other concepts have been downright strange; a rat who cooks, a lonely robot, a princess who turns her mother into a bear. Regardless of the oddity of the conceit, the Pixar crew has managed to make these movies work to a large degree. Our current example is one of the weird ones. In a fantasy world that has forgotten magic, two elves must finish a spell to bring their dead father back for just one day.

I think the reason that the films of Pixar succeed for the most part is the way the creators wholeheartedly embrace their idea and run with it. Director Dan Scanlon and his collaborators Jason Headley and Keith Bunin have grabbed their idea and run with it. They commit to the universe they are creating and try to play with it as much as possible. There may be occasional inconsistencies, but they hardly matter as we plunge quickly into the story and become familiar with the characters.  The plot is a basic mash up of a high school coming of age story and a fantasy quest. The fact that these ideas are familiar to us may explain why we don’t worry too much about the characters we encounter. We will just go with the flow if we can have some characters to relate to.

“Onward” gives us two characters that we will understand immediately but also come to care for by the end of the film. Tom Holland is not really stretching much by playing an awkward teen with unforeseen powers.  We’ve seen the Spider-Man movies. Here the character is animated but it continues to be Holland’s slightly nasally voice and young sounding pitch that sells the character to us. Ian Lightfoot is turning sixteen and it makes him nervous. In fact everything makes him nervous, partially because he missed ever meeting his father who died before he was born. Lack of confidence is not the weakness of his older brother “Barley” however,  he dives in head first with enthusiasm to most things. The bravado of the character is also perfectly realized by the voice talents of Holland;s Avengers co-star Chris Pratt. The two of them together are a mismatched pair of brothers out on a road trip. The scenario creates plenty of opportunities for humor but you know that a Pixar film is not going to forgo the sentiment. There is an interesting switch in the purpose of their quest, which manages to make the movie more poignant at the end. It is another example of the writers taking a concept and finding ways to work it that are not obvious from the start. Maybe the quest is predictable, but the emotions are not.

As always with these computer generated dreams (or nightmares if you remember Cars 2), there is a fantastic look to the production. The characters are realized in ways that give us shorthand on their archetypes,  but they still look original. The two brothers are Elfish but in very distinctive ways. Their Mom’s boyfriend is the nice guy cop, who maybe is a little bit of a nebbish despite being a centaur. The path that the kids take is fraught with adventure, but the biggest fright is simply being a new driver trying to merge onto the freeway. I loved the way they played with unicorns in the story, they are essentially the scavengers of this world, and like our own scavengers, they can look benign like a raccoon, but they can be pretty nasty as well. Spites turn into bikers and dragons are made of rubble, and it works because the creatives found ways for us to relate to those images.

The secondary characters fill in some space and provide a little more opportunity to play with the fantasy world, but the focus is correctly placed on the two brothers. As usual, the music cues us in on emotional moments, but like many contemporary films, it relies on our knowledge to find the right feeling. You will hear some passages that sound like they are out of a spaghetti western, and some motifs that belong in a fantasy film. There are clear action beats as the Indiana Jones moments are playing out as well. I don’t know how well the Disney team has marketed the film. I did not have a high degree of anticipation for it, but having seen it, I now know they have a solid film. I hope it lands with audiences the way it did with me.

 

The Kid

Yesterday was a Chris Pratt film Festival for me. In the afternoon I saw the LEGO 2 Movie and in the evening I took in this slow paced western. I have to admit it is easier to like the animated film. It was light, with a lot of laughs and rapid paced action. This in turn moseys along at a very deliberate rate. It was not boring but it feels like it was much more methodical in telling the story than was necessary. That may be because the film is directed by a second time feature film director, actor Vincent D’Onofrio. The film is competently put together but it does have some flaws.

The script by Andrew Lanham is attempting to provide a backstory for the notorious Billy the Kid while also showing the last days of the Kid. Basically, a fourteen year old boy is trapped in a nightmare family scenario and it is strongly hinted at that he may be traveling the same path as William Bonney (Henry McCarty). It is a morality tale that tries to warn us off of the path of violence at the same time showing the violent nature of the men who are the heart of the story. “Pat Garret and Billy the Kid” follows the same material but was more focused on commenting on the dying western tropes. In Sam Peckinpah’s hands it was an elegy, D’Onofrio makes it more of a cautionary story.

Actor Dane DeHaan was not my favorite part of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets“. In fact, DeHaan was terrible in that film. I thought he was much more effective in this movie. The character of Billy the Kid is all twitchy coiled danger and DeHaan’s face is a perfect canvas for those characteristics. He speaks in a low key manner and expresses the kind of swagger and confidence that the notorious outlaw is known for. Ethan Hawke is Pat Garret, a grizzled mirror of Billy’s character. They took different paths after the Lincoln county war but hey both were hired killers at one point, and Garret seems to have developed a moral backbone wheras Billy is clearly flexible when it comes to right or wrong.

Our young hero, Rio, played by first time film actor Jake Schur, the son of two of the producers of this film. As a child/adolescent performer he is competent but does occasionally have some wooden moments. Rio is caught between the two legendary gunmen and has to figure out which path is the right one to follow. Neither seems to be a pleasant future for the young man. His Uncle is pursuing he and his sister who have fled from a family tragedy. Uncle Grant is a horrid human being without an ounce of redeeming qualities. That he is played by the usually charming Chris Pratt is the casting twist that this movie offers. He was believable as a louse who is ready to ruin the rest of the family for pride and avarice. The only part that was not convincing was his beard.

Pratt, Hawke and D’Onofrio all worked together on another western, the Denzel Washington remake of “The Magnificent 7“. Perhaps that is the genesis of their working together on this movie. Westerns are few and far between these days and the fact that this trio was involved in another western just three years , suggests that it is no accident that they are all on this project. There are several moments of violence in the film, so there is action but you would not really think of this as an action movie. The director chooses to show more than is necessary in some scenes, for instance there are long takes in the wagon that is used to transport the captured prisoners back to the jurisdictions where they are to be tried. The music for the film sometimes echos the music for the Kristofferson version of the story, but the final song is not written by Bob Dylan. The movie aims for something deep but because it is so ponderous at times it simply feels oppressive. In the end I would recommend it but only for fans of older style westerns.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

Five years ago, “The LEGO Movie” came out of left field and surprised the hell out of me. I was not expecting much and I’d largely been ignorant of the toys so it was a complete shock to be pulled in and transfixed as I was. Of course the bigger shock later that year was the film not only did not win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, it was not even nominated. It was a top five film on my list that year, and the “Batman LEGO Movie ” from two years ago also made my top ten. These movies are really something.

The novelty may have worn off a little with this second part, but the story telling is as strong as the first film. Like the original movie, there is a theme to the events shown during the story. Unlike the first film however, there is not the same kind of surprise. We know that the LEGO Universe exists in the real world and the plotlines here are not very hard to dig at to get to the moral. The screenwriters don’t cover it up, hell you know it is coming before they do, but that doesn’t keep it from resonating with us at the end of the film.

The pop culture references in the movie give us plenty of chances to laugh at movies we have seen before. From Mad Max to Jurassic Park to Guardians of the Galaxy, they are all here to some degree. The opening section where the Lego world has been turned into a dystopian nightmare complete with creative vehicles that would fit on Fury Road, is the most elaborate parody in the story, but it is also fun that Chris Pratt gets to spoof himself as action hero in two other franchises as well. The visuals are really inventive as is the work of the directors, who keep everything flowing and funny simultaneously.

“Everything is Awesome” gets recycled in the film pretty effectively with a twist that might be a little too obvious, but there are two or three more musical spots that work even better. In particular, “Gotham City Guys” should have you laughing out loud. It’s a great mix of visual bits and the lyrics will crack you up. Also, “Not Evil” plays as an insincere denial of intent because of the context, but at the end of the movie it really fits in well with the theme that the story supports.  Will Farrell has one nearly static scene and then is only heard from again as an off camera voice. Instead Maya Rudolph steps in as the human adult that hovers over the events in the story. In my mind, that is an improvement.

The voice cast is back for the most part, but the big names have only a line or two. My favorite addition to the cast has to be John McClane himself, who shows up a couple of times including a scenario that was just perfect. The novelty has probably worn off of the franchise but the inventiveness and humor have not. Once again we have an adult parody film, posing as a kids movie and both sections of the audience will be satisfied.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Do you go to a Jurassic Park movie for the story, characters and wonder that the idea of dinosaurs living in the modern world would evoke, or do you go to see a monster movie, you know with visually interesting creatures ripping up various human characters in a variety of ways? Your answer to this dichotomy will largely tell you whether you are going to like this movie or hate it. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a creature feature. It is not an adventure movie or a science debate, it is people running and screaming from monsters. Sometimes those people get away, sometimes they don’t. If the characters were more well drawn, you would probably care which, but frankly, this film could not be bothered to worry about actually killing one of our somewhat sympathetic heroes, mostly it is just concerned with mayhem.

Director J.A. Bayona appears to be a critics darling, having made three widely praised film. I’ve not seen “The Orphanage” but I did see “The Impossible” and  “A Monster Calls“.  These are both fine films with effecting personal and emotional weight to them. I do notice however, that he is not a credited screenwriter for either of those film, nor is he credited for “Fallen Kingdom”. It appears then, that the elements that make his material work best will be the way he frames and shoots the story, rather than the story itself. Those folks who respect his work may want to go back and see if what they really like is the concept or screenplay rather than the direction.  He has put together a reasonable thrill ride for us, but there is very little in any of this which would lead you to believe he is more of a visionary than a craftsman. Aside from two or three nice little moments, this is a picture that could have been assembled by anybody capable of the logistics required to move this mass of technology.

Just two scenes seem to have the visually creative touch that was present in the two of his movies I’ve seen. First, there is a clever moment when an expedition lands on the island that contained the former amusement park, and we see their vehicle driving down main street as we look at a tracking shot from behind the demolished vendor’s booths and stores. We see some stuffed dinosaur toys back-lit against the vehicle, until one of them runs off revealing that it actually was a small dinosaur. That was effective. There is another scene late in the film where the reflection of a dinosaur if superimposed over the face of a character in the reflections from a display window in a diorama. That works well also. Otherwise, there are really no surprises. Monsters do what they are expected to do, we get a couple of false paths that turn to jokes and a few jump scares that work effectively, and that’s about it.

Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard are probably worth what they were paid for the film. She is a lot more appealing in this story than in the first re-boot “Jurassic World“, and he continues to bring enough humor to make the movie lively, or at least lively at times. Her conversion to animal rights activist seems a little week, but she does work well with the dinosaurs and Pratt, especially on the island sequence. Pratt gets to make most of the jokes in the film which is fine because that’s what he does best. When he has to be a combination of Rambo, Bruce Lee and John McClane, it is harder to take the movie seriously. Two fine actors are wasted in the movie and another one has a felony committed in his name. Ted Levine, who is so memorable as “Buffalo Bill” from “The Silence of the Lambs”, has a thankless role as a villain, who is so stupid as to demand to be paid when crazed animals have disrupted an auction, and then goes souvenir seeking in the most dangerous scenario imaginable in this plot. Geraldine Chaplain, who was in “Dr. Zhivago”, also has a thankless role that sets her up as an important character in the household where the climax of the film takes place, and then she is dropped completely.

The major felony is the misuse of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm character form the first two Jurassic Park movies. In those films, he was the voice of reason with a sardonic voice and the ability to let the air out of someone too inflated with themselves, in a sarcastic and hysterical manner. In this film, he has two brief scenes that bookend the movie. He sits behind a table and pontificates to a Congressional panel on the risks of the Dinosaurs being removed from potential danger. I don’t think he has a single joke, facial moment or tone that makes his appearance here essential. Someone else in the movie makes a joke about writing fortune cookies, that’s what all of Goldblum’s dialogue is. His aphorisms about DNA would make Jeremy Rifkin blush with overkill.

This looks impressive on the side of a tall building in L.A.

Tomorrow on a podcast, I suspect that most of the participants will be happy to poke holes in the logic of the story. Believe you me, that’s what I expect to do in order to make the conversation amusing. However, there are some good action sequences in the film. The opening mission to the park to recover some DNA was well staged and there were some clever moments in it. The sequence with Claire and tech guy/coward Franklin Web, where they are trapped in a control room at the park was perfectly fine at giving us tense jump scares and some funny moments. I also enjoyed the scene in you young girl’s bedroom as she hides from a monster under her covers. Chris Pratt’s hero mode is more functional there. Pratt got some good laughs in a scene where he and Howard are getting a blood donation from a T-Rex. So there is fun to be had, but you have to turn off your brain to enjoy it.

Ranking the Jurassic Park films seems to be one of the things that people are doing as they talk about this film. I have some opinions on that as well, but I will save those for the Lambcast. Otherwise I suggest you see the film, load up on popcorn, candy and soda, because that is where all the nutritional value of your visit to the theater will be.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Let’s be clear, you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. Your emotional reaction to a previously experienced event will always be influenced by that previous experience. So, inevitably, a second helping is going to go down differently than the first. That said, Volume 2 of this franchise from Marvel Studios, maintains the right tone, humor and high production quality of it’s predecessor, while adding some interesting layers to the story and characters. It is a great follow up which will leave you with another sense of euphoria, but it won’t quite be like your first piece of the pie.

I swore five years ago that I would stop going to these late night preview screenings on Thursdays. After having left the house at six am, worked at my desk for almost three hours, taught for more than four hours, attended a meeting late in the afternoon, drove to another campus, taught two more hours, rushed home, took the dogs to their training class and finally returning home at 9pm, I got up after eating and went to a 10:30 pm screening. With trailers and movie, I did not get to bed until 2 am. I’m not whining, I’m simply explaining that it was a long, complicated day and I’m bushed. Still it was totally worth it and if my prose comes across a little toasty in this review, well, that’s the reason why.

For several years now, I have used an example in my classes about how cultural references from different generations can be misunderstood. For instance, one time in class, as I was passing back grades, one of my students was named Phillip, and when I called his name I joked that I really just need five bucks worth. People who who have only ever pumped their own gas might not get that. Another time, my student got her quiz back and when I called her name, “Brandy” , I said , “you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be”. I got horrified looks from millennials who thought I was hitting on this poor girl and did not get the pop culture reference. After this movie, that will never happen again. As much as this film is a product of today’s Hollywood, the cultural appropriation of late seventies and early eighties pop music and culture is one of it’s strongest points. Hearing the great Kurt Russell, quote the lyrics of a pop song from 1972, as a way of summarizing his characters plot line was just perfect for an old guy like me. Baby Groot should sell a million copies of ELO’s greatest hits, and if you don’t have Fleetwood Mac’s “the Chain” on your music feed, you will.

Our main characters are known quantities at this point. There really are not a lot of surprises when it comes to the way they act and talk. Writer/Director James Gunn and his screenwriting collaborators have a clear understanding of the emotional neediness of Star Lord and match it with cocky bravado at every point. Rocket is a badass for some clearly emotional reasons, but you don’t expect them to be as poignant as this film manages to make them. There are several new characters in the story but the best narrative belongs to two characters from the first film who take a more prominent role in Volume 2. Nebula has daddy issues like everyone in the story, but she is taking them out on Gamora. Their relationship continues to splinter, mesh and then separate again on a regular basis.  The surprise feature character is Michael Rooker’s Yondu. This turns out to be the key reason for this movie working as well as it does to supersede comic spectacle and actually achieve some emotional resonance. Who’d have thought that?

 

Drax continues to be one of the oddest comic relief characters in films. David Bautista’s deliver of deadpan insults and bon mots earns him some acting cred in the range he handles very well.  Zoe Saldana has the narrowest story developments in the film, but Gamora still manages to be an important presence in the story. New character Mantis has the sincerest demeanor in the plot and her by play with Drax is a highlight.

Peter Quill gets to be the hero of the story, but it ends up being a position that is well earned and paid for. The Guardians add a few new enemies to their list of folks they have to watch out for. You can see a few threads of future stories lurking in the background, but the one major story from the previous version is cleanly tied up here. Not having heard of this comic series before it became a film, much less having ever read one comic, the denouement of  the family story was a good twist that made the film a lot more interesting.

 

The special effects of the film are impressive. We went to a 3D IMAX showing and it showcases the space battles and weapons very well. The soundtrack is loaded with music that if you don’t yet know, you will because it is used so well in the story. There are some nice details in the film that you may miss if you don’t watch closely.  For example, I’m pretty sure Peter’s grandpa is in one shot very briefly. It wasn’t necessary but it shows that the film makers care about details and in this Universe, details seem to be pretty important. If you liked the first film, you should be more than satisfied with Vol. 2. And if you like Mary Poppins, you’ll love Yondu the most.

AMC IMAX Bonus Cards for Stubbs Members, Jealous?

I saw a headline a couple of weeks ago that declared the movie star dead. That proclamation was based on the disappointing box office opening of this film. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have had great success in films in the last few years. Lawrence has arguably been the most bankable star, man or woman, since the start of the Hunger Games series, and Pratt starred in the colossus “Jurassic World” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Their pairing may have been the reason this film finally got a greenlight after years in development hell. The lower than expected returns are supposedly an indicator that star power can”t save a movie. The truth is, a movie succeeds or fails for many reasons, and while the star may be one of those reasons, there are usually others. The weakness of this films performance should not be unjustly laid at the feet of the two leads.

“Passengers” is sold to us as a love story in space. The trailers make the film look like an adventure with the star crossed lovers battling to save themselves and the ship they are traveling on. I’m going to avoid spoilers as usual, but I will say that there is a twist in this story that is much darker and deeper than the film clips suggest. Maybe this is not a great movie, but it was better than I expected and the production values are top notch so I think I can recommend it to people who like science fiction and a lot of drama thrown in.

The provocative part of the story occurs for reasons that audiences will understand but may be horrified by. There is an interesting “what would you do? question at the heart of the film. The follow up question of how to handle the choice that is made is less complex because the story takes a very traditional turn into action tension and drama. The second act of the film is where all of the real emotion is and when the story veers back to the usual plot points, there is less that is interesting about it. For the vast majority of the movie, the two leads are the sole human characters on the ship. Michael Sheen, who is great, does have a side part to play, but he essentially is a tool for exposition and philosophy to be engorged in out loud. Lawrence and Pratt have to sell the human elements. I thought their chemistry was solid and that they made a somewhat believable couple under the circumstances.

 The failure of this movie to connect with audiences may have more to do with marketing than anything else. The trailers and ads ignore the real conflict of the film entirely and focus on the romance and adventure. There is a hint of a secret plot but that is a red herring, every shot with Lawrence Fishburne and Andy Garcia in it is misleading to the audience. Garcia must have a fantastic agent to get billing and paid for his contribution to the film. I suspect there may have been more of the story that got trimmed, and in the long run that is probably best.

 

 

The appearance of  Fishburne in the film, signals the start of the last section of the movie and a return to standard action adventure activity.  The idea that a solo engineer and a well read but not expert passenger, can handle the issues that crop up is a little hard to swallow, but since the whole idea of the film is hard to swallow to begin with I guess I can live with it. The action beats are not surprising but the special effects work is solid and there is one final twist that does pay off from the earlier section. In essence it helps redeem the film and make it a bit more worthy.  “Passengers” is not an essential film but it is entertaining and it should make for a good date night film for all those future “Netflix and Chill” evenings ahead.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Remakes inevitably suffer from comparison to their predecessors. This version of the Magnificent Seven will not be an exception. It has star power, and entertainment value, but it seems to be short in stature because of the times in which it is made and the demands of contemporary audiences. We need our action to be spectacular and the visualization to be inventive. The problem is, with such a traditional setting, it sometimes feels a bit anachronistic. Characters playing out the events of the story in 1879, sound like they might have been born in 1979. The touches of humor and the self referential moments left me a little less impressed, despite some excellent tweaks to the well known story.

Let’s begin with the stuff that works and helps this movie cross the line as a winner. Denzel Washington is the closest thing we have to a movie star working today. His presence in a film can still bring out an audience and his acting chops are top notch. The only film star comparable would be Tom Cruise, and I think Mr. Cruise is more limited in what an audience is willing to see him in these days. Of course Mr. Washington is also playing in the action field now more than any other genre also. Cast as the lead cowboy in this band of mercenaries, he is completely believable in spit of  question of his heritage. You never once think that he is not exactly who he says he is and there is no question that the people he encounters grant him the respect he clearly communicate to all that he deserves. It is a credit to the makers of the film that they don’t exploit what might have been a distracting non-issue and instead focus on the story at hand.

 

Ethan Hawke’s character is also a plus in the film. We get a little more back story than we ever got with Robert Vaughn in the 1960 version, and it makes most of his actions seem more reasonable. As a deadly sniper who survived the  Civil War, his struggle with PTSD seems understandable even if it is only partially fleshed out. His friendship with an Asian assassin in the old west is a little more difficult to swallow, although it offers a nice relationship and provides quite a bit of entertainment. Also worthy are the characters played by Vincent D’Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier. They make up a worthy second tier trio of mercenaries. I liked Byung-hun Lee perfectly well in the film but as I said, his character is one of two that draws attention to the fact that we are watching a story made by people trying to entertain us any way they can.

The second character that sticks out a bit like a sore thumb is Chris Pratt’s gambling cowboy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he is in the film and I enjoyed his performance just fine. The trouble is that the character is so overdone in an effort to make the film a little more hip that the story loses much of it’s organic nature. It screams for attention and the manner in which the character talks is more in keeping with the Space Opera Pratt is noted for than the Horse Opera we are watching. His story is written more for the audience than for the events in the film.

There are moments in the reworking of the story that I thought fit well. The events that propel the character of Emma Cullen to reach out for help from such dangerous men was well set up and executed. She develops as a character only so far however and in the end her role becomes a plot device rather than someone we can care about and relate to. I will say however that the audience I saw this with was enthusiastic about her piece of action at the climax of the film. Peter Sarsgaard as the villain of the piece is suitably despicable, although the capricious manner in which he treats his employees would make most people think twice about taking a job from him.

I could have lived without the backstory for Denzel’s Chisolm, I think he would be more interesting as a cypher but it does provide a bit more logical reason for him to take on the task that he himself describes as impossible. The planning components of the final battle are reminiscent of some of the same things that were found in “Seven Samurai”, the film that was remade as the first “Magnificent Seven”. That battle sequence does go on quite a while and it is one of the places that the action sometimes feels over the top. I did not count the number killed but it would certainly approach two hundred. I can say however that the deaths that occur in the group seem relevant and well earned.

 

This is the final score of the late James Horner, who died last year far too young but with a set of films on his vita that would make anybody proud. Two nights ago, in preparation for an upcoming podcast, I watched “Battle Beyond the Stars”, a Roger Corman cheapy Star Wars wannabe that uses the plot of The Magnificent Seven as it’s source. One of the gems in that otherwise minor film is the score, by a young James Horner. His career is thus somewhat bookended by this story. This score is not as iconic as either of those other two films but it does convey some seriousness and in a couple of places, the grandeur of the west. There is a continuing echo of the classic Elmer Bernstein theme in several spots, but that tune is not fully utilized until the end of the film.

I’m a sucker for a western, so my opinion on this was likely to be pretty high to begin with. It is a solid entertainment and a reasonable facsimile of a traditional western, but it has a few elements that make it feel more manufactured than it ought to be. I look forward to discussing it with my fellow bloggers next week, but for mow I will say you should definitely see it. There are not likely to be a lot of westerns in Denzel’s future career, and that is a shame because he fits in the saddle really well.

 

Jurassic World

The world is a different place than it was twenty two years ago when the original “Jurassic Park” stormed onto screens, made CGI the standard by which special effects would be measured from then on, and crowned the king of Hollywood with his greatest commercial success the same year he achieved his greatest artistic success with “Schindler’s List”. Spielberg’s dinosaur movie was the start of freeing our imaginations with digital images and the story was fresh. Here we are all those years later, and everyone knows that the dinosaurs are going to be spectacular, and the setting is going to be lush and the action intense. Even if it is the first time you see any of the Jurassic Park films, “Jurassic World” can never repeat the magic of that 1993 event picture.

Having said that, and giving anybody with bloated expectations a way to let a little air out of the bubble, “Jurassic World” is a terrific summer film that should fill the pockets of everyone involved because it does exactly what the times call for. It entertains us with spectacle, danger and action. There is one important element missing from this film that was much more abundant in it’s three precursors, humor. Other than that, you will have a great time at the movies as long as you are not really expecting a science lesson.

The park has been open for a while now. It is still unclear to me after the events of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”, how “i-gen”, the company founded by John Hammond can still exist. They must have had their assets sold off to pay for the lawsuits that would have followed the company after the T-Rex eats half of San Diego. They could not even afford security to keep people off of site B in the third Jurassic Park film. That is all just nit picking however, the point of this movie is to give us something to marvel at and be frightened of. The real monsters continue to be the scientists who play with genetic power and don’t consider the consequences. These films must have inspired a lot of the Monsanto hate out there, because the researchers come across as indifferent to the work they are doing and it’s consequence, they simply see it as something to exploit.  B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu is older but not wiser, making all new mistakes with the current endeavor. Vincent D’Onofrio has the Paul Reiser role as a corporate hack who has visions of defense contracts dancing through his head. It’s Bryce Dallas-Howard who ultimately has to redeem herself as a cold fish of an executive, looking at marketing before she considers the ethical and responsible things to do. She does get to the point where we do root for her, but in the beginning, she is as guilty as anyone for what happens.

If you were worried that the velociraptors of the early films had turned into trained house pets, be assured that is not the case. Chris Pratt, channeling Harrison Ford, is working with the deadly pack hunters, but the story is much more realistic than the trailer would lead you to believe. He needed to have more of “Star Lords” one liners and facial ticks, to make the movie sing more. The fault is not in the performance but the script. Jeff Goldblum owned the first two movies with his sardonic sense of humor and his well timed jabs at the corporation and scientific processes. Pratt only gets one or two moments to show off his comic chops, and then once the story takes off, there are no moments of levity at all.

There are several thrill moments in the film, but nothing to match that T-Rex attack from “Jurassic Park”. The sequence with the gyroglobes is meant to stand in for the attack on the jeep in the first film, and it does have a few great elements to it, but it is not as sustained as that first brilliant sequence that Spielberg used all of his skills to put together. Director Colin Trevorrow copies the master but can’t quite match the terror achieved in that sequence. His strongest effort is in the final fight sequence which does manage to use the characters , both real and digital, to their best effect. Composer Michael Giacchino has done a good job in building a soundtrack for the movie but his work will always be overshadowed here by the theme from the first film, composed by John Williams. That motif is repeated in several sections and at the end of the picture it is as if Williams himself did the score for this. It may be an unfair thing for me to say, but it was the way I felt about it.

The movie succeeds in creating a monster to chase the characters that really is scary. The park looks fantastic and reasonably crowed, at least until the climax. I would want to do several of the rides and attractions we saw in the build up. Kayaking with dinosaurs, riding a Triceratops, or traveling by monorail through a forest are all attractions that would made me want to go through the turnstile. Some times the themes get a little big for the movie. Asset management and investment are certainly important, but a guy who manages to make it to being the eighth richest man on the planet can surely see that losing a $26 million project is small potatoes next to the disaster staring him in the face. Of course if people did not make some stupid choices, there would be no movie for us to thrill to, so ignore some of the improbable s, and sit back for what will surely be the thrill ride of the summer.