Tag: Chris Pratt

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic4After the gargantuan box-office success of 2015’s Jurassic World, it is unsurprising that Universal Pictures would be clambering to repeat the dose with its successor.  Although Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is pretty much locked on a wash-rinse-repeat cycle, it isn’t entirely a mirror image of its predecessor.  Yes, it is silly, predictable, and trite—the kind of blockbuster hokum that quickly falls out of your brain soon after you leave the cinema.  But it also has some top-notch moments of chair clutching thrills.

Monsters lurking in corridors is a cinematic trope that has always given me the heebee geebees, and there’s plenty of that here.  Ever since Spielberg got the ball rolling with his prowling raptors in the original Jurassic Park, I’ve had an irrational fear of what lies just around the corner. The film’s director J.A. Bayona, who helmed the excellent psychological allegory A Monster Calls, knows a thing or two about fear. His ability to tap into my primal weakness with some thrilling dino-teeth-snapping sequences successfully distracted me from what is otherwise a fairly average blockbuster.

Stylistically, it operates like a fifties b-grade schlock horror with plenty of jump-scares and gruesome deaths. The island we left in 2015’s Jurassic World is revisited here.  Now over-run by dinosaurs, the volcanic island is blowing its top and a bunch of animal activists sympathetic to the stranded beasts want the creatures re-located to a new remote island.  Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) heads up such an organisation and her efforts to locate some of the more difficult-to-find creatures (including, yes you guessed it, Blue, the raptor from the previous film) requires the backing of multi-millionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell).  Of course, you can’t catch Blue without her trainer … enter Chris Pratt. And while Lockwood’s millions provide the means to do the relocation, his assistant, Eli (Rafe Spall), has more nefarious ideas about what the dinosaurs are worth and where they should go.

*sigh* Aside from the plot, which is as predictable as a rainy Auckland winter, the film falls down in a few other areas.  Most notably, there is an unsavoury whiff of tokenism in the makeup of its multifaceted cast (but hey, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t) which also lead to roles that operate purely functional to the film’s plot machinations. 

One such character is Maisie Lockwood, played by newcomer Isabella Sermon. Despite being given ample screen-time, her intriguing character is disappointingly fleshed out.  Instead, she operates as a means to set up some (admittedly very good) scare sequences and also provide the film its get-out-of-jail-card (for reasons I can’t spoil here) to the final moral impasse. 

There are plenty more faults I could jab and prod at, but perhaps I’m being too harsh on a film that is only purporting to be as light and fluffy as the popcorn you buy with it. Surprisingly, it does have a subtext (of sorts) on the moral worth of genetically manufactured creatures, but its message is very confused and non-conclusive.

Ultimately, the awe and heart of the franchise’s original have long since escaped its cage. And for this reason, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will no doubt garner plenty of disdain from the original’s adoring masses. In time, I will no-doubt subscribe to such sentiments, but for now, I’m still buzzing over some of the film’s scary action set-pieces … I’m just sucker for monsters and corridors.

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.

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Avengers: Infinity War

avengersinfinityI’m unapologetically lukewarm about the superhero genre having long suffered the much-maligned superhero fatigue.  And while many fans will bemoan such critics and explain how the superhero genre differs little (in quantity) from other celebrated genres, I must highlight one notable difference; the dreaded word “universe”.  Attach that word to a large grouping of open-ended narrative arcs and it’s a recipe for trouble.

Rather than the episodic nature of other genres, the superhero genre has, for some reason, decided to create giant cross-pollinated mythologies of characters who share the same “universe”—every so often tying them up in one big tentpole movie.

Beholden to Marvel’s “universe” Avengers: Infinity War tries its hardest to corral its many denizens into narrative alignment. You can almost hear the cogs turning as each hero is conveyer-belted onto the screen and plugged back into the Marvel “universe” system.  Despite such difficulties, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have done an admirable job of wrangling it all together.

Understandably, the plot is fairly shallow in order to fit in the numerous heroes and villains. The infighting of previous Marvel films is largely forgotten as the Avengers are all forced to contend with a larger, outside threat: Thanos (Josh Brolin), an enormous, galaxy-trotting warlord who believes the universe would be better off if half of the population was exterminated. His genocidal plans depend on obtaining all six Infinity Stones, their combined power would allow him to reduce life in the universe by half with the literal snap of his fingers.

The action is predictable, with plenty of the usual punchsplosions, collapsing walls, and CGI overload that we’ve become accustomed to. But thankfully the fight sequences aren’t too long … there simply isn’t time for them.  Curiously, a by-product of accommodating an enormous cast seems to be the reduction of tedious fight sequences. However, character development also takes a back seat—a mere luxury squeezed as small as Antman’s undies (who ironically isn’t in this film).  What’s left, however, is Marvel’s intoxicatingly funny brand of humour which keeps pace with the film’s sheer kinetic momentum and culminates in a bold and risky ending (of which my lips are sealed).

Fair to say, I was not expecting much and had to muster all my super-reviewing powers of critical impartiality.  And although Avengers: Infinity War is far from perfect, the result was better than I had anticipated and should satisfy even lukewarm superhero fans.


See more of my NZME reviews here.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

gotgv2“I have famously huge turds!” is a line that you might find irksome rather than funny, but when it’s delivered with the understated clarity and bombastic bluster of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you’ll be all aboard that laughing gig.

The first Guardians film was a hilarious thrill-ride, and going into the cinema I was hoping for more of the same from its sequel. It is largely produced by the same bunch that gave us the surprisingly entertaining original. I say “surprisingly entertaining” because the recent deluge of comic book adaptations has left me with a severe case of hero fatigue, but Vol.1 felt like a genuine breath of fresh air. It also did a wonderful job of paying homage to many of the classic adventure comedies of the eighties. Helmed again by James Gun who directed what will most likely be a career defining original, Vol. 2 only took as long as its opening sequence to plant me firmly back in its exciting and absurdly hilarious universe.

Having been found by his long-lost father in the outer reaches of the cosmos, Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), comes to terms with the immortality his father bestows on him, versus the mortality of what he considers his real family — the rag-tag bunch that make up the Guardians of the Galaxy.  His Guardian buddies, in particular love interest Gamora (Zoe Saldana), are suspicious of Peter’s father, Ego (played by Kurt Russell), and set about uncovering the truth. The plot mainly serves to flesh out each character rather than much else and veritably takes a back seat to the film’s sassy style and swagger. Yes, Vol. 2 won me over entirely with its adept repartee coupled with incredibly stylistic set pieces all set to the back-drop of some pretty cool music. What’s not to like?

But most importantly, like its predecessor, this film is fully aware of itself and its objectives — take you on a jaunty adventure and make you laugh in the process.  It is Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, and Back to the Future all bundled together in a cassette tape and shot into space, although unlike Messrs Jones, Colton and McFly, it hasn’t followed up its iconic original with a rubbish sequel.  If Vol. 1 gave us that heady mix of comedy and adventure that the eighties got so right, then Vol. 2 has given us the sequel that the eighties never managed to deliver … just watch other studios turn this formula into a cliche. Hopefully Waititi’s Thor gets in before the stampede.

You can see the published review here.

Passengers

passIn Passengers, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) has directed a hotly anticipated summer flick, that from reports of early screenings, seem to have polarised ethical opinion on the responsibilities of its protagonist.  I couldn’t find any evidence of this in the trailer that I saw, so I was dying to find out more.

On route to a distant colony planet, the transport ship Avalon suffers a malfunction that wakes one of its five thousand hyper-sleeping passengers.  Jim (Chris Pratt) is left to wander the empty halls of the ship which still has 90 years of its journey to complete. Despite his best efforts, Jim cannot find a way to re-enter hyper-sleep and is essentially doomed to live out the remainder of his days onboard. A year later, as he understandably starts to feel lonely, Jim begins to contemplate the dubious act of waking up another passenger. Most of his deliberation plays out in conversation between himself and the ship’s android bar tender, Arthur (a very affable character superbly played by Michael Sheen). Jim sums up his situation best when he asks Arthur: What would you do if you were marooned on a desert island but had the power to wish someone with you, knowing that you will seal their fate … would you do it?  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what he decides, after all if you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know that Jennifer Lawrence turns up at some point.

Soon after, the film unfortunately takes a turn for the worse.  Rather than fully exploring the implications of a deliberately presented ethical dilemma, it opts to focus instead on another less cerebral problem — saving the ship from falling apart. Yes, the original malfunction has conveniently spread, leaving the ship in jeopardy. In reality, it provides an easy out for writer Jon Spaihts, who appeared not to know what to do with his excellent setup. Spaihts also suffered a similar problem with his previous work, Prometheus, where an interesting premise is tantalisingly dangled in front of its audience but is not fully explored.  A couple of set action pieces later and I was left scratching my head wondering why it was that I felt so deflated.

Technically the film is beautiful to look at and the production value is top-notch. As a stock standard sci-fi it’s actually not bad and worth your money, if that’s what you’re after. If you’re after anything more you’ll be lamenting the lost opportunity.

3 stars out of 5

You can see the published review here

The Magnificent Seven

mag7_620x310I regretfully admit that I have not yet seen the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven (which was originally based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese classic, Seven Samurai). In fact, the whole western genre is a bit of a blind spot for me. However, the positive is that I can look at Antoine Fuqua’s (Training DayThe Equalizer) remake with fresh eyes rather than compare it to the original. Apparently I’m in good company – the film’s star, Denzel Washington, citing similar reasoning, didn’t see the original either.

The plot is relatively simple. Set in 1879, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his gang roll into town and demand the townsfolk sell their land to him at a cut price. He gives them three weeks to comply before he comes back and takes the town by force. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and her friend Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) head out to a nearby town to enlist help. There they find Warrant Officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who in turn, enlists six other guns for hire (Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke among them). Together they nut out a battle plan before Bogue and his heavies return. You can imagine what happens next.

So, how do we justify this remake? Why now? Was there something new and fresh to be told, or was it simply a commercial cash grab? I can see the thinking – conjure up a familiar but compelling plot worthy of recycling, add some heavy hitting actors, and we might just have a hit on our hands. This rationale is fine, but if you’re deciding not to tread on new ground then it puts a heavy onus on “entertainment”.

Here, unfortunately entertainment took a back seat to box ticking. Variation of ethnicities and backgrounds – tick. Stage it like the original classic – tick. Ensure a big finale – tick. Get big name actors – tick. All boxes were checked successfully, yet this film still felt vacuous. The variation of ethnicities felt like they were meeting quotas, with little opportunity given to explore their rich backgrounds. The result left me with a seven that was more “meh”gnificent than magnificent. The staging was so drawn-out and overemphasised it felt too heavy-handed. The long and overcooked finale was a path of violence that left a town so devastated it was barely recognisable. I had to ask myself what the point was. Perhaps Fuqua was angling for a cynical view of violence as a tool to solve disputes. Who knows? Moreover, who cares … I certainly didn’t.

Star rating: 2/5

See the published review here.