Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan star in this true story about a wrongful conviction.
SUMMARY (Spoilers, but not really, cuz true)
In 1989, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard lawyer, travels to Alabama to head up the Southern Center for Human Rights, an organization dedicated to defend Death-Penalty cases and appeals. This later became the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative (after Congress decided to cut funding for Death-Penalty resources). Together with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), Bryan takes up a number of cases, including that of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx). Stevenson quickly begins to believe that McMillian, who was convicted of the murder of a white woman named Ronda Morrison, was innocent of the charges and had been used as a scapegoat by local law enforcement. Despite having a number of witnesses that McMillian was present at a public event at the time of the murder, the new prosecutor Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) refuses to look into the case and the court refuses to grant a new trial even after Stevenson gets the State’s primary witness, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), to recant. It takes many years and multiple appeals, but eventually Stevenson is able to free McMillian.
In response to the recent (as of this writing) protests arising from the death of George Floyd, Amazon has removed the rental cost on a number of films, including this one. I recommend taking advantage of this, because the movies on the list are great. I selected this one, however, because I’m an attorney in the South. I’ve never witnessed any civil rights violation as bad as the ones alleged in this film (or in the events which form its basis), but I still have been around long enough to know that there are gross inequalities between states, counties, or even different judges, and that race, gender, or sexuality can massively amplify those inequalities. As events in the past… well, history of America, but also the last few weeks, have reminded us, racism is still an issue in this country. In fact, I had a disturbing realization during this movie that all of the events depicted are within my lifetime, including the revelation that another wrongful conviction took 28 years to reverse.
The strength of this movie, naturally, is in its performances. The leads are all unbelievably charismatic and believable, from Michael B. Jordan’s optimistic but not really naive portrayal of Stevenson to Foxx’s portrayal of a disillusioned and broken man to Tim Blake Nelson as a career criminal trying to do just one good thing.
The plot of the movie is pretty standard for how courtroom dramas like these always play out. If you’ve seen Gideon’s Trumpet or The Hurricane, then you have seen this film before. In any story that’s based on a real life case, you can probably guess from the beginning that the end of the film is going to have someone getting exonerated. It would probably be a bummer to tell the story of a person who was executed and then later proven innocent (which has definitely happened), so the movie naturally picked a case with a “happy” ending. Unfortunately, that same logic is one of the weaknesses of the film, because it tries to portray most of what happened to McMillian as being a matter of figurative and literal black-and-white.
That’s not to say that there weren’t a number of extra culpable people in his case, there absolutely were, but the film only touches on the fact that almost all of the people responsible were not only elected, but continued to be elected after the charges against McMillian were dropped. While Jordan does deliver a short monologue on how a rural Southern jury might perceive McMillian (even in 1989), the fact is that any number of people might have wanted to speak out against this, but the entire community would have been at their throats for doing so. Hell, the prosecutor and Sheriff were both basically threatened by the voters if they didn’t have someone convicted for the murder. Racism isn’t just ten bad people in power, it’s the hundred bad people who want those ten people in power, but aren’t willing to do the dirty deeds themselves. The movie also shies away from emphasizing the fact that the media had long condemned McMillian from the moment he got arrested, a reminder that journalists can often contribute to injustice as much as they can fight against it. However, the movie DID go further into it than many other films, so I will still give it credit.
Honestly, this is still a really well-done film, even if it’s pretty formulaic by necessity. I think it also goes into some issues with the legal system that people should be aware are not just remnants of the 50s or 60s, but are still problems in the modern day. Hell, the Alabama rule that allowed a judge to overrule a jury and impose a one-sided Death Penalty, as happened in this case with Judge Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. (yes, that name is real), was only eliminated in 2017. This kind of regional or local inequality still exists. There’s a county line near me where on one side, possession of marijuana resulted in a dropped case for some community service, on the other side, possession was ten days jail (until Florida accidentally made it impossible to prosecute cannabis cases last year).
I try not to get too political on this blog, but right now is a great time to watch a film based on real, and recent, events and get a picture of how our country has been in recent years and to realize that some problems are not just coming out of nowhere. There aren’t going to be a lot of easy solutions, and anything is going to take time, but the first step is to acknowledge there’s a problem. If you watch this movie, or read up on the case that it’s focused on, then it becomes really hard to claim that there aren’t issues in the country. Please, do yourself a favor, check it out.
We’re at my favorite. Yes, that’s right, out of the entire Cornetto Trilogy, this one is the one that I will re-watch most. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like the other two immensely, I love the hell out of them, but this is one of the most perfect action movie parodies out there while still being meaningful, intelligent, and freaking hilarious. The World’s Endimpacts me more on a personal level, Shaun of the Dead is funnier to me, but this one struck the balance that I think works best.
Based on feedback, I’m using my new format for movie reviews, so, if you want a full annotated summary of the film, go to the bottom and click the link.
PC Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is removed from the Metropolitan Police Service in London due to being so dedicated to his job that he makes all the other officers look bad. He’s also not particularly social or fun, due to constantly being “on duty,” which doesn’t help. Since firing him would draw attention, they instead promote him to Sergeant and transfer him to Sandford, Gloucestershire, a small village known for being peaceful and quaint.
When he arrives, he is partnered with PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), son of Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), the head of the local police service. Danny is a huge fan of action movies and is disappointed that most of police life, according to Angel, is paperwork and regulations. The two eventually start to bond with Danny showing Angel Point Break and Bad Boys II as examples of “proper action,” before finally becoming friends as they investigate cases together.
Meanwhile, a series of murders (shown to the audience but framed to the characters as accidents) start claiming members of the town, leading Angel to suspect there’s a serial killer. He eventually accuses local obviously evil guy Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) of killing everyone as part of a real estate scheme, only for it to be revealed that Skinner clearly couldn’t have done it. He then theorizes that Skinner could have done it with help, since he employs much of the town, but Frank dismisses it as paranoia, because murders don’t happen in Sandford.
Nicholas returns to his hotel room, only to be ambushed by Lurch (Rory McCann), Skinner’s supermarket cart boy (trolley if you’re British). Angel fights him off and goes to confront Skinner, only to find out that most of the town, including Frank, are part of a “secret” society, the Neighborhood Watch Alliance. Even crazier, the murders weren’t part of a grand, logical scheme, but just based on thinking the people were annoying or inconvenient to have in the “Village of the Year.”
Danny helps Nicholas escape, but he comes back, armed to the teeth. Together with Danny and, later, the rest of the police force, Angel engages in a shootout that destroys much of the town and ends with everyone in the NWA in jail or dead. At the end of the film, Nicholas and Danny are still partners, now having fun being bad ass on the streets of Sandford.
Part of the reason why this movie is my favorite is… well, I’ll Venn Diagram it.
The first time I saw Shaun of the Dead, it was amazing. The first time I saw The World’s End, it was just good. The second time I saw Shaun of the Dead, it was much the same. The second time I saw The World’s End, it became one of my favorite films. Hot Fuzz started at amazing and moved into epic on repeat viewing.
Part of it is that the foreshadowing in this movie is more subtle and spread-out than in the other films, but, because it’s based on action movie clichés, you really already know what’s going to happen. There’s one sequence where Danny asks Angel about all of the “action” he’s had in London which lists all of the things that are going to happen during the final sequence, including shooting a gun into the air and going “Aaaargh” a la Point Break. There’s another sequence where Angel is identifying potential threats on the street that turns out to be accurate, even though it’s portrayed as being paranoid.
The foreshadowing is also combined with Wright’s wonderful use of recontextualized repetition (apparently the Trope is called Ironic Echoing), with most of the lines in the first act being repeated, or repeated with a slight variation, in the second or third act, including “Get a look at his arse/horse,” which is one of my favorite uses of regional dialect wordplay. Yes, there are others. Probably. The point is, I find the way they compare harmless and dire situations in dialogue to be hilarious. They discuss catching a serial killer and a swan in almost the exact same tone, compare Angel’s initial hazing with his moment of broken spirit, and compare a firefight with solving a crossword. The last one brings me to all of the brick jokes.
A brick joke is when you make a mediocre joke which later turns out to be the set-up for a bigger joke. If you want examples, Arrested Development is filled with them and I even pointed out that Bob Newhart once set-up the joke in one episode and paid it off in another series. This movie, similarly, sets up some goofy lines that later pay off into absolutely ridiculous scenes, ranging from the revelation that there IS an Aaron A. Aaronson living in the village (Angel thought that was a fake name to mock him) and that an armed farmer and his equally armed mother are the first people that Angel takes out when he comes back (having been told that everyone and his mother owns a gun in the countryside). Actually, most of the jokes that are made at Angel’s expense seem to later come true.
Similar to Shaun of the Dead, the movie does a lot of sharp, dramatic cuts accompanied by music to show Angel going through all of the boring parts of police work as opposed to the kind of action sequences that usually are associated with them. While Shaun of the Dead used it to draw comparisons between Shaun’s life and zombies, Hot Fuzz uses it to subvert the usual cop movie trait of ignoring the procedural parts of policework, which reminds us of Angel’s absolute rigidity about his policework. And that brings us to the big theme of the movie.
All three of the Cornetto Trilogy films are about the dangers of perpetual adolescence. In Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, it’s fairly obvious what the main characters are. Shaun’s given up on really living life and Gary has never done anything with his life. Nicholas Angel, however, is not an unsuccessful police officer, but an absolutely amazing one. He is dedicated to the law to an almost absurd degree and that’s the problem: he’s got nothing in his life except for his job.
It’s a very different kind of immaturity from Shaun or Gary, because Angel is actually doing exactly what he wants to do: Be an amazing police officer. It’s just that, in pursuit of it, he has never learned how to do anything else or have a real connection with any other human. He is just his job, not a real person. In existentialist terms, I guess he’d be avoiding engaged agency (if this is wrong, please correct me, it’s been a while). So, his journey is to discover that there is more to life than just being the thing you thought you wanted to be when you were five. You also have to enjoy life and the movie points out that one of the best ways to do that is to be a little bit less uptight and a little more immature. Having never really been connected to anyone, at the end of the movie, Nicholas actually does have a successful relationship, it’s just not a romantic one.
Just like in Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, the main character is a reflection of the antagonist (Shaun: Zombies, Gary: Network), in this case the Neighborhood Watch Alliance, who, just as Nicholas is dedicated to policework to his own personal detriment, are dedicated to their cause of being “Village of the Year” to the detriment of the citizens. This is represented best by the fact that Nicholas constantly repeats idealisms like “the law is the law,” while the NWA constantly repeat “the greater good.” Both of these are unforgiving maxims, enforced with no regard to what might be more humane. They even show that most of the people that Nicholas arrested without considering being more lenient are subsequently murdered by the NWA. It’s a great way to highlight the protagonist’s flaws, by showing that a slightly more absurd version of the same flaw would lead to something horrifying. Granted, it’s also that Angel wants to be superlative through hard work and exceptionalism whereas the NWA wants to be superlative by eliminating all which would drag them down (and, for the record, based on how many fatal “accidents” people mention in the movie, they’re doing it more than Murder, She Wrote). Basically, Angel wants to make the trains on time, while the NWA will kill everyone that makes them late.
Similarly, Nicholas has wanted to maintain the same image of himself from when he was five and decided that he wanted to be a police officer. The town, likewise, appears frozen in the past, having a rustic aesthetic, even with an Apple computer from the 90s. They both have tried to maintain the image they had in the past, to the point that they strongly resist anything that would change it.
The music, too, deserves a nod, and it’s always wonderful to watch a director that understands that the soundtrack and the score are a big part of the film experience. Granted, as well as it’s done here, it does pale in comparison to Wright’s song use in Baby Driver and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Still, the songs are well used and they tie in thematically, something that adds a lot to the experience.
The movie really does blend style and substance perfectly, an amazing example of exactly what film can do as a medium. It’s not too artistic to be watchable without effort, but the more effort you put into watching it, the more it rewards you. Hell, until the third or fourth watching, I didn’t notice that almost everyone’s name in the village is actually a profession (Skinner, Cooper, Hatcher, Staker, Treacher, Blower, Draper, Wainwright, Cartwright), yet another way to mirror that Angel is just his job, while the fact that they’re all archaic professions reinforces the village’s frozen nature. I imagine the only reason “Butterman” isn’t a profession name is because Nick Frost named the character as a condition of doing the film.
Additionally, the posters in the background change throughout the film, indicating which characters replace the functions of others, or how the NWA is manipulating the population in subtle ways. There’s probably still stuff I’m missing. I even had to have someone point out to me that N.W.A. was also the band that did “Fuck tha Police,” a great hidden joke. Seriously, the amount of effort that must have gone into this movie is mind-boggling.
To summarize, I love this movie. Aside from maybe Ghostbusters, Pulp Fiction, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I watch annually, this is the movie I’ve probably re-watched the most. Since it came on Netflix, I’ve probably watched it half a dozen times just when I want something fun on in the background. I’m glad that Edgar Wright has moved past the Cornetto Trilogy, but these films will always have a special place in my heart.
I’m going to do the rest of his films, but I think I’m going to make a special page just for these three reviews.
So, it’s happening. I’m doing all of Edgar Wright’s movies, though I guess not in any particular order. There aren’t that many, since Fistful of Fingers never got distributed and he got kicked off of Ant-Man, and I probably won’t review Spaced unless it’s requested. I do like the show, though not as much as the subsequent films, I just am already regretting the shows I’m currently set to review… especially since I plan on doing an actual live review of the next season of Doctor Who. But, for now, I’ve got some more amazing movies by a visionary director to review.
This was the first of the Cornetto Trilogy and also the least-earning one at $30 Million, though on a $6 Million budget, it still was profitable… though it earned less money that year than Christmas with the Kranks, Fat Albert, or Catwoman, a fact that should kill your soul.
Slight format change: I’m putting a synopsis here, and a full summary after the “read more” page, so you can just read the analysis and not have to wade through the movie. If you want the summary, just go to the bottom and read it first. Let me know if you think this is better.
Shaun Riley (Simon Pegg) gets dumped by his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), because he’s so dispassionate about life that he only wants to drink at the same pub, the Winchester, with his slovenly roommate, Ed (Nick Frost). Shaun decides he’s going to get his life together, but unfortunately he’s been missing the fact that the zombie apocalypse has come. Shaun and Ed form a plan to get his mom, Barbara (Penelope Wilton), kill his step-dad Philip (Bill Nighy) who has been bitten, rescue Liz, and head to the Winchester.
However, things don’t go as planned. Shaun can’t bring himself to kill Philip, Liz brings along her flatmates David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis), Ed screws up most of the plans by being reckless and irresponsible, Barbara is bitten, and Philip becomes a zombie. They finally make it to the pub, but are surrounded by hordes of zombies. Eventually, David, Dianne, and Barbara are killed, Ed is bitten, and Shaun and Liz prepare to go out fighting, but are rescued by the military. Six months later, Shaun and Liz are engaged and Shaun keeps zombie Ed in the shed to hang out with, their relationship mostly unchanged.
Something painfully occurred to me during this re-watch: In terms of re-watchability, this is the worst of the Cornetto Trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to watch again, but Edgar Wright’s films are notoriously good to watch a second, third, or tenth time. Hell, the other two movies in the trilogy, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, are arguably BETTER when you see them a second time. This one is about the same. Still good, but about the same.
Part of that is that this movie has less of the foreshadowing and repetition that are in the other two films, because this was the first one. Sure, they’re in the film and they’re done great, but they just aren’t as polished as they are in the others. But, none of that makes this film any less amazing, because when you consider that this is an underfunded first outing of a director who had previously only done television, this is basically watching Babe Ruth’s first home run.
Like the best zombie movies, the point of the movie is to use zombies as a metaphor. In Night of the Living Dead it’s Vietnam-era America (and a dash of racism from the living), in Dawn of the Dead it’s consumerism, in Day of the Dead it’s a lack of communication, in Land of the Dead it’s the nature of power to eventually be countered, and in Dead Alive it’s so that someone can kick ass for the Lord (if you don’t get this reference, ask me to review the movie). Shaun of the Dead actually takes it a step further and just points out that so many people are effectively already zombies that the actual zombification is really secondary. Hell, at the end, Noel (Rafe “I was the bad guy in Jurassic World 2” Spall), the jerk that worked with Shaun, is basically doing the same job now that he’s a zombie.
Shaun feels the way that many people feel. He’s given up doing anything he’s passionate about (like his deejaying) because he has bills to pay. He instead chooses to just do the same thing over and over again, drinking with Ed and Liz at the same bar, never trying to be stimulated, because when you know your dreams are dead, what the hell’s the point in doing anything else? And, like many of us, he’s just existing, he’s not really living. He’s not depressed or suicidal, he’s just dispassionate and doesn’t know what to do since he can’t do the thing that he actually wanted. It’s like most people whose passions are art or theater but aren’t lucky enough to do them for a living, you end up just working a job to keep a roof over your head, and you don’t want to dedicate all the energy for a hobby. You know that you could, but you also know it’d be super hard for little reward, so you don’t, and then you’re even more miserable by choice.
To summarize: You’re not living, but you’re not dead.
I’m going to add a clip from the show Steven Universe here, because there is a song that perfectly encapsulates what I’m saying.
The key to the movie is stated by Liz at the end: ” You did something. That’s what counts.” When Shaun actually starts to do something instead of just going through the motions, everything goes wrong, which is exactly the thing that most people fear so much that it stops them from doing anything. But, that’s also exactly what allows Shaun to start being a more complete person at the end of the movie. He hasn’t stopped hanging out with Ed, hasn’t stopped going to the Winchester, but he’s also doing other things that have some risk and discomfort. And that’s how you really feel alive.
As for the technical qualities of the movie itself, the foreshadowing and repeated dialogue is amazing, partially because it almost all functions as clever wordplay and partially because recontextualizing things is an easy way to convey meaning by inherently drawing comparisons. The big one is Ed’s speech about what they’ll do the next day:
“… Have a Bloody Mary first thing. Get a bite at The King’s Head. Grab a couple at The Little Princess, stagger back here and bang! We’re up at the bar for shots. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”
Aside from Ed’s speech telling the plot of the movie (Bloody Mary is the first zombie they kill, a bite at the King’s head is Philip getting bitten, grab a couple at the little princess is picking up David, Dianne, and Liz, back to the Winchester for shots is… self-explanatory), there’s also Ed telling his other roommate Pete (Peter “I’m the Tick” Serafun… Seramichelle… Serafinowicz) that the next time he sees him he’s dead and Pete telling Ed to live in the shed.
The repetition is pretty great, too. Shaun’s dialogue to Ed when he’s playing the game is mirrored with Ed saying the same to Shaun when he’s shooting zombies. There’s a shot in the beginning of the film when Shaun closes his bathroom mirror and Pete is there as a jump-scare parody, which later is duplicated with the zombie Pete. “You’ve got red on you” naturally takes on two meanings. Shaun’s walk to the bodega near his house is similar both times, except the second time the apocalypse has happened. When Shaun tells David to turn the jukebox off, he says “kill the Queen,” (because the song is by Queen) which becomes a conflict when David tries to kill Barbara, who, as the King’s wife, would be the Queen. Additionally, almost every character seen in the first half becomes a zombie in the second.
Another hallmark of the film is that there are sharp, dramatic cuts with powerful sound effects for the most mundane things, like adjusting a tie or washing hands. Like with the repeated dialogue, this actually helps to convey the metaphor by saying that the scenes that normally would feature the zombies feature the mundane aspects of Shaun’s life.
There are tons of references to other zombie and horror movies, with businesses being named for George Romero, Lucio Fulci, John Landis, and their films. Much like in the original Night of the Living Dead, the zombies are never actually explained, although the proposed causes are borrowed from other zombie movies.
Other than that, the movie’s just funny as hell. Every performance is pretty much spot on, although I have a special love for Penelope Wilton as Barbara. She was always so gentle and loving that it was honestly heartbreaking to watch Shaun kill her.
Also, last thing, I finally looked up what Noel’s dialogue means when he says he only has an “Henry.” That’s Cockney rhyming slang for pot, because it’s Henry the Eighth -> An Eighth of Pot. Cockney rhyming slang is always fun.
I really wanted to review this film. I did. I was so excited to see a new Jurassic Park film that I was positive I would enjoy it, regardless of other critical opinions.
For the most part, I try to be as positive as possible when reviewing films. I think that pretty much all movies have something redeeming within them, even terrible ones. However, I have decided to give this movie to my partner for this review, because I think it would be difficult for me to be as positive as I would normally want to be in this particular case.
Thus, take it away Grouch.
I say this with all sincerity:
F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. F*ck this movie. I’m so pissed off that you’re making me censor my f*cks right now, because I really want to say f*ck this movie.
In my head, I hear this being chanted to the “Hallelujah Chorus” as a choir of angels massage every second of this film out of my head.
Little bit of background:
I love Jurassic Park. I had the toys, I played the video games, I read the book, I watched the movie in theaters, on VHS, on DVD, on Blu-Ray, even in 3-D. I consider the moment when the T-Rex first steps out to be the moment when I first believed films could be f*cking magical. It’s a movie about people experiencing something awe-inspiring and terror-inducing at the same time. The T-Rex and raptors are amazing to see both for the people in the film and for the audience, while being terrifying at the same time when you’re reminded of just what they are. It’s a monster movie, just about majestic monsters.
When The Lost World came out, I actually kind of liked it. Was it Jurassic Park? No. But it had several scenes in it that I liked and it definitely tried to continue the first movie’s theme of how simultaneously beautiful and dangerous nature can be. It had some scenes that were stomach-turning (like gymnastics vs. a raptor), but it also had the raptors picking people off in the tall-grass, which I thought was genuinely horrifying.
In Jurassic Park III, much of the film is terrible, but it A) is short, B) is full of dinosaurs, and C) has Sam Neil, Tea Leoni, and William H. Macy in it. It’s not a good film, but it seemed to at least try to deliver what a sequel-decline of Jurassic Park would merit. I’m still mixed on the Spinosaurus taking out the T-Rex, but at least they were trying new things, even if most of them didn’t work.
Jurassic World was a movie that is a rarity for me. I didn’t like most of it. The characters were bland and there were, somehow, almost too many plotlines running for a Jurassic Park film, with several of them seeming pointless, especially Vincent D’Onofrio’s wasted talent. However, no matter what I felt at certain points during the movie, I never felt cheated by the film, because the Raptor-Rex-Rex fight gave me all the cinematic joy I felt the ticket price merited. If you had just told me that was the movie, that 10-12 minutes, and asked me to give you $20 bucks for it, I’d have handed it over so fast it would have caught fire. Any franchise that can produce something as awesome as a raptor running up a T-Rex’s back to attack another dinosaur deserves all of my money. In a franchise that thrives on instilling a feeling of awe in the viewer, that scene made me a kid again.
Then, there’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It makes me feel like a kid who thought the stranger would have the best candy.
The movie starts a few months after the last one with some guys collecting a bone from the Indominus Rex. Almost all of them get eaten by the mosasaurus which, despite the fact that it’s in a tank which has a clear sea-wall, is still alive somehow, but a few escape with the bone. A blue whale has to eat over 3 tons in a day, but, sure, the mosasaurus has been surviving on stuff near the tank, I guess. And apparently it’s undetectable, despite the fact that the mosasaurus, like most if not all aquatic reptiles, still had to surface to breathe. Also, its gate gets stuck half-open, so it escapes into the ocean. This will be the start of things that piss me off.
Three years later, Isla Nublar, the island which had the original park and Jurassic World, is going to be destroyed by the volcano on the island that apparently everyone had ignored until now. Spared no expense? How about putting it on an island that doesn’t have a volcano on it?
The US Government asks Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to testify about whether or not the dinosaurs should be saved. To tell you how enthused Goldblum was by this performance, he doesn’t play Ian Malcolm. Jeff Goldblum, who has played Ian Malcolm in a half-dozen non-Ian-Malcolm roles since Jurassic Park, doesn’t bother to put enough effort into his 4 minutes on-screen to seem like he’s even the same iconic character. It hurt me physically. Also, Malcolm says “let them die.” The government agrees.
Meanwhile, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), has a group of conservationists who are trying to save the animals. Yes, they’re trying to save genetically engineered dinosaurs and are seriously upset that the dinosaurs are going to be “extinct again.” Site B apparently was destroyed several years ago to replace dinosaurs at Jurassic World. The movie itself will point out the obvious stupidity of this several times when it reminds us that these dinosaurs are genetically engineered and lab-grown and thus easily replaceable. They can clone animals perfectly from dead cells, meaning NOTHING can actually go extinct in this world. I appreciate when a movie quickly renders the plot pointless, saves me the trouble of caring.
Claire meets with a rich guy who worked with John Hammond named Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who is stated to have created the cloning process with John, but never been mentioned before now. He and his aide, Eli (Rafe Spall), say that they want Claire to get a bunch of dinosaurs to move to an island sanctuary, but they can’t get the velociraptor Blue, because she’s too smart. They need Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Blue’s trainer, to help. They then spend 15 minutes on pretending he’s not going to go, because this movie was written by chimps who were fed copies of Save the Cat!, the guide to predictable screenwriting.
Claire takes Grady, IT guy and comic-relief coward Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), and paleoveterinarian and tough-girl stereotype Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda). Rodriguez was originally supposed to be revealed to be a lesbian ex-marine, but that was cut due to the movie being produced by a 1950s housewife who thought she just needed “the right man.” They meet up with a bunch of mercenaries (oh, that’s always a good sign), led by Ken Wheatley (Ted “I’m Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, so there’s no way I’ll be a bad guy” Levine). They manage to find Blue before Wheatley shoots Grady with a tranquilizer and reveals that he’s just taking these dinosaurs to be sold by Eli. Wheatley takes Zia to look after Blue’s injuries and locks Claire and Franklin in a bunker that has an allosaurus. Also, the volcano conveniently starts erupting.
Owen wakes up to find himself about 3 feet from lava, which he starts to slowly crawl away from and somehow doesn’t die. He meets up with Claire and Franklin who managed to avoid the killer dino and the lava (which, apparently, doesn’t burn very much if it’s not plot-relevant), then get attacked by a Carnotaurus, which is attacked by the T-Rex, which is truly a heroine, as all the dinosaurs start to flee the island. The humans manage to get onto a boat departing the island, while the mercenaries somehow capture several of the animals we just saw running away from f*cking lava. In a scene designed to be a cheap emotional grab, we watch a brachiosaurus die from the volcano as it cries out in pain and fear. It’s still a pretty good scene, but it really is just a “okay, we need you guys to feel now” shot that the movie didn’t earn yet.
Onboard the ship, they hijack some T-Rex blood to transfuse into Blue, which somehow works. Back at Lockwood’s Estate, Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) finds out that Eli and a black-market auctioneer named Gunnar (Toby Jones) are going to sell off the dinosaurs to finance the Indoraptor, a hybrid of the Indominus Rex and a velociraptor which was designed by Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to be a weapon. They need Blue to be the mother to the next generation of them so they’ll obey humans, which the initial Indoraptor doesn’t really. Maisie tells Lockwood, but Eli kills him and somehow shatters his mosquito-filled amber cane. It’s also revealed that Maisie was a clone of Lockwood’s daughter and apparently that was why Hammond kicked him out of InGen. This is supposed to make sense, despite Maisie clearly being so young that Hammond was dead before she would have been born and that her mother’s death, the impetus for her cloning, would also have been after Hammond was dying in The Lost World.
The dinosaurs, as well as Owen and Claire, are caged at Lockwood’s house, which conveniently has brontosaurus-sized indoor cages. Eli and Gunnar auction off the dinos to all manner of bad guys before demonstrating the Indoraptor. Owen tricks a stygimoloch (which is a species that even the movie’s paleontology expert pointed out probably doesn’t exist, but that actually doesn’t bug me much since it’s genetically engineered) into ramming through walls and letting them out, before having it wreck the auction. Wheatley gets tricked by the Indoraptor into letting it out before it goes on to kill multiple people including Gunnar. It then stalks Owen, Claire, and Maisie through the house in the most ridiculous sequence in the film.
The Indoraptor seems to be more interesting in theatricality than actual effectiveness, something that’s particularly interesting not just because it’s an animal, but an animal that was created specifically to be a weapon. At least the Indominus Rex was just supposed to be a sideshow attraction, and this thing is supposed to be the SMARTER version. Instead, it gets tricked by Owen turning the lights out, even though it’s mentioned to be able to smell targets a mile away.
Eventually, Zia releases Blue, who goes to defend Owen and kills the Indoraptor by dropping it through a glass ceiling onto a triceratops skull in an act that definitely isn’t completely bullshit. Meanwhile, all the dinosaurs are being killed by poison gas, allowing Owen and Claire to, again, choose whether or not to let them die. They choose to let them die, but Maisie releases them because she’s also a clone and therefore thinks they’re the same as her. In return, the T-Rex kills Eli and destroys the Indominus Rex bone, allowing it to be the hero again. The film ends with the dinosaurs starting to interact with civilization as Jeff Goldblum narrates that humans and dinosaurs may now need to learn to co-exist.
So, you know the Joker’s thing about “a movie can ask you to suspend any disbelief, it just has to be consistent in it?” Yeah, this movie shoved that up its craphole about thirty seconds in when the mosasaurus eats a submarine unnoticed and apparently that’s just fine.
The biggest problem in the movie is that everyone’s motivations are stupid. Not just stupid, but really stupid. Claire, Franklin, and Zia are all about conservation, which would be fine if these weren’t animals that can be easily re-grown. Hell, in Jurassic World, they WERE all grown. Conservation is supposed to be about eliminating mankind’s intervention, but the dinosaurs ARE the intervention. And at the end of the movie, there’s only one survivor of many of the species, meaning they’re doomed anyway unless… wait for it… we just grow more of them. It’s hard to feel like their cause is urgent when it was rendered pointless 4 movies ago. It’s made even more hollow when, later in the film, they all decide to just let the dinosaurs die.
Eli’s motive is to make money to finance the Indoraptor by selling the dinosaurs on the black market, which seems dumb, considering he’s in charge of a multi-billion dollar fortune that he could easily use to just clone more dinosaurs to sell. Hell, they make the Indoraptor there and no one noticed until after it was fully grown. Why not add a couple of T-Rexes and someone will buy the juveniles for millions?
Wu’s motive is his love of mad science, but he’s barely in the film and even he thinks what Eli’s doing is stupid.
Owen’s motivation actually kind of makes sense, since he has a bond with Blue, but that means the most logical motivation in the movie is a guy wanting to save his pet. This is fine if the rest of the movie were John Wick, but, alas, it’s not.
The Indoraptor is stupid on so many levels. It is trained to attack a target that’s identified with a laser after hearing a sound cue. In other words, it can only attack targets that someone can point a laser at. Do you know what you can do if you point a laser at a target? You can shoot it in the head. We laser-guide missiles, but that’s because they’re taking out a huge area. The Indoraptor is only useful in attacking targets that don’t lock doors.
The volcano set-up not only is cliché and stupid, it gives way to lava physics and, even for Hollywood, the lava physics in this movie are terrible. Not only can people be inches away from it with no ill effects but at one point, Chris Pratt is hit by lava and is apparently fine later. A dinosaur is doused in it and barely tries to avoid it. I suspect that this movie was created by someone who was writing Jurassic Park/Volcano erotica but couldn’t get Tommy Lee Jones into the movie.
There are also weird references to Donald Trump in the movie, including Gunnar’s wig, a line about the President not believing that there ever were dinosaurs, some lines about political megalomania, and Ted Levine saying Pineda was “such a nasty woman.” Guys, if you want to make political satire, either make it good or put it in a movie where it fits better.
But I could have overlooked all of these things, all of them, if this movie didn’t fundamentally miss what Jurassic Park and, to a lesser extent, its sequels were all about: Spectacle.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean cheap spectacle, I mean that Jurassic Park showed us something so new and so big that we couldn’t really get our minds around it and it did that by showing us characters that were experiencing the same sights with us. Even if you re-watch it, it holds up because it presents it through the characters, making us feel it. John Williams’s epic score manages to kick that feeling up to 11. Then, in the second and third act, where it’s more directly a monster movie, it still has surprises because we’re being reminded that all these amazing creatures are also horrifyingly dangerous. You can call it an analogue for the atomic bomb or some other destructive scientific advancement, but it could just as easily be for the iceberg that destroyed the Titanic or the stars themselves: Beautiful, amazing, mind-blowing stuff is also usually perilous.
This movie didn’t really show any of the beauty, partially because it almost never had the dinosaurs being dinosaurs (preferring to put them in cages or running from danger), partially because the people in the movie don’t seem particularly awed by the animals, and partially because THERE AREN’T THAT MANY DINOSAUR SCENES. Look, I’m sure someone is going to point out something like “There were technically more dinosaurs in this movie than any other” or some other fact like that to counter it, but it doesn’t matter whether or not there were a ton of dinosaurs in the background, the point is that most of the dinosaur scenes aren’t focused on the creatures themselves. They’re used as props, both literally and figuratively. There are a lot of great monster movies where the monster isn’t the focus, but the characters in this film really aren’t interesting enough to get by without the dinosaurs. Then, in the third act, the Indoraptor is just… f*cking awful. It’s so over-the-top corny, it even seems to have a Muttley-esque smirk when it’s tricking Wheatley.
It’s true that every time you show the audience something onscreen, the spectacle is lessened but, when you have the characters barely impressed that they’re interacting with dinosaurs, it’s even harder for us to be dazzled by it. I get that these people have spent time around dinosaurs but, seriously, half the time they treat them the way normal people treat dogs, which makes us more aware of how inane their decisions are. I mean, in the first movie, the T-Rex paddock turns into a cliff magically and NO ONE cared, because it was such an amazing scene that we were feeling it rather than thinking about it. Instead, this movie just made me think about how absolutely stupid much of it was, which is not what I want in a Jurassic Park sequel.
F*ck. This. Movie.
So, this movie is about 50/50 split. Unlike Last Jedi or other “controversial” splits, the split’s true for both reviewers and audiences. Some people liked it, some hated it. Even the positive reviews do seem to say it was “not great,” though. If you wanted to see some dinosaurs or are a fan of more traditional monster movies, this worked. If you really wanted to see Chris Pratt building a cabin, this was the movie for you. If you desired to see Claire and Owen suddenly get back together after basically no changes to their character since their breakup, then you needed this film. If you’re willing to just completely suspend disbelief, regardless of what the film is actually giving you to reward that suspension, then you had a good time.
Overall, if you liked it, I’m not gonna condemn you. If you didn’t, I’m not gonna blame you. I do like the set-up at the end, because there are a lot of great ways to take the next film.