“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Review

The best and worst thing that can be said of the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy is that it’s more of the same. If you liked the last movie, you’ll be delighted to hear that Vol. 2 is just as abundant with crass, crude, cute and kicking 70s tunes. Not only are these elements present, but they’ve been doubled and smushed into 138 minutes. More subplots, more characters, more music, more slow-motion shots, more end-credit scenes and more than enough starship battles to make Star Wars blush. It’s rather surprising that, for as much fun as this movie transfers over from the previous film, it forgets to add the originality that made it stand out so well against the competition of other superhero movies.
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“Passengers” (2016) Review

To call Passengers junkie science fiction would be too kind. This is the slick Hollywood glaze of science fiction which is not about high-concept ideas for fun pulp, but an excuse to place A-list actors in a romantic space setting. I can only imagine that the producers were only thinking of the star power for having the big names of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, both of them no strangers to Marvel movies, would make a golden duo for a romance among the stars. Perhaps they believed so much in their charisma that they could carry such an immoral, uneven and shlocky script past its glaring flaws. Oh, how I wish they had such power.

Pratt plays Jim, an average engineer who finds himself awakened on a starship of 5000 passengers before having reached his destination. The ship will not arrive at the planet he is traveling towards for the next 90 years. There’s no way to get back into his cryo-sleep pod to avoid dying of old age, no means of awakening the ship’s crew and no way to ask Earth for help from such a distance. He is destined to die on this ship. But at least he has enough entertainment on the ship to pass away his remaining days with video games, fine dining, books, movies and a robot bartender. Of course, he’ll get bored with the isolation and become so depressed that he contemplates suicide.

A cure for his loneliness, he reasons, is to awake one of the passengers so that he can converse with a real human being. Perhaps he could research all the passengers and find one that has the closest of skills to an engineer that could fix his hibernation pod and, you know, maybe fix the crumbling ship. Nah, he’d much rather seek the hottest lady on board and condemn her to death so that he can find someone to love on a dying ship. And, of course, he picks the hottest looking dame on the ship who happens to look like a movie star. Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is an author from New York City who dreams of having new experiences on a new planet to write some great stories. Too bad her life is going to be cut short so she can die of old age on a spaceship with Chris Pratt.

Because this situation is the worst possible event you could wish upon a human being, Pratt must naturally lie about having nothing to do with her premature awakening. He’ll keep that tucked away for the valley of their relationship so that the two can frolic, stare loving at each other during dinner dates, go on spacewalks and have passionate sex. Even when Pratt finally slips out the truth, she seems to be over it after a few jobs around the ship. After all, they can’t stay mad at each other. They’re top movie stars and need to be a couple for the big screen in this dopey piece of science fiction.

As the story loses its sense of morality, it also loses its tone. I thought I was witnessing a romance among the stars, but the third act quickly turns into the most lame-brain of action movie cliches. All those malfunctions around the ships that the couple casually ignore come back to bite them when the ship is mere minutes away from being destroyed. And it’s no exaggeration when I say they put these repairs off to the very last minute, even going so far as to take a nap and have a swim when they finally reach the malfunctioning reactor. On and on the third act continues with one danger after another, mounting with such uninteresting inevitability. The reactor cannot be repaired unless they pull a switch, but the switch is outside. The switch outside isn’t working so they need to vent the chamber. The chamber can’t be vented unless someone stands in front of the vent to manually open them. Of course, the manual control for opening vents would be right next to the vent! Where else would it be?

It is so disappointing to see such a concept for great science fiction turn into the most vapid, immoral and stupid of stories. It’s a film that seems to have been sold on its cast, its special effects and its romance, without the slightest ounce of intelligence to its script. I will grant that Pratt and Lawrence look good as an onscreen couple and the designs of the starship are uniquely imagined and polished. But it’s all in service of such trashy writing better suited for that best-selling romance novel where readers care more about the kissy-faces of the leads than the dopey decisions they make. This is science fiction for those who don’t like science fiction, believing this junk will finally turn them over to the genre. Let’s hope this type of film, bereft of ideas and common sense, will fade away into a galaxy far, far away.

“Jurassic World” Review

While sharing an elevator with a small boy and his dad, this kid ecstatically informed me about how he was going to see Jurassic World for the second time. He beamed with excitement as he described to me the grand finale in which the bad raptors turned good to join forces with the T-rex and beat the evil dinosaur. I smiled deeply at this young man’s enthusiasm which mirrored that twerp of a dinosaur-lover I was when I saw Jurassic Park at the age of eight.

I tend not to bring nostalgia into my reviews since I believe it cheapens the effect for those who are not in on the franchise. But when I first saw this movie in the theater, I sat next to two little girls under the age of 10. Some critics have cited how the grim violence may be too dark and shocking for kids who are into dinosaurs. These two girls were on the edge of their seat during the action and cackled with thrills as dinosaurs gobbled humans. Most kids are smart enough to enjoy the PG-13 action of a monster picture without cowering in their seats. If I could take this type of intensity at 8, then today’s kids are more than capable of not only handling the action, but enjoying it as well. It was such an amazing sights to witness that thrill once again and share it with a new generation.

Okay, enough about the kids. Does the movie succeed without the amazing dinosaur special effects? For what is essentially a winking homage to the original, Jurassic World does its job well. It fulfills that dark fantasy I always wanted to see in the original – the opening of the dinosaur park. All the rides, attractions and exhibits are all fully operational alongside the containment of prehistoric beasts. It’s all very elaborate and commercialized. And I couldn’t wait to see it all come crumbling under the weight of dinosaur carnage. The movie constantly teases all the gruesome fun to come from the “trained” raptors to the giant sea creature that can swallow whales whole.

But what of the human characters? As with any monster movie, the characters are mostly just vessels for the destruction. The good news is they’re likable enough to not be completely one-dimensional. Chris Pratt naturally steals the show as the likable scientist/dinosaur ranger – dressed in a ruff garb and riding into the action on a motorcycle. His romantic interest is a shrewd park manager played by Bryce Dallas Howard with a good mix of being overly business and frazzled with emotion. Vincent D’Onofrio is well cast as the war-hungry military man that becomes the villain and Irrfan Khan does a nice job as an eccentric investor. The only returning character comes in the form of B.D. Wong – reprising his role as the scientist Doctor Henry Wu.

But there are far more returning elements from the original Jurassic Park than just one character. Several winks and nods to the original and peppered into both the story and visuals. The park itself is built around the ruins of the previous movie – leading to its discovery as a tomb of nostalgia. The new prehistoric creatures that roam the park use familiar methods by placing their eyes close to their prey and sniffing them before taking a big chomp. It does become a little tiresome with all its callbacks, but there’s thankfully enough originality at play by the third act when the all the park attractions savage the human guests.

Jurassic World is genuine adventure and excitement that will entertain adults, but perhaps entertain the kids even more. It’s packed with enough dinosaur action and genuine thrills to make up for all the usual tropes of the monster movie genre that usually dampen the experience. Sure, I could be the downer adult who rains on the parade by berating the lack of deeper character, the banking on nostalgia and the level of violence, which could be deemed inappropriate for kids. But how could I deny the same level of joy that I experienced when it’s renewed for a new generation?