Independence Day: Resurgence

“Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”

They’re back! 20 years on from the aliens first visit they are back. This time, with a bigger ship which is apparently 3,000 miles wide. Only one man can save the day – David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Well not really, there are many other people who come into play but yet again the thinking woman’s crumpet steals the show (I acknowledge the fact he is old enough to be my Grandfather but choose to ignore/embrace it). Whilst this sequel does not desecrate the first film, or taint it in anyway, it’s neither better nor worse than its predecessor.  And, considering how dark things seem in news and politics at the moment, this may just be the escapism everyone needs.

In the twenty years since the first alien attack Earth has changed completely. All of the world’s nations are united with a level of global peace never seen before. Instead all of the world is working together, using the alien technology that was left behind, to build the Earth Space Defense (ESD) programme. Overseen by President Lanford (Sela Ward), General Adams (William Fichtner) and Director David Levinson, its figurehead is Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher playing the step-son of Will Smith’s absent character). When visiting the ESD base on the Moon, and squaring up to old friend/rival Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), an alien mothership attacks the moonbase and heads straight for Earth. It’s a call to arms for old faces – such as President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) – as this could just be Earth’s final stand.

This is a sequel that is full both of pretty awe-inducing spectacle and amusing cheesiness. From the above headline, a line uttered by Jessie T. Usher without any hint of irony or knowingness, to every line uttered by Judd Hirsch as Mr Levinson Sr this is a film full of enough laughs to entertain. Considering the amount of death and devastation that occurs (I gave up trying to estimate the death toll) there is still enough comic relief that you do manage to leave the cinema smiling. In case you didn’t get my oh-so-subtle hints I loved every scene featuring Jeff Goldblum – he has got the nerdy/cool thing nailed! – and his quasi-science. 

This does lead me to my main issue with this sequel. Promo material and comments from many of those involved in the film have discussed how this is Independance Day for the new generation. It’s a pointless thing to aim for for two reasons. A) I was two when the original film came out. Does that mean ‘It’s not for me’?  B) The best thing about this film is the use of the ‘old’ cast. It is their scenes that are the highlight, not just for purposes of nostalgia but also in terms of character and entertainment. Jessie T.Usher gets sidelined by Liam Hemsworth who is playing a ‘maverick’ who is so bland and vanilla. The actress playing Hemsworth’s fiancee Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the daughter of the original film’s president, gets to some cool stuff but still needs to be rescued in the process. Travis Tope as Charlie Miller, best friend of Liam Hemsworth’s character, is a great addition in terms of comedy, although he is rather too fixated on a character who looks pretty gets about four lines (Angelababy playing Rain Lo).

Furthermore, the plot itself magpies (it’s my polite preference to steal) a lot from a wide range of other sources. From Alien, to 2001, to Close Encounters and even Deep Impact. In many ways it’s quite a distracting element to see so obviously the ‘influences’ of a film. There’s also the fact the film starts off so big – destruction of several continents big – that manages to be so large it’s almost ineffective. We are starting to see what could easily be described as a type of fatigue from audiences in terms of big explosions – it’s no longer shocking seeing a big screen explosion of a national/international landmark. Sometimes smaller works better. I think that’s why I enjoyed the second half of the film far more than the third. When the battle occurs within a slightly smaller radius, the many different sub-plots start to connect together, and the jokes are flying, that’s when this film really hits its stride.

All in all, this does the job. It’s more than entertaining enough, looks great and doesn’t require too much brain power. Perfect way to while away an evening.

stars

Jurassic World

The park has grown into a world – but bigger doesn’t always mean better.

jpIt’s been twenty-two years since Jurassic Park came out. (At this point I’ll pause for a second to let that sink in/ get over the shock/let you sit down if you are standing!) Few blockbusters have the same amount of loyalty or produce the same levels of nostalgia from its fans or have so many iconic moments. From that music, to the shot of the water vibrating in a glass building to the introduction of the T-Rex, the raptors in the kitchen and the wonder that is Jeff Goldblum. As a consequence the makers of Jurassic World had a difficult task – to pay homage to the origins whilst also developing without being accused of trying to reinvent the wheel. In some ways they are successful, aspects of this film are incredibly entertaining and equal the original. On the other hand, some aspects are jumbled, flawed and disappointing.

The film reflects real-time, set 22 years after Jurassic Park was forced to close. Jurassic World is one of the world’s most popular theme parks – just as one would take their family to Disneyland they live in a world where it’s normal to go somewhere to see dinosaurs. In fact, it has become so normal that operations manger Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has been put in charge by the park owner to oversee the upcoming new exhibit. It’s a breed of dinosaur that has never been seen before – literally as it didn’t exist before. The ‘Indominous Rex’ is a product of genetic modification – a hybrid of different species. Although her nephews are currently spending a week at the Jurassic World – who arrived with the intent of spending time with her – she has been unable to do because of this indomitable project. Her nephews go off exploring the theme park with her assistant for company, whilst Claire deals with issues regards the new beast. She is forced to turn to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, playing an oh-so-common ex-military/ leading velociraptor expert and trainer) for help. If you haven’t guess what happens next (SPOILER ALERT) it escapes. How will Claire and Owen prevent the treat of a beast that has never existed before? A breed whose genetic origins are being withheld from them? What will happen to Claire’s nephews? Will Owen and Claire have an inevitable romance? Will these film avoid obvious character types?

I’ll only provide an answer to the last of those questions – no. Whilst no-one would turn to Jurassic World or it’s predecessors looking for realism, it would be nice to have an action-adventure movie in which the events do not overshadow the characters. In fact, can you imagine a world where a 3D movie action-adventure has 3D characters? Jurassic World is not that kind of world. The dinosaurs are given more developed characters than the humans. In Jurassic World we have:

– Owen Grady, the bad-ass bloke who has no time for society’s bullshit or human being’s bullshit. He wants to live in peace and hang out with his raptor buds alpha-style. He is an attractive man, and knows it. He uses humour to defuse awkward situations or to make his point. (Think Indiana Jones, with less charm.)

– Claire Dearing, the work-obsessive who cares more about her work than family. She is deemed cold and calculating when compared to the male hero. All she cares about is money, order and routine. Luckily the events of the film will show her that this is wrong, and will fix her evil corporate ways. She is living proof that it is impossible to be successful and also care about other people. Runs around in heels. (Think every stereotype of working women that exists in film)

– Zach Mitchell, the older of Claire’s nephews, thinks he is a ladies-man. Stares at lots of young women because he is a ladies man. Turns out that this is all a front to hide his caring-side, and he actually does love his little brother.

– Gray Mitchell, Zach’s younger brother. Shown to have obsessive tendencies through his encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs.

– Vic Hoskins, a man who wants to use Owen’s raptors for evil. Does evil-ish things.

Without any interesting heroes to really root for, the film falls slightly flat, and we end up feeling more sympathy for the dinosaurs. Yes, there are some fantastic set-pieces – some sequences are genuinely frightening and rival the original film. Yes, there are some lovely and subtle tributes to the original film. Yes, it is rather entertaining and somewhat worthy of awe. But it is a film which seems so uncertain of itself with some cheesiness worthy of Skarknado. It simultaneously pokes fun at action movie tropes but then utilises others, with a side order of predictability. All of this results in a vanilla-bland popcorn movie.