Triple Threat (Jurassic Park III, 2001)

Jurassic_Park_III_PosterAlan Grant and his assistant Billy are hired by a rich couple to give them a tour of the island from the second film. Grant discovers that instead of just flying low over the island, his hosts plan to land on the island.

It turns out that the couple are actually there to find their son who disappeared on a trip with his mother and her boyfriend. When they are attacked by a new large dinosaur, they find themselves on the run and trying to figure out their way off the island.

This film does not really try anything new. It set the story on an island again. They take refuge in run down empty buildings. They narrowly escape dinosaurs. Somebody’s greed gets them in trouble.

Steven Spielberg did not return to direct the third Jurassic Park film, instead it was directed by Joe Johnston (the Rocketeer and Captain America). Johnston is a good director, but the film really lacks the Spielberg touch. In addition, the dinosaurs, while mostly looking find, can at times look a bit stiff. Again, the film makes heavy use of raptors. The new dinosaurs are pretty interesting visually.

The film has a good cast, but some of the rather cliched storylines simply feel tired. This is especially true of the divorced couple rekindling their love.  The adventure brings them closer together, suggesting they will recommit to each other. But this ignores the fact that Leoni’s character discovers her boyfriend was eaten by dinosaurs hours earlier.

While Jurassic Park III is passable entertainment, it is easily the weakest entry in the entire franchise (in my opinion, anyways).

It’s a Jungle Out There (Jumanji, 1995)

Jumanji_1995_PosterA tale of standing up to your fears via games, Jumanji tells the adventurous tale of Alan Parrish, a bullied young man with a domineering father, who finds the magical game.  He starts a game with his friend Sarah, but before she can role the dice, he disappears into the game and the room fills with bats.  Sarah runs away and the film leaps ahead twenty six years.

Judy and Peter Shepherd move into the Parrish house with their aunt.  They discover the game and free Alan.  But the game is not over, as the house and soon the neighborhood start to fill with jungle creatures.  And to top it off, there is the hunter Van Pelt, who is chasing after Alan.

They track down the grown up Sarah and coerce her into helping finish the game, all while their world gets turned more and more upside down. Their only hope to set things back to normal is to finish the game.

Williams is fun as the grown Alan Parrish, and the film sets him up as a kid in need of a reality check.  David Alan Grier plays an employee of Alan’s father who is fired because he covers for a screwup of Alan’s at his father’s factory.  It is not that Alan lacks reasons to be a bit selfish and bitter.  But the film shows he needs to grow. In an interesting choice, the villain Van Pelt (an evil big game hunter within the Jumanji game) is played by Jonathan Hyde, who also plays Alan’s father.  He actually brings warmth to Alan’s stern father towards the end, allowing the viewer to see why Alan still loves him.  Part of that is played out when the adult Alan learns his father actually pretty much gave up on everything else in the effort to find his son.

Jumanji is dragged down a bit by it’s dated 1990’s digital effects, most distracting in the digital monkeys. However, this is still a pretty enjoyable and light film.

 

 

Marvel Begins (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011)

Captain-America-First-Avenger-PosterCaptain America was a hotly debated character for the Marvel Films.  Could a character so tied to American Nationalism be a hero the world loved?  Joe Johnston (who directed Disney’s fun comic book movie the Rocketeer 20 years earlier) was brought in and found a way to make that answer be yes.  Among the choices made were to set the film in World War 2, rather than begin in Present day.  Chris Evans was hired on to play Steve Rogers.  This was not his first foray into a Marvel Property, He was Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) in the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four Films.  He was also one of the Evil Exes in Edgar Wright’s adaption of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels.

The film quickly establishes Steve Rogers as heroic, in spite of his physical weakness.  He will take a beating.  Standing up for him is his buddy ‘Bucky’ Barnes.  This is one of the film’s biggest deviations.  In the comics, Bucky was a teen sidekick to Captain America.  The filmmakers (rightly) realized that may not play so well.  And there is a twist to having Bucky go from Steve’s savior to needing saving by Steve.  Steve’s multiple rejections by the military catch the attention of a part of our military that is looking for someone to be a part of an experiment.  While many try, scrawny Steve Rogers keeps managing to stand out, not by his physical prowess, but by ingenuity.  This catches the eye of British officer Peggy Carter.

One of the things the movie does so well is that they avoid tropes.  Peggy and Steve are smitten before his transformation.  She is impressed by who he is, not what he is.  It would have been easy to make her yet another obstacle for her to notice only after he is physically altered.  And yet, due to a terror incident that destroys the remaining Super Soldier serum, Steve is still unable to see combat.  Instead, he is reduced to a promoter of War Bonds and propaganda.

Evans really sells Roger’s frustration and even feelings of humiliation.  But while on a USO tour, he ends up making a big save, convincing the military they need him.  This leads to crossing paths with the Red Skull, who is determined to rule the world through Hydra.  Hydra begins as an arm of the Nazis, but has it’s own goals.

The film ultimately hangs on Evans to sell the character of Captain America, and boy does he sell it.  He comes off as kind, dedicated to justice and most of all, simply heroic.  He is supported but a great cast of actors.  Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as Colonel Phillips.  Hugo Weaving got one of the better villain roles, since he gets to simply be Nazi Evil Incarnate.  The movie makes the choice to introduce the Howling Commandos (Sans Nick Fury) as the team that works with Cap.  They are an entertaining bunch.

But the standout is Haley Atwell.  She is more than Cap’s love interest.  She is a tough and clever military officer.  But at the same time?  She and Evans have a real solid chemistry, and when the film reaches it’s inevitable conclusion, their exchange (certain Steve is heading to his death) is heartbreaking.

Johnston gives us a terrific film that stands on it’s own, even if part of it’s purpose is to set up the first Avengers film.

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