In 1993 we were treated to one of the most spectacular action adventure stories ever put to screen in “Jurassic Park”. While the plots involving the human characters were a bit thin, and Spielberg’s trademark “family” storylines were a bit skewed, it seemed OK to forgive all that due to the absolutely astonishing dinosaurs he and Stan Winston & Co. brought to life. The film was based on Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same name, although there were some major differences between what transpired in the novel and what happened in the film (the most obvious was the fate of Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum). The film did have a certain charm about it, even though it was about people being chased by dinosaurs. It was a bit like “Jaws”.
The film has now been classified as a classic, and for good reason. It did spawn a few sequels that I found unworthy of the first film’s greatness. “Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World” had a great premise, but the execution wasn’t satisfying. “Jurassic Park 3″…let’s move on.
Now, 22 years later, we have “Jurassic World”, which seems to want to forget about the sequels like we do, and remain the true spiritual sequel to the first film. The film stars Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, a friendly trainer of a new breed of Velociraptors, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing, the aunt of two boys who have been shipped to the amusement park (now called Jurassic World) to hang out with her while checking out the island. The boys, Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins respectively), are at two different times of their life. Zach is a teenager, saying good-bye to his clingy girlfriend in the beginning of the film; Gray is elementary school age, and both are disturbed by their parents seemingly impending divorce. We come to find later that the trip that the boys take was initially supposed to be a family trip–but now they just want the kids to enjoy the park (how many parents have done this to their kids for Disney World I wonder?).
We also have the always appealing Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani, the head of Masrani Corporation who owns Jurassic World. In his vision, he sees a dangerous ancient world that is also about having fun. He is much like Hammond, except executives at Jurassic World (including Dearing) believe Masrani’s dinos are going to be a much bigger success. I was asking myself–you know they never officially opened Jurassic Park to the public, how do they know World would succeed where Park failed?
But of course, Jurassic World has opened, and just like Hammond’s Park, this “spares no expense”. The tourists get to travel around in little hamster bubbles (guided by…well, you’ll see–it’s a very amusing cameo for a few different reasons) and really experience the World whereas Jurassic Park would just show you dinosaurs behind guarded fences while being in a jeep. And how fun would that be? Well like I said, no one ever really got to find out. But it seems as though the Park would’ve been safer.
Of course, problems arise when the latest dinosaur, a genetically altered (heh heh) beast of a thing called the Indominus rex supposedly escapes from its cage. Owen is brought in, after arguing with a militaristic security official at the company that dinosaurs can’t be used as a weapon for the US military, to see if he can talk some sense in Indominus. But he soon realizes this dinosaur has a high intellect, and fools everyone until it can legitimately escape, leading to a potential disaster with a dinosaur on the run.
Meanwhile, the kids take a detour in their hamster bubble until they come face to face with the dinosaur, and Claire teams up with Owen to go and rescue them.
From the point that Indominus escapes, we are just watching “Jurassic Park” again. However, the stakes are definitely higher since the park is open, and there is potential for some eye popping dinosaur fodder. The film really makes the most of its budget, although I can’t help but think there would be far more fatalities in real life. But this isn’t real life, this is the movies–and this movie delivers completely as a monster movie, as an action film, and a breathtaking adventure. Chris Pratt shines as the lead, always charismatic and doesn’t necessarily let the dinosaurs steal the entire show here. His pack of Velociraptors become integral parts of the film’s climax and are even, in a way, kind of cute. Bryce Dallas Howard is impressive as well, and even the kids are interesting instead of annoying (which is so typical of teenage/kid characters in these kinds of movies).
Though Spielberg did not direct this film, some of his trademarks are all over this too, and there are some nice homages to the original film. For a summer blockbuster, this will certainly satiate your appetite like a T-Rex in a crowded gift shop.
I thought when I first saw ads for this film that Marvel Studios was really scraping the bottom of the barrel and trying to pluck anything out of their catalog to sell to kids so that they could rake in money and dominate another summer. Then I saw that James Gunn’s name was attached and I started to change my mind a bit. I had never heard of “Guardians of the Galaxy” before learning of the film’s release; after reading up a little bit on it, it actually looked like it could be a fun vehicle. Another thing I was hesitant to be excited about was the casting of Dave Bautista. He doesn’t ever come across as charismatic or endearing. Finally I stopped my preconceived notions like a nosebleed and decided to just go see the film and draw an opinion on what I saw on the screen.
What I saw was pure, absolute, 100% entertainment. This is what summer action movies are supposed to be like. While the first twenty minutes or so are quite a lot to take in–lot of backstory–once it settles in and our feet are firmly planted, it is a real treat. Gunn’s flair for humor permeates the whole film, which is a good thing. It’s funny to think a former Troma filmmaker could pull this off. But he does. And he even includes his old pal Lloyd Kaufman (former founder of Troma Films and director of “The Toxic Avenger” among other films) as a prison inmate in one scene.
The story involves a group of criminals in their own way thrust together by a nice MacGuffin (a little metal orb) that is worth a lot; but what it is, nobody really knows. We begin with the backstory of the main character, Peter Quill (very nicely played by Chris Pratt), as he’s a child tragically watching his mother die before him in a hospital. The only thing that seems to comfort him is his walkman (this is 1988), with an “Awesome Mix” playing. He is told he is going to be taken care of by his grandfather; but once he runs outside, tears streaming down his face, he is picked up by a large spacecraft. Decades later, he is a grown man and a thief working for the alien that abducted (and ultimately raised) him, Yondu (Michael Rooker, always a pleasure to see) and steals an orb that is meant for Yondu so he can sell it. Only Quill is attacked by a group led by someone named Korath (Djimon Hounsou), and escapes with the orb, enraging Yondu. It turns out Korath wanted the orb for a Kree alien named Ronan, whose assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is hired to track down Quill and take the orb from him. Meanwhile, there’s a price of Quill’s head that draws the attention of a scruffy raccoon-like being, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his companion, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and all parties converge on the planet Xandar, and are thrown in prison after some shenanigans take place.
There is a lot going on here, so I’ll just summarize: Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Quill, all pretty much team up to escape prison. They are helped by another inmate, Drax (who has a back story involving Gamora that’s too complicated to get into in this review), played by Bautista. They escape, and are wanted by just about everybody–but they discover that the orb is actually a casing for something called the Infinity Stone that–wait for it–can give you ultimate power. Ronan wants it, but he has someone to answer to as well–Thanos. Ronan turns out to be a rogue and wants it for himself, and Gamora’s half sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), fights for Ronan. The team basically has to save the planet Xandar from Ronan and his quest for the Infinity Stone.
So try to follow all that. Actually, even if you’re extremely confused, the film never gets bogged down too much with plot that it takes away from the action and adventure of the story. The film’s two hour length is perfect and timed and paced well so that it’s rarely a dull moment.
But it’s really the characters of the Guardians that shine. Quill is your everyman, someone we all can relate to, and his sense of humor is charming. Rocket is a loudmouth but also amusing; Gamora is stunning and of course her chemistry with Quill is palpable. The surprise to me is Bautista’s performance as Drax. While Drax is hardly charismatic by design, it is his droll demeanor that actually winds up being what’s appealing about him. He has no reflection, no identity for irony (he once is told something “went over his head” and he retorts: “Nothing goes over my head. I would catch it immediately.”) and he speaks with a ridiculous vernacular for someone of his brawny size. Bautista plays it totally straight, no winking at the camera, and that makes Drax one of the strongest presences on screen, regardless of his physical prowess.
There are also some very tender moments, and one of the most touching actually involves Drax and Rocket. I won’t give away what it is, because it’s a major plot point, but I will note that it tugged at the heart strings. Of course Quill’s tragic back story with his mother resonates, and he is always seen carrying his walkman, trying to impress anyone he can with his awesome music (which for me was hit or miss).
The film reminded me of “The Avengers” in its spirit and emphasis on character and humor. The camaraderie between the gang is fun, and even when they’re at odds (which happens occasionally), it’s still a hoot.
Even though it seems like Marvel reached for this one, it proves there are some gems even at the bottom of whatever barrel they are scraping at. And because Marvel believes religiously in sequels, I know we will see these characters again.
And I look very much forward to seeing them.