If you haven’t seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom yet, then here’s something to watch out for. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a BBC news report about the imminent destruction of Isla Nubar and the plight of the dinosaurs still on the island. Throughout the report, a news ticker tape runs along the bottom of the screen. If you can, pay close attention to the headlines that appear, and in particular, one that relates to a particular world leader… It’s one of the funniest things in the movie, and is actually quite subtle, but if you’re not in the know, it can be easily missed. As for the rest of the movie, well, that’s for another time and place.
Alan Taylor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Colin Trevorrow, Dinosaurs, Emilia Clarke, Indominus Rex, InGen, Irrfan Khan, Isla Nubar, J.K. Simmons, Jai Courtney, Jake Johnson, Jason Clarke, Judgment Day, Raptors, Sarah Connor, Sequels, Skynet, T-1000, T-800, Terminators, Vincent D'Onofrio
The third and fourth sequels in their respective franchises, Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys are that rare combination: reboots that feed off the original movies. And you could argue that they’re also remakes, in that they take the basic plots of those original movies and put their own – hopefully – nifty spins on them. But while there’s a definite fan base for both series, which means both movies should do well at the box office (enough to generate further sequels), is there enough “new stuff” in these movies to actually warrant seeing them in the first place, or getting excited about any future releases that are in the pipeline? (And let me say just now, that both movies have ensured that the possibility of further entries in both franchises will be an absolute certainty.)
Jurassic World (2015) / D: Colin Trevorrow / 124m
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus
Twenty-two years on from the disastrous attempt by John Hammond to open the world’s first dinosaur theme park, his dream has become a paying reality, but one that needs ever more impressive dinosaurs to keep visitors coming. Thanks to the backing of the park’s owner, Masrani (Khan), and the scientists responsible for cloning the park’s main attractions – led by Dr Henry Wu (Wong) – each new attraction strays further and further from the original concept of replicating the dinosaurs everyone is aware of. Now, Wu and his team have designed a new dinosaur, the so-called Indominus Rex, an intelligent, über-predator that is taller than a T. Rex and even more deadly.
When animal behavioural specialist Owen Grady (Pratt) is called in to assess the new dinosaur’s readiness for being shown to the public, he and park manager Claire (Howard) are unprepared for just how intelligent the Indominus Rex is; soon it escapes and begins to wreak havoc across the island. With an evacuation of over twenty thousand tourists going ahead, including Claire’s nephews Gray (Simpkins) and Zach (Robinson) who have strayed off the normal tourist track, Grady and Claire must try to keep everyone safe, as well as dealing with parent company InGen’s local representative, Hoskins (D’Onofrio), who sees Indominus Rex’s escape as a chance to prove that raptors – who have been trained by Grady – can be used as militarised weapons. But his strategy backfires, leaving everyone at risk from Indominus Rex and the raptors.
Given that Jurassic Park III (2001) was pretty much dismissed as so much dino guano on its release, the idea of making a fourth movie always seemed like a triumph of optimism over experience. And yet, Jurassic World is a triumph – albeit a small scale one – and while it doesn’t offer us anything really new (aside from Grady’s instinctive, respect-driven relationship with the raptors), it does make a lot of things feel fresher than they have any right to be. This is essentially a retread of the first movie, with Gray and Zach as our guides to the park’s wonders (and perils), the fiercest dinosaur in the park getting loose, and the humans relying on other dinosaurs to take down the big bad and save the day. It’s not a bad concept – after all, it worked the first time around – but despite how well the movie has been put together, it’s still a fun ride that just misses out on providing that much needed wow factor.
Part of the problem is that the movie makers have taken the bits of Jurassic Park (1993) that worked and added some stuff that doesn’t. Do we really need to see yet another misogynistic portrayal of a relationship, where the woman changes for the man and not the other way round? Do we really need to hear a scientist blame the moneyman for not paying attention when the scientist created something unethical? And do we really need to hear deathless lines such as “We have an asset out of containment” or “It can camouflage!” (a trick the Indominus Rex pulls off just the once, by the way, when it’s convenient to the narrative). Of course we don’t, but because this isn’t a straight remake, but a reboot/update/witting homage, that’s what we get. For all that the movie is technically well made, and looks fantastic in IMAX 3D, it’s still a retread, and lacks the thrills we need to invest in it properly (and that’s without the paper-thin characters, from the stereotypically neanderthal Hoskins, to the annoying dweeb in the park’s Control Centre (Johnson). In short, the movie lacks the depth necessary to make us care about it, and without that depth, it just becomes another superficial ride the viewer will forget without realising it.
Rating: 6/10 – another summer blockbuster that doesn’t do enough to justify its budget or hype, Jurassic World is like an old friend regaling you with a story you’ve heard a thousand times before; maybe this will work better as the intro to a bigger story and plot, but if not, then this is just another disappointing entry in that ever growing cache of movies known as the Unnecessary Sequel.
Terminator Genisys (2015) / D: Alan Taylor / 126m
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee, Michael Gladis, Sandrine Holt
In 2029, the human resistance, led by John Connor (Clarke), is on the verge of defeating Skynet and its machines. But it also needs to destroy Skynet’s last chance of avoiding defeat: a time displacement machine. When John reaches the site, though, he learns that Skynet has sent a terminator back to 1984 in order to kill his mother, Sarah Connor (Clarke); with her dead, John won’t be born and won’t be able to lead the resistance to victory. Knowing his past and what needs to be done, he agrees to let Kyle Reese (Courtney) travel back as well and keep Sarah safe. As the machine begins to work, though, Kyle sees John being attacked by a terminator.
When Kyle arrives in 1984 he finds himself being hunted by a T-1000 (Lee) before being rescued by Sarah – and a T-800 (Schwarzenegger). Sarah tells Kyle that the T-800 was sent to protect her when she was nine years old, but that she doesn’t know who sent it. With the T-1000 in constant pursuit, the trio do their best to work out why this timeline is now so different from the one that John has always known. Kyle is sure that it has something to with visions he’s been having of a future that hasn’t been destroyed by Skynet, a future that will still exist in 2017, the year that Skynet – in this timeline – launches the nuclear missiles that will seal Man’s fate. He persuades Sarah to travel with him to 2017 using a time displacement machine that she has built with the T-800’s aid.
However, their arrival in 2017 leads to their being arrested. But at the police station, an even greater surprise awaits them: the arrival of John…
As Arnold Schwarzenegger has said all along, “I’ll be back”, and here he is, older, greyer, slower, with a few motor skills issues, but as he also says, “not obsolete”. It’s a clever distinction that says as much about the actor as it does the character of the T-800, giving us an aging Terminator and providing a perfectly acceptable reason for the Austrian Oak to be involved. But while he’s the star of the show, it’s also noticeable that he’s sidelined a lot of the time, giving both Clarkes, and Courtney, the chance to carry the movie in their iconic star’s absence. That they don’t is down to a script that, as with Jurassic World, wants to be as much as a retread of its progenitor as it does an entirely new instalment. As a result, the need to include what might be generously termed “fan moments” – “Come with me if you want to live” – often means a narrative that struggles to find its own identity.
There’s the germ of a great idea here, predicated on the series’ idea that “the future isn’t set”, but its revisionist version of 1984, complete with Schwarzenegger taking on his younger self (one of the movie’s better ideas), devolves into an extended chase sequence that rehashes elements from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and acts as a kind of Terminator Greatest Hits. It’s all effectively staged by director Alan Taylor, but the sense of déjà vu persists throughout, making the screenwriters’ efforts to give us something new all the more disappointing. Even moving the action to 2017 is less than inspiring, not even allowing for a change of scenery or approach, but canny enough to include J.K. Simmons’ light relief, and change the thrilling truck chase from T2 to an unexciting helicopter pursuit. As with the trip to Isla Nubar, it’s all very professionally done, but with that one all-important ingredient still missing: something to make the viewer go “wow”.
Rating: 6/10 – as fourth sequels go, Terminator Genisys is a vast improvement on the last two instalments but remains very much a missed opportunity; with the way open for another sequel it’s to be hoped that it’ll be more original than this, and will take the kind of risks that the first movie made in order to be successful.