CHRIS PHILPOTT

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MOVIE REVIEW Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

Just over a week ago, one of my favourite video essayists, Patrick (H) Willems, posted a video titled “Jurassic Park’s Sequel Problem”, in which he outlines why he thinks there hasn’t yet been a great Jurassic Park sequel – or at least one that lives up to the original 1993 film, and the first in the franchise.

“In the first movie, the characters go to the island not knowing what’s there but being confident that everything is safe and reliable since, y’know, it’s a giant, professionally run theme park,” says Willems. “But then everything goes to hell and we realise what a bad idea it is and everyone gets the fuck out of there.”

“Then, in the sequels, they keep going back,” he continues. “And thus we have a disconnect between the audience and the characters. We know the island is a terrible, dangerous place where everyone dies, and so do the characters, so when they go there anyway, we can’t relate to that decision. This is where the empathy machine breaks down.”

I couldn’t help but think about Willems’ video as I was watching the opening act of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – the sequel to the massively successful Jurassic World, released in 2015 – and it dawned on me that the first few minutes were character introductions so that they can go back to the island again.

And go back they do: at the outset of this sequel, we find out that a dormant volcano underneath Isla Nublar – the island from the original Jurassic Park and the sequel Jurassic World – is threatening to explode and kill all life on the island, particularly in and around the now-defunct theme park. Former theme park manager-turned-dinosaur rights activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is contacted by the estate of Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former collaborator of John Hammond, who has plans to move the dinosaurs off the island and to a sanctuary he has created for them.

And so Claire, with her knowledge of the park, treks out to Isla Nublar with Lockwood’s team, accompanied by a vet, a tech geek and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), whose connection to the velociraptor Blue will help the team rescue her. But alas, all is not as it seems: Lockwood’s assistant Mills (Rafe Spall) has double-crossed his boss, and is actually bringing the dinosaurs to the mainland to auction them off to the highest bidder, alongside a horrific newly-created predator, the Indo-raptor.

As you’d expect, Claire and Owen don’t feel so good about all of this, and decide to stop Mills’ auction and kill the indo-raptor before it can kill anyone, which it manages to do anyway with something approaching ruthless efficiency. The movie ends with the former inhabitants of Isla Nublar escaping into the wilds of the United States of America, as Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) tells a senate committee “welcome to Jurassic World”.

It’s very much a sequel in two parts – the first half, in which the characters go back to the island again and are forced to escape with their lives, and the second in which the dinos are brought to the mainland and there is a great deal of talk about the ethics of genetic modification (one minor plotline deals with a new character, Maisie, being a human clone; the ethics of human cloning, it turns out, is what caused the rift between Hammond and Lockwood back before Jurassic Park existed), with the final scenes setting up a sequel that won’t rely on anyone going to an island.

In a way, you could see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as the middle-chapter of a new trilogy that seeks to correct some of the problems that Willems was talking about. Yes, characters went back to the island, but the second half of the film clearly seeks to set up a future in which characters don’t have to make decisions we don’t understand – and in that context, you can forgive the island-set first half as merely putting the characters and the dinosaurs in a room together.

It makes for a potentially exciting future for the franchise. A third Jurassic World film could find Owen and Claire helping hunt wild dinos in rural America. Or it could be a Planet Of The Apes-style dystopia in which dinosaurs have replaced humans as the dominate predator. Or it could go further down the genetics route, with genetically-modified dinosaurs being used as weapons both against the original dinos and against humans. The possibilities are endless, and don’t involve islands. And, I’ll be honest, I’ll be queueing up on opening night regardless of what direction the film takes.

As far as this film goes, it was pretty good. I mean, the notion that the sequels are samey is right – if you’ve seen one human-being-hunted-by-a-dangerous-predator, you’ve seen ‘em all. J.A. Bayona directs this film with plenty of style, ramping the tension at the right points, but it isn’t as horrific as you might expect, no more so than any of the earlier films.

Pratt and Howard are fine too. I don’t know that their characters are necessarily strong enough to carry the franchise as much as they have been, but the actors make up for it with genuine charisma and rapport on screen. And it was nice to see Goldblum pop up in a fairly brief cameo, one of several nice little nods to the original film.

I don’t know what to tell you – it is a Jurassic Park sequel, so it’s probably a lot like you’re expecting.

But I am excited by some of the story choices late in the film, and especially the notion of dinosaurs running wild in the real world. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom may not be the great Jurassic Park sequel we want or deserve, but there is a chance the next film might be. And I’m excited to see what they do next.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was directed by J.A. Bayona, from a script by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, and stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Isabella Sermon, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, and Jeff Goldblum. It is in cinemas now.

MOVIE REVIEW Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

In a way, I’m glad I waited a week to write a review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest anthology movie from Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm set in the Star Wars universe. As I walked out of the theatre last Wednesday night, following a sparsely attended midnight screening, I would have told you how much I enjoyed it, how it was a fairly straight-forward action movie, how I enjoyed the performance of leading man Alden Ehrenreich.

But over the course of a week, I’ve slowly started to think less and less of the film. As of right now, a full seven days since I saw it, I’m ready to tell you that I don’t think it’s a good film at all.

Set a decade before the events of 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Solo: A Star Wars Story (honestly, how many times am I going to have to write Star Wars before this review is finished) is ostensibly an origin story for Han Solo, one of the universes best characters, and one of film history’s most iconic figures.

Starting out on the shipyards of Corellia, where Han is an orphaned teen caught up in the local gang culture, we follow the rogue as he is separated from his sweetheart Qi’ra (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and escapes his home, takes on his infamous moniker (spoiler: he got it because he was alone), and joins the Empire as a pilot because he just wants to fly, man. He ends up in a ground battle on the planet Mimban.

From there, he is united with lifelong friend Chewbacca and falls in with pirate Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his crew (also featuring Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau) on an intergalactic version of The Great Train Robbery – the aim: steal a train carriage full of the valuable hyperspace fuel coaxium.

But the heist goes wrong, leading Han to improvise in front of super-criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany): he and Beckett are joined by Qi’ra and playboy smuggler Lando (Donald Glover) to steal raw coaxium from the planet of Kessel. If you’re at all familiar with Han Solo, the name Kessel will ring a bell – we’re treated to a full display of the infamous Kessel Run (achieved in just over 12 parsecs), before Han double-crosses both Beckett and Vos and hands the coaxium over to an early version of the Rebellion.

Qi’ra is forced to kill Vos, thus saving Han, and reports to his superior, the presumed dead Darth Maul, last seen in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, set prior to this film, in which he was sliced in two by Obi Wan Kenobi.

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. But it didn’t seem like so much in the theatre last week: we bounced from location to location, enjoying the sights – “hey, it’s the Kessel Run”, “woah, he just met Chewbacca”, “oh, that’s how he got his name” – and taking in a few big action scenes, albeit none on the level of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

That is the films first major problem: it’s kind of bland.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had its share of drama behind the scenes – original writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced part-way through production by Ron Howard, a director without a distinct visual style who isn’t known for making large scale, effects-heavy franchise films.

The result is a film that just kind of happens. There are no scenes on the level of Rey and Kylo killing Snoke in his chambers or Holdo launching into hyperspace through a star destroyer from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi; the closest we get is the Kessel Run, which ends up featuring a black hole and an asteroid-sized octopus, and even that one feels a bit anti-climactic since it is over fairly quickly.

The other major problem Solo: A Star Wars Story has is that it feels piecemeal.

There is a lot going on – from the street chase and escape from Corellia, to the Kessel Run, to the final showdown on the planet of Savareen – and it feels kind of muddled, like none of it necessarily connects to the rest. As the week has passed, that is what I am most struck by: it all just feels so disjointed.

The most exciting scene – the train heist on the planet Vandor, seen prominently in the trailers – takes place in the first act of the film when it clearly would have made for the most exciting conclusion to the whole movie. Instead, it doesn’t hit as hard because we’ve not spent any time with anyone; it just kind of happens. It all just happens.

That is the main crime of Solo: A Star Wars Story: none of it sticks, none of it resonates, and none of it is still with me a week later. Instead of an experience, the film is just a series of events that vaguely tie-in to the Star Wars universe and set up an inevitable sequel. And it’s all just bland.

(For those of you who’ve seen it, I can imagine a version of Solo: A Star Wars Story which dispenses with the opening scenes on Corellia and Mimban – they seems like Lucasfilm adding stuff purely to pre-empt fan calls that “we should have seen this or that” – and where Han and Chewie are already established smugglers, leading to his team-up with Beckett. The Kessel Run still happens half-way through the film and features the Falcon and Lando, as per the film, but somehow it goes wrong. The Darth Maul reveal happens here and he orders Vos to kill the crew, but Vos decides to give them another chance – the train heist on Vandor, where the double-crossing occurs, leading to the death of Vos, Beckett and the rest of his crew. I’d cut the Rebellion out entirely.)

It isn’t all doom and gloom. You may be glad to hear that Alden Ehrenreich is actually pretty good as Han Solo, putting his own mark on the character instead of doing a Harrison Ford impression, and his relationship with Chewie is one great element of the film. Donald Glover and Paul Bettany appear to be having fun, but they also appear to be holdovers from the Lord/Miller version of the film, stuck out of place in most scenes.

And I did enjoy the Kessel Run, it has to be said. I love a good giant monster.

Look, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a terrible film. It is a fairly serviceable action film. Heck, if it wasn’t a Star Wars film, none of this would be an issue. But it is a Star Wars film, one with a fairly hefty $250 million price tag.

It should’ve been better. It could’ve been. Alas, we’ll never know.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is directed by Ron Howard (with an assist from Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), from a script by Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan, and stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woodly Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Jonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany, and the voices of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jon Favreau. It is in cinemas now.

MOVIE REVIEW Deadpool 2 (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

I mean, if you needed a palette cleanser after that bummer of an ending (in a good way) of Avengers: Infinity War, you couldn’t ask for much better than Deadpool 2: a big budget blockbuster superhero movie packed with jokes and pop culture references that steadfastly refuses to take itself too seriously.

We pick up with Wade Wilson/Deadpool (played again by the born-for-this Ryan Reynolds) a couple of years after he kills Francis on the not-a-helicarrier (wink-wink) and find he has been working as a mercenary for hire, taking down bad guys all over the world. However, after one of the missions goes awry, Deadpool loses someone he loves and finds himself trying to figure out who he is.

That search takes form in the rescue of a teenage boy, orphan Russell Collins (played by Hunt For The Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison), who is being pursued first by the X-Men for attacking the skeezy headmaster at the orphanage where he lives, and later by complicated would-be villain Cable (played by Josh Brolin; big month for him). After Wade and Russell are locked up together, Cable attacks the boy but is held off by Deadpool.

The prison ruined, Deadpool puts together a super-team – the X-Force (we’ll get to them in a minute) – to protect Russell from a second attack by Cable while the prisoners are being moved. But their actions lead to a prison break and Russell teams up with a surprising ally (more on him in a minute too), forcing Deadpool and Cable to team up to stop him from killing the skeezy headmaster, which would lead to the death of Cable’s family in the future.

Okay, a lot to unpack there.

I mean, the storyline is fine. I guess. I don’t know, you tend not to measure the success of a film like Deadpool 2 by the strength of its story. Structurally speaking, these films are made in the image of some of those huge eighties-style action flicks; you wouldn’t pick apart the story telling in The Terminator or Rambo or Commando, and you can’t really do it here.

For me, I was amazed by how many elements of the story were kept away from the public. As I went in to see the film, I had no idea why exactly Cable was after this kid, or even who this kid was (Dennison is actually playing a well-known mutant named Firefist); the death of Vanessa, Wade’s girlfriend from the first film, before the opening credits was a massive shock, played perfectly by the credits themselves (similarly to the first film, none of the credits have names, instead reading things like “Directed by HOLY SHIT IS SHE DEAD?”); and from what I can remember, none of the third act was included in any of the trailers or promotional materials.

And to be honest, those weren’t even the biggest surprises.

In the second act, Wade puts together a super-team: super-lucky femme fatale Domino (Zazie Beetz), electro-manipulator Bedlam (Terry Crews), shockwave creator Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), acid-vomiter Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), invisible man Vanisher (Brad Pitt, no seriously) and Peter (Rob Delaney), who just saw the ad. And all of them – every single one of them with the exception of Domino because luck – dies horribly shortly after parachuting out of that plane in the trailers. Even Brad Pitt, who you only see for a second or so after he crashes into a power line.

Even more surprising, Russell teams up with a surprisingly large ally – the insanely popular character Juggernaut, who appears here as a CGI character voiced by Reynolds himself. Juggernaut famously appears in X-Men: The Last Stand, played by Vinnie Jones, but is given a much more comic accurate treatment here, even if he is a little more foul-mouthed.

I could go on and on with a list of things in this film that were both surprising and entertaining – the brief cameo by the X-Men cast of James MacAvoy, Evan Peters, Nicholas Hoult and co; the post credits scene in which Deadpool kills Ryan Reynolds after accepting the script for Green Lantern; the myriad references to the MCU (“Black Black Widow”, “Brown Panther”, “shut it, Thanos”, give me a bow and arrow and I’m Hawkeye”) – but suffice to say that the number of jokes and references and easter eggs made for the geekiest cinema experience I’ve had in a while.

The core of Deadpool 2 is much the same as the first film – and Reynolds’ take on the character is just as funny and entertaining as ever – but it is these little (and some big) surprises that made the film a delight.

Deadpool 2 is directed by David Leitch from a script by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds, and stars Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, TJ Miller, Brianna Hildebrand and Stefan Kapicic – as well as a literal ton of cameos. It is in cinemas now.

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