My Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War successfully combines all the winning elements and characters from the MCU into a satisfying sequel.

When I was growing up, Marvel was X-Men. The 80’s comic storylines like The Phoenix Saga, Dark Phoenix, and Days of Future Past defined Marvel for years. The amazing X-Men: The Animated series of the early 90s cemented my love of superheroes that continues today.

Meanwhile the Avengers were nothing to me. I had a bad NES game where you could play as the incredibly lame Captain America and Hawkeye. Iron Man was a D-list joke. I couldn’t tell you a single Avengers villain.

I am continually amazed by how things have changed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel successfully adapted to the loss of many of their key franchises to other studios (the 90s were a rough time for comics).

Suddenly the Avengers are the hottest shit around, and while Marvel Studios still has a bit of a villain problem, Captain America: Civil War represents exactly what the studio does best: big screen heroes. Continue reading “My Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War”

Dinosaurs Are Awesome: My Thoughts on Jurassic World

Jurassic Park is one of my all-time favorite films. Here are my thoughts and reactions to Jurassic World.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This post is full of MASSIVE SPOILERS for Jurassic World. Do not read until you’ve watched it!

jurassic park finale

Jurassic Park means a lot to me. Like many young boys I was crazy into dinosaurs. I worshiped a silly 80’s cartoon/extended toy commercial called Dino-Riders. I owned all the Transformers Dinobots. I had buckets of little plastic dinosaurs, and giant rubber behemoths that I stomped around in the backyard. I had entire bookshelves dedicated to dinosaur biology and research.

It was a love and infatuation that naturally subsided a bit as I aged, but never disappeared entirely. I remember passionately reading through Michael Crichton’s The Lost World sequel before being disappointed by the film in ’97 (my first ever instance of crying “the book was better!”). Jurassic Park 3 remains one of the few films I’ve ever seen in theatres three or more times (not including actually working at a movie theatre, as I did for years).

To say my expectations were high for Jurassic World would not be entirely accurate. After all, both sequels have declined as the years gone by. The majesty and wonder of seeing the ancient lords of Earth rendered with computer graphics imaging suddenly isn’t all that special two decades later when we’ve seen superheroes battle aliens and robots.

Dino-Riders. Yeah, my mind was blown too.
Dino-Riders. Yeah, my mind was blown too.

Yet there’s just something about dinosaurs that remains fascinating. These astonishing creatures actually roamed the Earth for far longer than we have. Seeing them behave like animals, and not just monsters, is something the Jurassic series has struggled with. Jurassic World actually handles this quite well (for the most part), as well as finally showing us a fully functional dinosaur park for the first time ever. In many ways this is a film we can only get now that our technology (and budgets) have grown sufficiently to do the series justice. Here are my knee-jerk thoughts and reactions to the film.

Okay seriously, spoilers will follow!

 

The Highs

Seeing John Hammond’s dream of a functioning dinosaur theme park is so much fun, and I absolutely loved that we got to view it through the lens of ecstatic young boy Gray, played by Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3). I felt his unbridled joy and dorky enthusiasm as he raced along to each exhibit and attraction, with his appropriately I’m Too Cool and Hormonal for This older teenage brother Zach (Nick Robinson).

jurassic-world_0

With the boys’ relationship woes I was fully expecting a rehash of the first film (and of most Spielburg films in general) of all our leads coming together to form a family. Thankfully this cliché is avoided, and instead the focus is of the two brothers’ relationship with each other. The older brother quickly loses his teenage attitude once the shit hits the fan, and he and his ridiculously sweet brother build a nice bond that leads to enough character growth without detracting from the main event.

Our leads are perfectly cast, with Bryce Dallas Howard going through a fun transformation from cold-hearted CEO to ass-kicking, heels-running, T-Rex summoning badass. Chris Pratt’s Owen essentially plays a singular badass character that pulls elements from all of the franchise’s previous leading men – he’s got Alan Grant’s dinosaur knowledge and respect, Ian Malcolm’s smarmy charm and wit, and even Robert Muldoon’s (“Clever Girl”) swagger and confidence.

Of the two I actually enjoyed Claire far more (and I love Chris Pratt). Instead of simply running and screaming she channels her inner Dr. Ellie Sattler and takes charge of the situation, directly saving all of them on multiple occasions. She receives the strongest character growth and arc throughout the film, and it’s a big bummer that she’s almost completely absent from all the marketing and advertising.

Jurassic World should also be recognized for having the most diverse cast of the franchise. The leads are still all good-looking white people (baby steps, I guess), but Henry Wu returns as the sole character tie-in to the original, with an expanded role that paints his character in some interestingly murky areas. Omar Sy essentially gets the buddy role to Owen, but again his role is much bigger than I would have anticipated – and he survives! My favorite was Irrfan Khan playing eccentric billionaire and park owner Simon Masrani, a fun role that he injects a lot of personality and heart into.

jurassic world herd

Our entrance to the island is dripping with nostalgia as composer Michael Giacchino lovingly caresses you with the John Williams’ iconic theme, building to an epic crescendo as we move through the classic giant wooden gates and see the park in all its glory. Callbacks to the first film are balanced so as not to consume the new story and park, but instead drop hints, teases, and occasional lines of dialogue that directly address it – like when an employee wears an old Jurassic Park t-shirt.

In an age of frequent reboots where the original films are completely discarded or ignored, it was fun seeing not only a direct acknowledgement of the first film, but to see it treated with an almost holy reverence, as when our characters stumble upon the ruins of the original Visitor’s Center and old jeeps. I felt goosebumps when they run their hands over a shadowy raptor on the wall, step over the bones of the fallen skeleton, and pick up the night vision goggles.

The main plot of an intelligent, killer dino on the loose is much better than I would have expected. I was worried we would really veer off into some ridiculous territory, especially when I’d heard troublesome whispers leading up to the film that this Indominus Rex could command and control other dinosaurs.

In reality her new ‘powers,’ like hiding from thermographic sensors and camouflage, are explained through gene-splicing. I accepted this the way I accept comic book reasoning – even if it’s all silly and ridiculous, if you can explain it within the fiction of your world, I can accept it. Her one bit of dino control comes from her being part-Raptor, which leads to a fun battle of wills between Raptor Trainer Owen and Alpha Predator Indominus.

Owen and company are eventually forced by In-Gen into using the trained raptors on a field test against Indominus Rex, and of course things go terribly wrong. I did like that Treverrow borrowed from Aliens in these scenes, complete with headcams on the raptors and troops and ominous life monitors on the screens. It was a fun excuse to finally see military equipment and personnel face off against dinosaurs. The whole plan and concept is quickly abandoned when things go to hell, and we’re almost back where we started with our heroes merely running for their lives and the raptors seemingly turned native – but there’s a few more tricks the film has up it’s sleeve in the incredible finale.

jurassic world sea

The finale gives us the rock ’em sock ’em dino combat that we all want, and is proof that Universal Pictures and director Colin Treverrow know exactly why people enjoy these films – to see awesome dinosaurs, and remind us that we are just puny humans with too much hubris. A lot of silly conceits have to be made for the climactic dino-battle at the end to work (which I’ll address below) but the CGI-fest remains fun as hell. When Claire says “We need more teeth” and runs off with determination, I was already cheering. The unmistakable hero of the first film – Tyrannosaurus Rex steps onto the stage with all the pageantry and fist-pumping of a WWE super star. The film had already transported me back to a childhood of dinosaur-laden joy, and the finale fully delivered on my child-like astonishment of seeing these titans battle it out.

 

The Lows

Jurassic World was far from perfect. Despite my previous adulation I definitely had my share of issues. The biggest is the awkward attempt at shoe-horning in two mostly separate plots – the escape of Indominus Rex, and the hostile takeover by In-Gen. The Indominus plot works well enough – here’s a single dinosaur that’s powerful and intelligent enough (basically a terrifying combination of T-Rex and Velociraptor) to raise havoc on the island.

Meanwhile, however, Vincent D’Onofrio’s over-the-top villainous asshole military guy is trying to convince everyone else that weaponized dinosaurs are the future of modern warfare. That…seems a bit silly, even by this franchise’s standards. Still, we definitely dodged a bullet compared to the early script drafts that included splicing human and dinosaur DNA together to create super-soldiers – ugh.

jurassic world raptros

Once Indominus Rex (god I hate that name, at least Chris Pratt, as the Voice of the Audience, calls out how dumb it is when he first hears it) accidentally breaches the aviary, all the pteranadons and dimorphodons immediately fly out. The weird bit is, they act like a horde of mindless, people-killing monsters as they go toward the park and attack everything in sight, often disregarding their own safety. For a film that’s generally done a solid job propping up the dinosaurs as actual animals and real creatures (part of Owen’s cornerstone for being a Raptor trainer and Claire’s growth as a person) it’s a really weird, jarring scene. Also includes a rather unnecessary and oddly exploitative death in Claire’s rather useless assistant, as she’s battled over by various fliers before being devoured by the film’s Chekov’s Gun – the truly monstrous mosasaurus.

The finale is all kinds of awesome, but as I mentioned, requires a few mental hurdles and hand-waving to make any sense. First comes the rather surprising information that the T-Rex paddock is extremely close to the main thoroughfare of the park, where the climactic battle takes place. We are to believe that Claire runs over there in a few minutes at most. Second she stands in front of the gate as it’s raised, lights the flare (okay, that callback was completely awesomesauce and clever), then runs like hell from a T-Rex that’s RIGHT THERE, all the way back to the battle. It felt a little weird but the film goes through the motions so quickly you can barely have a chance to dissect it before the beasts go at it. That and I honestly didn’t care that much as I was cheering the second T-Rex showed up to battle this genetic freak.

The film dips into some real ridiculousness when Raptor and T-Rex work together to take down Indominus. I’m pretty sure at one point the raptor (Blue, I think, the last survivor of the original four) was riding T-Rex as they battled. Silly, ridiculous, but still utterly amazing. I honestly half-expected the Raptor and T-Rex to high-five each other after the mosasaur deals the finishing blow, instead they do a funny nod to each other and run off. Dinosaurs, man.

 

The Verdict

Jurassic_World_posterDespite the weird plotting, mediocre dialogue, and occasional goofy plothole, I loved the hell out of Jurassic World. Trevorrow does a great job showing off the park and dinosaurs as the real stars, right down the last scene when T-Rex climbs on top of the helipad and asserts her awesomeness with that iconic roar.

The characters and writing weren’t nearly as good as the original film, but overall I enjoyed it more than the second and third films. There’s a nice blend of light-hearted humor with the ongoing action and peril (something Marvel excels at as well), and the film actually shies away from any overly tense or horrific scenes – knowing full well that dinosaurs, even genetically enhanced ones, don’t quite terrify us like they used to. But they can still impress the hell out of us.

 

#GameMovieMashup

gamemoviemashup

Every once in awhile a fun hashtag pops up on twitter that I actually participate in (besides my own weekly movie live tweeting on #RogueDVDNight). On October 6th I noticed a friend tweet a #GameMovieMashup, which combines the titles of games and movies. I believe IGN started it, though I don’t actually follow them on twitter.

Anyway since twitter isn’t the easiest thing to archive and look up, I’ve compiled a list of the Game Movie Mashups that my friends and I furiously concocted on twitter that day. Many folks obviously had fun with the hashtag but I’m just including my friends below for some fun record-keeping.

 

15 Films That Always Stuck With Me

This was originally one of those chain Facebook posts where a friend tags you to do a list. In this case, listing the top 15 films that most affected you. So it’s not quite a list of favorites but probably pretty close.

Anyway, I wanted to post mine here as it’s already getting buried in Facebook and I think it’s a fun thing to remember. So, here we go:

This was super tricky, even with 15 to choose. As a film student I wish I could pick a lot of film classics that I do legitimately enjoy, but I had to go with the ones that continue to mean the most to me in my life. Which is of course mostly 80s-90s sci-fi and action films.

Here we go, in a vague but not exact order:
1) Tombstone
2) Terminator 2: Judgement Day
3) Jurassic Park
4) The Boondock Saints
5) Snatch
6) The Transformers: The Movie (1986)
7) Star Wars (Ep 4 A New Hope)
8) Braveheart
9) Aliens
10) Predator
11) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
12) Die Hard
13) Pulp Fiction
14) Jaws
15) A Christmas Story

I purposefully neglected to include most animated/Disney films as watching them with my daughter these days has allowed them to take on even more precious meaning, so it would be a bit unfair.