REVIEW: Star Lord and the Raptor Pack. Brought to you by Mercedes.

Minor spoilers; beware

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First of all, thumbs down to the lady in the moo moo who, before the film started, tried to be everyone’s mom, telling these guys to scoot over there, and those guys to scoot over here. Also a thumbs down to the projectionist who cued the lights down only to freeze the “please be quiet and courteous” warning on the screen for about three minutes, before bringing the lights back up, cutting to a black screen, cutting the lights again, then showing me the Windows XP setup he was rocking, before starting the trailers, halfway through Mockingjay part 2, with no sound. That Close Encounters of the Third Kind-knock off whistle/jingle was the first thing I heard.

The next thing was the applause of the audience that the trailers were finally playing with sound. So it’s going to be one of those crowds. The clappy kind.

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And a bonus thumbs down to the usher who refused to allow me to enter with my giant box of fried rice that I picked up on the way over. Because yeah: I paid $12 for chicken and rice with extra yumyum sauce and a Dr. Pepper. $12 at the concession stand would have gotten me the Dr. Pepper. I had to sit in the lobby like a schmuck (I arrived 15 minutes before the previews were to start, because I refuse to be late to the movies) and eat my fried rice while onlookers scoffed. Of course they could have been mocking my crocks with socks combo. It’s hard to say.

Anywho, Jurassic World. I just got back, so these are my knee-jerk thoughts to what is hoped to be a restart of the franchise.

But first!

And we’re back.

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Jurassic Park was not my first movie-going experience. In fact it was Batman Returns a year earlier. On that note, picture this: The summer of 1992. My dad takes me to see Batman Returns in a rinky-dink theater in Russellville Arkansas. We sit down and watch the movie (featuring gruesome nose-bites, death by electrocution, and more sexual innuendo than you can shake a dominatrix whip at). Halfway through the movie I had to go to the bathroom, so I went. Alone. My dad didn’t think twice of it. He just sat there while I got up and went to a public bathroom as an eight year old lad.

Today? If my nine year old son needs to go to the bathroom, I first have to secure the handcuffs that link he and I together, then pick him and carry him to the handicap stall, lock the stall door, press my back against said door, and watch for the feet of any cruel person I know is just waiting to snatch him away.

The next summer he took me to see Jurassic Park. I sat near-front row (it was a packed house) as a T-Rex devoured a pooping man, as a dilophosaurus disemboweled poor Newman from Seinfeld, and as a pack of raptors chewed the arm off of Samuel L. Jackson. It never even fazed me. Meanwhile my nine year old saw the preview for Jurassic World a few months ago, had nightmares for a week and refused to see it with me.

We’re raising a generation of pansies.

Speaking of Jurassic World, have I pointed out that Mercedes-Benz won three awards at the 2015 World Car Awards? It’s quite the car company!

And speaking of speaking of Jurassic World, here is the aforementioned trailer. Have a look:

My first thought when I saw that trailer was: Every. Line. Is. Exposition.

And it’s bad exposition; the kind that sticks out like a sore thumb because no real people would ever talk like that, even in the most outlandish scenarios that movies like this can conjure up. Bad line-readings and bad writing are my two biggest pet peeves in movies. I hate when every little thing has to be over explained because some suit was afraid the audience wouldn’t get it. I hate when a scene is ruined because the actors sound like they are reading their lines for the very first time. That’s a fault of the director, whose job it is to make the material believable. I mean we’re talking about a premise where scientists have genetically modified dinosaurs for the purposes of upping the wow-factor at a theme park that previously failed to get off the ground because of the mass-killings that took place during the trial run. Don’t tell me it’s impossible to make a crazy premise real. I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy. I know it can be done.

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I had hoped that the explanation/exposition-heavy dialogue would be contained to the trailers. But nope, that’s 90% of the dialogue in the movie too.

The original movie had exposition as well, but of course that film was fresh and original and intriguing. People wanted to know what was going on, and Spielberg paced the movie so that the explanations were punctuated by some great character moments that managed to feed into the plot: Dr. Malcom would hit a zinger that would reinforce the “man messing with nature” theme, John Hammond would have a great line that showed how obtuse he was while trying to play god. Those lines moved the story forward. The exposition in this film just moved in circles and stalled the movie.

So my biggest knock on the film may be something that you don’t mind; not everyone cares about dialogue when they go to an event film. If that’s you then you’re going to love this movie, because for me the biggest knock against it was the unnecessary cheese. All of the necessary cheese was done brilliantly, and when the characters stopped talking and started running the film soared. The thrills, moments of horror, exciting action scenes all worked just as they should. But when the characters stopped to “reflect” or to “discuss” or to “ramble on about the meaning” or “the plan,” that’s then things started to falter.

I’ll tell you what never falters: The new Mercedes Benz AMG GT. That baby purrs like a kitten.

After thinking about it, I have come to two conclusions about the film.

CONCLUSION ONE:

This movie is secretly a satire on the state of Hollywood Franchises.

No one comes out and derides the “bigger and more everything” premise behind the plot, so either it was a subtle message from the director or I’m just crazy. But the entire idea behind Jurassic Wold, the in-movie theme park, is that the attractions have to get bigger and bigger to the point of ridiculousness. At one point it is stated that crowds are no longer “wowed” by dinosaurs, in a line I couldn’t decide if it was directed at the fictional ticket-buyers in the movie, or real ticket-buyers to the movies. The idea that people would get bored of dinosaurs seems outlandish until you consider the diminishing box office returns of the original Jurassic Park trilogy. The first one grossed over a billion dollars (pushed passed a billion through re-releases), the sequel brought in over 600mm and the third one did half of that, with 360mm.

Both of the original sequels tried to up the ante, but missed what worked: The Lost World brought a T-Rex to San Francisco, to terrorize a huge populace, because the studio thought bringing the action closer to home would resonate more. JP3 introduced a dinosaur (Spinosaurus) more ferocious than Rex because the studio execs thought the old was out of style. The violence ramped up again and again, as did the body count, but along the way the audience lost interest. So for fifteen years the franchise sat dormant. Now it’s back and the original sequels have been de-canonized in order to bring us a movie with more people to be terrorized, a dinosaur more ferocious than the T-Rex, more violence, more horror, and more death, all because the fictional “corporate” big wigs behind the theme park are worried about the audience losing interest.

This isn’t a Jurassic Park movie. This is a movie about the Jurassic Park movies.

Even the charismatic foreign tycoon funding the whole thing is a parody of the generic hollywood exec, so sure of his own genius when it’s the guys doing the dirty work that deserve the credit. This guy gets a hilarious moment late in the film when he approaches his personal helicopter, intending to fly it over the park in order to shoot down the antagonizing dinosaur villain of the picture. As he gets to the chopper, a worker shouts at him “Isn’t there anyone else who can fly that?” And then he turns around, as dramatic music swells, and the camera zooms in, and he replies “We don’t need anyone else.”

I laughed out loud, but I don’t know if it was supposed to be a parody or if that was supposed to be a serious, dramatic moment. Surely not, because five minutes later that chopper was going down in flames.

Throughout the movie, the scientists, park promoters, etc, all kept talking up the Indominus Rex (“Indominus” from the Latin meaning “unable to be dominated” or “unable to be trained”) as this Dino that was “so way cooler than the T-Rex, for reals.” They spent a lot of time trying to convince you of that too, even starting the “oh crap it’s loose” story a lot earlier than I thought they would, just to have more time to establish the terror this I-Rex can cause.  But in the end, who stands tall? Who has the last word roar? Whose face is on the logo? In fact the whole movie was a love letter to the T-Rex and the Raptor, the unquestioned stars of the first film. Like Hollywood, it was obsessed with rebooting, restarting, reimagining, but in the end it always goes back to the old favorite, because that’s where the emotional connection lies.

Speaking of…

CONCLUSION TWO:

Without the nostalgia factor of the first one, the movie would not have held up.

As stated, the dialogue was so cheesy and thin (exposition, exposition, exposition, bad one-liner, exposition, good one-liner, exposition) that without the call backs to the first one, the movie would have collapsed in on its own ridiculousness. But darn it, they played the nostalgia just right from beginning to end. I grinned like an idiot as soon as the Amblin logo appeared: That’s the logo of my childhood movie life. Next thing you know you’re watching a dino egg hatch while a very John Williams-esque score blares from the speakers, and you couldn’t pay me to stop smiling. Little moments were peppered throughout the movie at just the right time.

Just as I was starting to get annoyed with a bad line-reading, or an unmotivated decision, or a plot hole or a continuity error, they would play the JP theme song, or wander into the old movie set, or have someone pick up a pair of telescoping goggles and darn it I would just grin and forget what I was mad about. The final battle requires a character—Beth—to run from the underwater attraction area, where the Mosasaur is kept, to the area that secures the T-Rex. It wasn’t until I was driving home that I thought to myself “So do they keep the T-Rex right by the aquarium? That doesn’t seem right…” But at the time it didn’t bother me because…the feels. I was too busy fist pumping and cheering the T-Rex on.

Which makes Rex join the ranks of Hannibal Lecter, Freddie Kruger, and other movie monsters that you end up rooting for because they are simply better-developed characters than the “normal” people in the movie.

Nostalgia fueled almost every great moment of the movie, and the scenes that tried to stand on their own fell flat: D’Onofrio’s character was poorly developed, as was Dallas-Howard. The plot of the movie turns out to be a ruse of the bad guy, who late in the movie took the time to monologue and explain his real evil plan (use the creation of I-Rex as a front, while secretly developing a smaller version that can be tamed and used as a military weapon). This guy learned nothing from watching Age of Ultron, as his “evil plan monologue” was cut short by swift raptor justice.

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The plan of course turns on its head in the third act, as the raptors turn on their masters and start hunting them down. The parallels to Aliens (monsters designed by a corporation to be a weapon, turns on and takes out an unmatched military unit) were immediately apparent, but the plot itself only took up a small portion of the film. In fact the movie felt like it was an amalgamation of a few different screenplay ideas/drafts. The only thread stitching them all together was the reminder of all that was beloved about the first Jurassic Park film. It was like the creators said “this is a weak spot…CRANK UP THE JURASSIC PARK MUSIC! SOMEONE FIND ME A JEEP FROM THE FIRST MOVIE, BUT MAKE SURE THERE’S A MERCEDES LOGO STUCK ON IT!”

And then…the feels.

Speaking of feels…can anything bring out the emotions like this:

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I don’t think so.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

Jake Johnson’s mustache.

Both Judy Greer (Kitty!) and Lauren Lapkus? Great casting choices.

Having BD Wong’s “Dr. Wu” character come back was a nice bit of series continuity. Turning him into the co-villain of the picture was a total surprise…until you think about it. Was he really a good dude in the first one? He’s kind of always been a mad scientist (though he denies that title in this movie). Still, this time it’s clear his work is not just borne out of a love for science. He escaped alive so you have to think he’ll be a factor in the sequel.

Speaking of, it’s clear there will be a sequel, but I have no idea where they can go from here. Going back to the island without a theme park attraction would be a retread of The Lost World and JP3. A new theme park would be out of the question. There is simply no way to ever go back to that well again after the events of this movie.

Chris Pratt had a very Indiana Jones-like moment early on, when escaping from the raptor pin. If you had to recast the Indy role…I can see it.

Randomly, this movie is set at Christmas time. There is snow on the ground when the kids leave for the island, and Christmas music playing in the background at the airport. But…that’s all we get out of that. Odd.

The kids (who, by the way, are criminally underdeveloped as opposed to the kids in the first) are told by their mom (as they prepare to go to a Dinosaur-filled island, solo) that if they are chased by something scary…to run. She then gets mad at her husband for lamenting that they will not have another family dinner together. He means because the family is about to be split by divorce. So why is she mad, especially since she just left her kids with a lingering worry that dinosaurs might be chasing them with predilections to kill?

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So all along they build up D’Onofrio’s character as a sinister character with a plan to use the dinosaurs for nefarious purposes. And then, when the chips are down, the heroes…join him? Pratt drives his raptor pack into the wild to hunt the I-Rex, which plays right into the villain’s goals. That seems like a betrayal of the character, no?

Jimmy Falon is the new Mr. DNA.

Character growth just…happens suddenly. Two characters kiss without it being earned. A distant older brother suddenly goes from “stop crying you big baby” to “hey let me cheer you up, little buddy” in 5 minutes flat.

I just want to mention that Cesar Milan’s “be the alpha dog” teachings have been disproven. Any attempts at replicating them on raptors is doomed to fail. What you see in Jurassic World is a Hollywood fantasy: If you wish to adopt a raptor, please don’t apply archaic methods to your training. It will only end badly.

How many people have to die before we stop visiting this island? I mean the whole background to this movie is preposterous: The premise of the first movie is based around the idea that a theme park filled with dinosaurs is such a dangerous proposition that lawyers and specialists had to be sent in advance of the opening just to verify the feasibility of the whole endeavor. Then, after everything that could go wrong does go wrong, we skip forward twenty years and we have a fully-functioning park that has been around for so long (and with apparently no problems) that experimental dinosaurs have to be created to satiate the bored attendees. There was no way to show how we got from the end of JP1 to the beginning of this film, so they just skipped all that nonsense.

I saw this movie in 3D and though it had a few good moments, there wasn’t enough to justify the price hike. My rule of “unless it’s filmed in 3D, don’t bother” is still standing. I only saw it with the glasses because that was the only showing available that I could make.

From my notes, which I write in the dark (or with an assist from a bright moment) without looking. Late in the showing I was wondering where the star of the franchise was. I edited my note after the climax of the film:

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FINAL THOUGHTS

If you take the nostalgia away is this still a good movie? Yes, but it’s not as good as it wishes it was, and it’s not as good as the original. It’s the best installment since the original, but ultimately is hampered by some bad acting, cheesy dialogue, and thin plot.

You might think it is unfair to compare this movie to Jurassic Park, but more than any of the sequels, this movie is inviting you to do just that. Jurassic Park, as an “event” film, built and built and built the tension. It started with the famous Raptor scene, but then backed off to set the table. It showed the awe-inspiring stuff first and let it settle in, before turning the tables and showing the scary side. JP1 was a two hour movie but the first action scene was not until one hour into it. I have it queued up right here: At exactly 58:00 in, Newman kills all the power to the fences. At 1:00:24, the jeep stops in front of the T-Rex area, the water glass starts to rumble and the thrill ride begins. Half the movie is spent setting up the fun that follows, but it does that first hour so well you don’t mind the wait.

The original is not just a great thriller, sci fi movie, horror film, disaster movie, or whatever genre you want to identify it with: It is a great “film.” Period. It is on par with Raiders of the Lost Ark as a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of perfect event film. You can’t just manufacture those kinds of movies; they are what they are because a series of circumstances all came together at just the right time. With JP1 it was the dawn of the CGI age. When you saw the Brontosaurus for the first time you were wowed because such a realistic looking creature had never been so amazingly realized. You can’t recreate that. Jurassic World tried, but it did not succeed.

It sounds like I’m down on this movie, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. When it allowed itself to be a roller-coaster it was a blast. Overall it will go down as a very good event film, especially when the action kicks in, but no one is going to look back in twenty years and call it a great movie. The quiet moments will see to that.

FINAL SCORE

8/10

See it in theaters, but temper your expectations.

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