Them Too

The comedy buddy thriller is a strange conglomeration of film genres that’s not easy to pull off. It has to balance all three formats – comedy, action-thriller, and buddy movie – and each of the three aspects has to work. The best example was one of the first: 1976’s Silver Streak, directed by Arthur Hiller and starring (together for the first but not the last time) Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. The element that’s usually shortchanged in these films is the comedy. There are plenty of action-thriller buddy movies that have a comedic element to them; the Lethal Weapon series would be a prime example. However, the comedy is more incidental than intentional, with nothing in the vein of the classic scene of Pryor coaching Wilder to be black. Shane Black, the writer of the first Lethal Weapon, has tried to accomplish the trifecta often, recently with The Good Guys. His most successful attempt, though, would have to be 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer.

One regular piece of the puzzle with these films is the female lead/romantic interest who’s beautiful, and often an excellent actress, but who’s function is usually to be in danger rather than handle things herself. In Silver Streak it was Jill Clayburgh, and Michelle Monaghan played the role in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It’s fitting that in the era of #MeToo, we now have The Spy Who Dumped Me, which flips the roles.

Audrey (Mila Kunis) is trying to get over her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) who ended their relationship via text message. Her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) has taken her out with other friends to the watering hole where she first met Drew a year earlier. In an alcohol induced buzz, they decide to burn the items Drew left at Audrey’s apartment. Audrey texts Drew about their plans, only to have Drew respond immediately asking her not to do that. The next morning, he sneaks into her apartment from the balcony to take back a cheap trophy, telling Audrey he must get it to a contact at a restaurant in Vienna. But then everything goes to hell and Drew’s killed. Audrey and Morgan are taken into custody by CIA agent Duffer (Hasan Minhaj) and MI-6 agent Sebastian (Sam Heughan). Audrey and Morgan manage to escape and decide to carry out Drew’s instructions themselves.

The chemistry between Kunis and McKinnon creates a symbiotic relationship that enhances both performances. Kunis is freer to indulger her comedic chops, while McKinnon, who often lets her humor run wild, is more focused and grounded, though just as funny. With the male version of the buddy comedy, the tension is often in how they learn to work together. With Kunis and McKinnon, it’s how they can support each other to survive the thriller portion of the plot.

Director Susanna Fogel, who co-wrote the screenplay with David Iserson (The New Girl, Mr. Robot), does the action aspect of the story with skill, including a wonderful opening sequence that establishes Justin Theroux’s character. Then she can slip in physical comedy moment such as when Kunis and McKinnon, escaping pursuers, hijack a Jaguar only to be defeated by the manual transmission. Anyone from the States who’s spent time in Europe can relate.

There’s some fun work in the supporting cast as well, including Sam Heughan (the hunk of a Scottish rebel on “Outlander”) who’s thrust into the blond love interest role, and Gillian Anderson as the ice queen head of MI-6. As a femme fatale – heavy emphasis on the fatale – Ukrainian actress Ivanna Sakhno provides one of the more blatant heavies in the film, though there are plenty of bad guys to go around.

The movie does earn its R rating, and not simply because of the action element. The title is, of course, a twist of the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, and early on Fogel has a shot that spoofs the iconic Bond poster for For Your Eyes Only. You can put it down to turnabout being fair play after all the objectification of women in films over the years. The Spy Who Dumped Me isn’t high art. It aims at the adrenal gland as well as the funny bone, and it manages to hit both.


Not So Sorry

Satire is a small step past reality; farce is a mad dash to see how far past it you can go. Each style, though, can get past our defenses and communicate uncomfortable truths we need to hear. Sorry to Bother You begins by inching its way across the reality line, but by the credits it’s in a take-no-prisoners race. It may not be as polished as, say, Wag the Dog or American Psycho, but it communicates some unvarnished truths about economic justice and race relations in the United States today.

The film takes place in an alternate-reality Oakland, CA. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is desperate to find a job so he can move out of his uncle’s garage. He’s not, however, desperate enough to join the WorryFree Company, which offers room and board in exchange for a life-time employment contract. When Cash applies for a job as a telemarketer for the RegalView company, he “pads” (flat-out lies about) his resume, only to be called on it by the interviewer. Instead of being upset, the interviewer is pleased by Cash’s desire for the job and hires him. The company has two levels – the drones who labor to make small sales and “power callers” who make big money and who reach their offices via a password-protected elevator.

At first Cash can’t get people to listen to his spiel. Then a co-worker (Danny Glover) tells him to use his “white” voice to make the marks think they’re talking to a white person. Cash finds he has a true talent for the voice, and his sales go through the roof. Soon he’s promoted to power caller and begins working for Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the CEO of WorryFree. As he rises, he’s faced with losing touch with his circle of friends, most importantly his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). When Cash is swept up into a conspiracy, he must choose between financial success at the cost of humanity or joining with his friends to oppose RegalView and WorryFree.

Novice writer/director Boots Riley began his career as a rapper in the 1990s, and by 2003 Vibe magazine named him one of the ten most influential people in the business. He slid into movies and television by providing songs for soundtracks from Superbad to “The Simpsons” episode “Pranksta Rap.” His music always had a strong social edge, leading to guest appearances on “Hannity and Colmes” and “Politically Incorrect” along with touring with Rage Against the Machine. Riley also taught a high school class in Oakland in the early 2000s on “Culture and Resistance: Persuasive Lyric Writing.”

Riley has a vibrant visual style that gives a spoonful of sugar along with its medicine. When Cash makes his telemarketer calls, he’s transported into the homes of the people he reaches, with all the embarrassing possibilities that conceit provides. Riley also pokes fun at himself. At a party hosted by Lift, the CEO pushes Cash into rapping even though Cash says he can’t rap. The attempt is painfully awkward, until Cash begins a call-and-response with the partygoers of repeated swearing with a rap beat.

Stanfield played Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton and has been a regular on Donald Glover’s highly successful “Atlanta.” He gives an everyman feel to the character of Cash that makes him sympathetic even as he’s seduced by his success. (Next up for him is matching wits with Claire Foy’s Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.) Tessa Thompson has had a very good couple of years, with her role as Charlotte Hale, the management representative on HBO’s “Westworld,” along with her excellent work in Thor: Ragnarok and Annihilation. Her role as Detroit feels more personal, and she approaches it in a fearless way. (Kudos also to the designer of her earrings, which are almost a character themselves.) As Lift, Armie Hammer goes full gonzo, and it works wonderfully.

Even in its rough, independent film form, Riley’s film rises to a Swiftian level of satire and farce. And just as “Gulliver’s Travels” was a razor-sharp indictment of its time beneath its comedic surface, so also is Sorry to Bother You. It underlines that the state of race relations in this country has a large economic injustice factor to it rather than simply skin color. This is a film that should be seen. It will probably bother you, but that’s not a bad thing.

Not Quite Equal

2014’s The Equalizer was one of the better small-screen-to-big-screen adaptations ever. It took a so-so TV show that lasted four seasons in the 1980s and gave it a ton more grit. Having Denzel Washington in the lead role and Anthony Fuqua (who’d guided Denzel to his best actor Oscar for Training Day) in the director’s chair was an advantage from the start. Rather than going the knight errant route of the TV series – a good guy with a particular set of skills who helps those in trouble – Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk made Denzel’s Robert McCall a wounded soul who seeks peace and quiet, only to be drawn into a fight. After seeing the movie, you could never casually walk around a home superstore again. With a worldwide gross of nearly $200 million, it was inevitable there would be a sequel. Sadly, it’s not an equal.

Part of the problem with Equalizer 2 is the movie goes back to the TV source material. McCall’s now living in Boston, working as a Lyft driver but also tapping into his old intelligence agent skills to help people with whom he comes in contact. In the opening set-piece on a Turkish train, he gets back a daughter kidnapped by her non-custodial father. Much of the first part of the movie focuses on the people he gives rides to, as well as the other residents of McCall’s apartment building. While some are interesting, such as nonagenarian Orson Bean’s turn as a holocaust survivor, it gives the film a diffused, episodic feel.

The story really doesn’t get moving until McCall connects once again with his old handler, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo). Plummer’s called back into service – for some reason that’s never made clear – to investigate the death of an intelligence asset in Belgium. While there she’s assaulted and killed, supposedly in a random attack. But when McCall looks into the circumstances of her death, he comes to a very different conclusion.

Denzel is a riveting presence on the screen as always, but rather than supporting that, the script uses it as a crutch. It completely wastes Bill Pullman, who reprises his role as Plummer’s husband, Brian, and the main plot twist has been used so often it’s pretty much a ho-hum when it happens. There’s also a Nor’easter storm that blows in at a glacial pace over the course of the whole movie. You hear thunder throughout its running time, but then for what seems like weeks nothing happens. In spite of all this, the final confrontation (when the storm actually hits) almost makes the rest of the film worth it.

From footage in the trailer that doesn’t make it into the film, it’s clear there was a large amount of the script that got cut. With its running time just over two hours in its release form, the cuts were likely made to keep the story moving. However, that may have sacrificed the cohesion of the script. Or it may have been the script was over-bloated and the editor did what they could to make it cogent. Either way, it’s a disappointment.

A “B,” You See

Up until the 1950s, the Hollywood studios had a regular pipeline of “B” pictures they produced to show as the lead-in for an “A” picture on a double-feature. Along with a cartoon and a short, it gave audiences a full evening of entertainment for their 46 cents, the average cost of a ticket in the ‘50s. “B” features were straightforward entertainment packages told in a standard running time (60 to 87 minutes, depending on the production company) that let you eat your popcorn before the main film started. Most were genre pictures: mystery, western, horror, and later science fiction. Through the years they allowed movie makers like Anthony Mann and Jonathan Demme to learn their craft, and let actors from John Wayne to Jack Nicholson get their start. The demise of the old studio system meant the end of the classic “B” film, giving way to exploitation films from Roger Corman that eventually made way for the rise of Independent films. But every once in a while a film still capture the milieu of the “B.” The latest to do that is Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper.

The story is formulaic in the Die Hard mold. That film became a trope for pitching stories – “Die Hard on a bus” (Speed) or “Die Hard on a plane” (Passenger 57) or “Die Hard on a boat” (Under Siege), among many, many other examples. It makes sense that we circle back to “Die Hard in a building – again.” In this case it’s a 200-plus story megabuilding in Hong Kong. It’s called the Pearl because it features a globe at its top that gives you a vertigo-inducing view of the city, and it can also morph into a funhouse mirror maze.

Johnson plays former FBI Hostage Rescue team leader Will Sawyer, who lost part of his leg and almost his life in an incident that went very wrong. Ten years later, he’s married the doctor (Neve Campbell) who saved his life, has two extremely photogenic children (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell), and works as an independent security consultant. A former member of his team calls him in to do an evaluation of the Pearl, which of course has the absolute best security set-up possible. Still that doesn’t stop a group of criminals from taking over the building. They’re led by a Hans-Gruber-lite (Roland Moller) and assisted by a henchwoman (Hannah Quinlivan) doing an impression of Maggie Q in Live Free or Die Hard. The gang starts a fire midway up the building, trapping the building’s owner in the penthouse, and Sawyer’s family in the apartment they’re using while he does the assessment. Sawyer’s outside the building when the takeover happens, leading to the centerpiece stunt of the film: a jump from a crane into a broken-out window of the Pearl. (It’s hard watching it to not flashback to Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson in The Other Guys, when their tough-as-nails cops pursue bad guys by jumping off a building – though not with the usual movie results.)

Writer/Director Rawson Marshall Thurber is known mostly for comedies like Dodgeball: A True Underdog’s Story and We’re the Millers, and he’d worked with Johnson before on Central Intelligence. Here he plays it straight, but he also knows to keep the action coming fast and hard so the audience doesn’t have time to reflect on the utter ridiculousness of it all – at least until the completely over-the-top resolution at the end.

Still, with all that said, the film does work pretty well in the spirit of the old “B” movies. It gives you two diverting hours when you can ignore the outside world and chow down on some greasy theater popcorn. And the movie avoids some of the most egregious plot points of the genre. It makes Campbell a bit of a badass herself rather than just a wife who needs saving, and the kids aren’t saccharin sweet. The police on the ground aren’t idiots, much different from the cops in Die Hard (other than Reginald VelJohnson). Thurber stirs the mix enough that there are only a few lumps left.

If you like deep character development and a plot that challenges you to think about the gray areas between good and evil, then don’t see Skyscraper. If you’re looking for simple entertainment for a couple of hours, then Skyscraper fits the bill. A “B” is still a high-enough grade to pass.

Good Things In Small Packages

When Ant-Man came out in 2015, it was a wonderful surprise. The character had had a small role (you could say) in the comics during the Silver Age of Marvel. Some wondered how it could stand up against Ironman, Thor, and the other iconic characters of the Marvel Movie Universe. And then there was the firing of writer/director Edgar Wright over “creative disagreements” when the movie was in production. But when the finished product hit the theaters, it was well-received with its perfectly balanced mixture of comedy and action. Paul Rudd’s turn in Captain America: Civil War was short but sweet – and very, very tall for a while. All worked out well for Edgar Wright, too, since he instead made Baby Driver, a hit with both audiences and critics.

The sequel for Ant-Man was already teased at the end of the first film. Fans have waited anxiously to see Evangeline Lilly put on the Wasp suit and become the first female character in the title of a Marvel film. Then Avengers: Infinity War came out in April and completely upset the Marvel Universe. Both Hawkeye and Ant-Man were no-shows in that film, having taken deals with the government following their arrests after the events in Civil War. The question was, what affect would Infinity War have on Ant-Man and the Wasp?

The answer is almost none, since the plot of Ant-Man/Wasp takes place before Thanos’s minions show up in New York City. Scott Lang (Rudd) is within days of finishing his home confinement sentence, wearing an ankle bracelet to keep him inside. He’s consulting with his three compadres from the first film – Michael Pena, T.I. Harris, and David Dastmalchian – for the private security firm they’ve set up, but his focus is to complete his time so he can be more involved with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson).

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Lilly), have been on the run since they refused to abide by the Sokovia Accord, meant to control superheroes. Their focus has turned to the Quantum Realm in the hope of freeing Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hank’s wife and Hope’s mom – if she’s still alive. Their experiments bring them in contact with tech black-marketer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) to get equipment needed for their experiments. When Hope meets with Sonny, he reveals he knows both her and Hank’s identities and wants to exploit their knowledge. However, a third party interrupts their meeting and steals the tech Hank needs. The white-clad, masked thief can phase in and out of the world, allowing her to walk through walls and giving her the name Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). In need of help, Hank and Hope reach out to Scott.

Between Ghost, Sonny, and the Feds, Ant-Man/Wasp is much more action-driven than the first movie, with twists and turns throughout. Also playing a part is Lawrence Fishburne as Bill Foster, a former partner and friend of Hank Pym’s. The film also has more fun with shrinking objects, including cars and even buildings (that have a handy luggage trolley build in).

The screenplay credits feature five people broken up into two teams: Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, who did the screenplay for Spider-Man: Homecoming as well as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, matched with Paul Rudd and his two collaborators, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. There’s still plenty of comedy and comedic action, though they’ve increase the adrenalin factor so it runs closer to a regular Marvel movie. Peyton Reed is back as the director, and he maintains the fun factor of the film.

Evangeline Lilly does get to kick some major butt in the film, which pays off her potential from the first film. Also, as I mentioned in my review for Incredibles 2, the recent Marvel movies (along with DC’s Wonder Woman) have leveled the playing field between men and women in the movie genre. Lilly’s Wasp is, if anything, more powerful than Rudd’s Ant-Man. The filmmakers also switched genders for Ghost, who has always been a male character in the comics. Hannah John-Kamen has been on SyFy channel’s series “Killjoys” since 2015, and has appeared in “Game of Thrones.” This year has been good for her as she played the security agent for the bad guys in Spielberg’s Ready Player One as well as this role. While it’s a villainous role, John-Kamen also makes you feel pathos for the character.

We do know that Rudd, Lilly, and others show up in next year’s Avengers movie. (Marvel did a 10th Anniversary “class photo” last October where they got together everyone in the Marvel Universe. Click here to see a short behind-the-scenes piece on the event.) The first of two credit tags – the one after the main credits – sets up that moment.  Next May can’t come soon enough.

Incredible, Too

When The Incredibles premiered in 2004, it was a major departure for Pixar. The movie featured nary a talking car or an anthropomorphic child’s toy. For the first time, a Pixar movie had an all-human cast. But not just any humans – Super-humans! Five years earlier, writer/director Brad Bird had made the classic The Iron Giant (which recently featured prominently in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One), but this was his first foray into computer animation. This was also before superhero films became ubiquitous. DC had had their first series of Superman and Batman years earlier – Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins wouldn’t come along for another year – and there were only two each of the Spider-man and X-Men series, made by Sony and Fox respectively since Marvel wasn’t yet producing its own films. The Incredibles was a major hit, taking 5th place in the domestic box office that year.

Over the past 14 years, superhero films have dominated the box office, with several crossing into the billion-dollar range. The Marvel Universe has a dozen-and-a-half inter-related movies they’ve released, and more in the pipeline. DC is expanding its Justice League characters, though with the exception of Wonder Woman they’ve come up short in comparison to Nolan’s Batman trilogy. That doesn’t even count the many X-Men movies, or that Spider-Man is in his third incarnation (and finally home at Marvel). Yet Pixar didn’t offer a sequel to The Incredibles, despite rolling out three each of the Toy Story and Cars franchises plus other sequels.

Now, finally, we have Incredibles 2, with most of the same main cast and with Brad Bird again writing and directing. Since the first film, Bird made the tasty Pixar film Ratatouille, then went live-action with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, my personal favorite of the entire series, and the less successful Tomorrowland (though it has become a guilty pleasure for me). With the changes in the world in 14 years, there had to be some trepidation about doing a sequel. However, if anything the audience grew in the intervening years, so much so that Incredibles 2 broke the opening weekend box office record for an animated film both domestically and internationally. It’s already more than doubled the domestic gross of the first film and will likely break the billion-dollar level worldwide before it’s done. But the best news is, Incredibles 2 is, if anything, better than the original.

While fourteen years have passed for us, in the Incredibles’s world, it’s only been a matter of days. The Parr family (voiced by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowel, and Huck Milner – the one replacement, taking over the voice of Dash from Spencer Fox) is living in a motel since their house was destroyed at the end of the first film. When they try to stop a super-villain from stealing a bank, while also taking care of baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), the incident destroys a large swath of downtown, leading to the family being cut adrift by the government agency that’s helped them. They’re about to be homeless, when salvation arrives in the form of the tech billionaire Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener).

Deavor’s father loved superheroes, and now Winston wants to re-establish their place in society so they’re no longer outlaws, hiding their powers. He plans to mount a campaign to show people once again why they need superheroes, an idea Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible loves – until he learns that Winston wants Helen Parr/Elastigirl as the centerpiece of the campaign. Instead of fighting crime, Bob becomes a stay-at-home dad, doing battle with New Math and Violet’s rage when their secrets cost her a potential boyfriend. It also turns out baby Jack-Jack is a polyglot of superpowers that makes him a human minefield. Meanwhile Helen’s in another town where she must battle the Screenslaver, who can use any TV screen to take over a person’s mind.

Bird establishes the story in the middle of the Silver Age of Comics when Marvel introduced most of its major characters and brought back Captain America from his WWII origins to lead the Avengers. When Bob and Jack-Jack watch TV, they tune into “Jonny Quest,” the first animated adventure, and “The Outer Limits,” which, in light of the Screenslaver villain, is an inspired choice (“For the next hour we control your television set; we control the horizontal, we control the vertical…). The set design has a 1960s Modern feel. The house where Winston installs the family while Helen’s on assignment looks like it could have been built by a James Bond villain of the Sean Connery vintage.

The film’s role reversal plot, though, makes it pertinent to today, both in society at large as well as in the superhero world. While the genre was male-centric for decades, with women in subservient roles – either eye-candy or damsels for saving (or both) – the film adventures have started to catch up with the comics/illustrated novels where women match men in heroism. The mega-success of Wonder Woman was a watershed moment, but you also have Guardian’s Gamora (the most lethal of the five), the female guards around the Black Panther, and Evangeline Lily’s turn in Ant-Man and the Wasp, the first female character featured in the title of a Marvel film. Next year we’ll get Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, who will play a key role in the 4th Avengers movie.

In the end it takes the entire family, along with Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone and other heroes, to defeat Screenslaver’s plan to drive a permanent wedge between regular people and supers. In this age of division and partisanship, it’s a message we need to hear.

Keeping the Plates Spinning

I went back and watched the original Jurassic Park this week. I’d first seen it on the big screen with my wife sitting on one side of me and my son on the other. By the end of the movie, my hands were sore from being clutch so hard by my family. The movie holds up as a thriller even after multiple viewings. Part of its strength was how Spielberg held back the raptors until the last quarter of the film, copying his first major hit, Jaws. Beyond a shot of a malevolent eye, all the audience saw early on were the results of the raptor’s attacks, first on the gatekeeper and then on the cow.  With Jurassic Park: The Lost World Spielberg directed the only sequel of his career, and it was a decent follow-up to the original. But then there’s the third film rule – with only a few exceptions, the third film in a series is painfully awful. Jurassic Park III definitely succumbed to that rule.

Then in 2015, the story was resuscitated. Jurassic World postulated John Hammond’s dream becoming a reality – a full-on Disneyland of Dinos. This time the hubris that brings the venture down isn’t simply trying to recreate what was, but engineering what never should have been. In the end it’s the dinosaurs that have to save humans from their stupidity and cupidity – “More teeth.” The film was a mega-hit, grossing 1½ billion dollars worldwide. Now we have the inevitable sequel to the reboot, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. You’d have to be living in a cave not to have seen the teaser ads and tie-in promotions for the movie. They even had an “American Ninja Warriors” Fallen Kingdom tie in with stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, people in raptor masks, and an animatronic dinosaur on the course. But is it worth the hype? Sort of.

The movie has Isla Nublar and its dinosaurs on the verge of a new extinction due to a threatening volcano. Claire Dearing (Howard) is struggling to get government funding to save the dinos, but it’s doubtful the money will come through, especially after Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) testifies before Congress. Then a different savior for the animals appears in the form of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Lockwood, a former partner of Hammond’s, lives on an isolated California estate with his granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), her governess (Geraldine Chaplin), and the lawyer who runs Lockwood’s businesses and charity, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall).

They’ve already mounted an expedition to the island. (We’ve seen this in a very effective prelude as a small submarine searches the island’s lagoon for the bones of Indominous Rex, the big bad of the first World film.) They need Claire’s help to locate the animals, especially the lone surviving raptor, Blue. But to get Blue, Claire must recruit Owen Grady (Pratt) to return to the island. Though their romance has fizzled, Claire manages to convince Owen to help. They head to the island along with former park technician Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), and paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), where they meet the head of the operation, Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). Anyone who knows movies know you shouldn’t trust the person who played serial killer Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, though Claire and Owen don’t realize what’s happening until it’s almost too late.

Colin Trevorrow, the director and co-writer of the first World, did the script for this film along with his writing partner, Derek Connolly, and he also serves as producer. The director’s chair, though, was given to J.A. Bayona, who did The Impossible and A Monster Calls – both excellent films.

Bayona keeps the action flowing effectively, though at times it feels like the balance trick of keeping five plates spinning on sticks at the same time. It they were to stop the action, the movie would come crashing down. That doesn’t leave much space for character or emotional involvement. In the first World film, you had interesting interplay between Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson as park monitors Vivian and Lowery. In Fallen Kingdom, Justice Smith’s character is pretty much defined by squealing in terror, a sound so high-pitched it probably frightens dogs living near the theater. There is one major twist within the plot, but the surprise is it took the filmmakers until the 5th movie to use something that’s been potentially there from the first film. (Bayona does slip in one memorable moment of pathos as the island comes to its end.)

All that said, the film does work as an entertaining thrill ride (likely coming to Universal Florida soon!). We may have seen the balanced plate trick before, but it still captures our attention, and the same could be said for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It helps that Pratt and Howard have decent chemistry together, and Isabella Sermon is excellent in her role.

Fallen Kingdom does position the series for a third film, though I fear the rules will apply as they did with Jurassic Park III. Quitting while you’re ahead is a foreign concept to Hollywood.