Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s screenplay for Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom veers between idiotic and knowingly idiotic. On balance, it doesn’t salvage the film, but they sure do give it a game try. Whereas The Lost World all the way back in 1997 was essentially unruffled by the astonishing mismanagement of its protagonists and their dubious morality, Fallen Kingdom is certainly at least literate in the criticisms which have been labelled upon that earlier film. Although not as subversively or as stridently as, say, Gareth Evans’ Godzilla, and with a much cheerier, more flippant attitude toward human incompetence, Fallen Kingdom is essentially content to mock its protagonists rather than celebrate them. As with Raiders of the Lost Ark, they accomplish very, very little by film’s end, just barely managing to survive their mistakes time and time again. While the film isn’t as willing to actually question the hero’s own complicity in the villain’s schemes, it is at least aware that, come film’s end, it cannot keep on defending its protagonists as ecological warriors.
Rather, in an increasingly technological world, where biological life is no longer singularly sacrosanct (as though it ever was), the only serious way to think about the debate over the dinosaurs in Jurassic World is to consider whether an expansive and more ephemeral, more dangerous, notion of life (that is, life created through human manipulation) is worth defending. Which is to say, the dinosaurs in Jurassic World 2 are artificial, and this is the first film in the franchise to seriously weigh the contours of this artificiality rather than equate the dinosaurs with naturally-reproduced animals. One might also say that it’s the only film in the series thus far to seriously question its own blockbuster artificiality, after its immediate predecessor so self-damagingly lambasted its audience in the most half-baked pop-post-modern gesture this side of, well, ever. This is the first film in the series to admit that to generally side with its heroes is to play the villain’s game and accept that artificial life cannot be dismissed emphatically, but must be seriously weighed as part of the patchwork of modernity. That, in other words, the possibilities of artificial life must be wrestled away from the corporate monolith’s which currently determine its contours. Continue reading
George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise was conjured out of the spirit of mid-century pulp and genre fiction, from Westerns to war films to noir, and it frankly remains as moored in these frameworks over 40 years later. There’s no shame in that. In spirit, pulp is as fine and potentially multiphonic a template for any modern filmmaker as any other, one with secrets left to uncover decades later. And Lucas has done as much as anyone over the ensuing forty years not only to expose the limits of his forebears but to invite their more self-conscious, inquisitive, and socially rambunctious textures, exploring their more contradictory valences and inviting us to consider what really makes ostensibly simplistic mythology tick. The fact that Solo: A Star Wars Story is so indebted to that swashbuckling mid-century spirit is merely a fact of nature, a canvas for good or ill.
That it is bound to the past, then, is not a problem so much as the fact that Solo uses that past regressively, treating it as an unquestioning moral template for a present that calls for new forms of experimentation with its various pasts. That Solo could do anything with its various influences seems off the table for the filmmakers, who (at least the credited ones) seem to have no other interests but paying homage to the original Star Wars films. And, yes, it’s a mediocre homage to Star Wars. But worse, it’s a mediocre pastiche of the classical Hollywood cinema – Westerns, in particular – which Lucas based his moral universe off of.
Certainly, the backward-looking, prequel-focused nature of Solo practically invites, even demands, the film’s simplistic qualities. But Solo is almost embarrassingly wedded to its canon, and the underlying influences it stands upon. The film wrought out of a very publically contested production cycle plays dress-up in gangster and Western attire, questioning neither. Which is fine; Star Wars films don’t have to do anything with their masters. Except Gareth Evans’ fantastically apocalyptic Rogue One from two years ago. And Rian Johnson’s diabolically self-critical one from last year. And most of the other Star Wars films, even Lucas’ much-benighted prequels and their at times laborious mythologies. In fact, one could say that Solo: A Star Wars Story is the most regressive Star Wars film in history. It seems like a retreat into the past, not a serious excavation of it, nor even a playful undertaking with it. Continue reading
It’s quite endearing how clearly Venom turns the clock back 15 years to the 2003 class of superhero movies, feeling wholly and irrevocably at odds with the increasing homogeneity of comic book cinema in the Marvel Cinematic Universe age. That’s not to suggest the film is meaningfully good, but merely bad in its own idiom, spirited and simply valuable as an almost found object from another time when the genre was still figuring itself out. How else to explain turning a bizarre would-be two-man show with Tom Hardy unleashing his inner Abbott and Costello into a superhero (or anti-hero) film?
Hardy does bring a schizophrenic, screwball discombobulation to the proceedings as Eddie Brock and his symbiotic alter ego Venom, but the film around him badly, almost astonishingly mismanages all of the good-will he earns even before the titular figure shows up. Director Ruben Flesicher is at his best when winking at another Fleischer, the animation guru from the ‘30s. Or better yet the Marx Brothers, Venom as the cheerfully demented prankster to Hardy’s paranoid, delusory journalist on the tail of a corporate human-experimentation racket. All this should signal you to the closeted truth of Venom: it only really functions as a comedy, and although it’s kind and self-aware enough to imbibe in its pitch-black, sadistic tendencies, it’s not clever enough to truly rely on them. Continue reading
Quite like Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 traffics in inside-baseball references rather than genuine emotion. It simply treats the insider knowledge required to fully appreciate it as an indication of its impish wit rather than solemn, magisterial weight, but both are essentially, cynically, committed to walling themselves off from criticism with the defense that their critics just “don’t get it”. For Avengers, it’s that you aren’t sufficiently committed to the franchise to “get” its “developments on” (read: regurgitations of) earlier films in its cinematic universe. For Deadpool 2, it’s that you don’t “get” how self-parodic Deadpool 2 is; like any good ironic film, it treats every moment both as sincere narrative event and parody of the same, ensuring that no can capably attack it for fear of being accused of just missing the point.
That’s lame, as it always has been. The least that can be said in Deadpool 2’s favor, however, is that while it is no less self-absorbed than Infinity War, or any MCU film for that matter, it is also very self-amused. Its personal rubric for success is its dialectic of self-appreciation and self-flagellation (quite a fitting duality for the sado-masochistic title character). Of course, its amusement is limited to fairly obvious satire. I’ve heard it compared to the works of Paul Verhoeven (and the film clearly relishes these comparisons as superlatives) but Deadpool’s simultaneously comic and solemn fracas fails the Verhoeven poker-face test whereby the blankness of the expression (Verhoeven’s refusal to admit his satire explicitly) refracts many potential tonal and narrative realities based on the audience’s inclination. In comparison, Deadpool 2 is quite clear that it aspires to be both a serious superhero film and a satire of one, a Janus-face rather than Verhoeven’s delicious death-mask that obfuscates emotions rather than inviting them. Continue reading