Category Archives: Monster Films

Pacific Rim Uprising (2018): The Great Old With the Bland New

I’m a fan of the “Pacific Rim” universe. I also think the last film was perfect for what it was, and didn’t need a sequel. Now that a sequel has been made… I enjoyed it. But, this is a very flawed film brought down by child actors that can’t act; contrasted with some beautiful action, expansion of the “Pacific Rim” universe in intriguing ways and solid leads. I wouldn’t call it good, but if you are looking for an escape, my thoughts are, it is worth checking out.

This was a film that had a lot of people involved in its creation, with Steven S. DeKnight directing the film and being one of the 4 writers. Guillermo del Toro and John Boyega were producers, along with 5 other people. On paper, this looks like a film designed by committee.

The story picks up 10 years after the end of the first film. Jake Pentecost (Stacker Pentecost’s son, played by John Boyega) is living as a scavenger until he is picked up, and forced back into being a Jaeger Ranger. He must train new recruits as the world prepares for the return of Kaiju. All is not as it appears to be, though, as a new drone program is implemented, and a mysterious Jaeger arrives. The new Jaeger starts attacking people rather than protecting them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I love this universe. Since middle school I’ve been a fan of monsters and mechs. The world del Toro realized is so rich in character and mythology. The mythology this time around doesn’t disappoint. We get solid world building, as we learn more about the Kaiju, The Precursors, and how humanity has changed after the Battle of the Breach that ended the first film.

The Jaegers and Kaiju – The Jaegers and Kaiju look great, as always, and the introduction of drones, which are later shown to be Jaeger/Kaiju hybrids, are a treat that add a lot the action. These two things, along with del Toro, are what drew me to the first film, and it was the mechs and monsters that kept my interest through the times where this film fell short. As both their creative designs and action scenes brought to life the world when the characters weren’t up to it.

Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert – The main character drama is between Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert. Jake is the party boy who becomes responsible after facing his trauma. Nate is the one who has to trust Jake, once again, if they are going win. Boyega’s charisma continues to make his character intriguing, even if the script doesn’t always help. Nate Lambert is a battle hardened veteran who was shaped by the war in such a way, he has trouble connecting to people. It gives him a level of mystery, as if he is holding onto some past trauma, which gives him a way to relate to Jake. It is their core relationship that kept the film going for me, as each of them grew over the course of the film, and it was a genuine challenge for them learning to trust one another.

Newt and the Kaiju – The main antagonist is Newt, who is being controlled by The Precursors, that also control the Kaiju. We discover he kept the Kaiju brain at the end of the last film, and it has corrupted him. Charlie Day hams the hell out of it, and is enjoyable to watch in his madness. He nearly wins on multiple occasions, and I can’t wait to see where they take his story.

Dr. Hermann and Liwen Shao – The two support characters who really drive the story are Dr. Hermann (he was around in the first film too), and Liwen Shao, owner of the drone program. Together they are able to save the world from the Kaiju, as each of their skills complement the surviving Jaegers and help them defeat the Giant Kaiju in its final assault on Tokyo. Which felt like a brilliant salute to all the mech and monster films that made this genre possible.

The Cons:

The New Recruits – These kids can’t act. I didn’t care about their story, each line of dialogue felt forced, and fake. These kids made the film feel like an episode of Power Rangers. If I had to describe them…it’d be difficult. We are shown how each of them are (the nervous one, the angry one, the inventor), but there isn’t enough there for them to be compelling. They brought the film down, and even making one of them a main character, in the inventor Amara, wasn’t enough to make me care about their story. 

The Death of Mako Mori – Mako Mori deserved better. She is killed by a rogue Jaeger, and it ends up being anti-climatic. She already existed primarily to give us plot (a disservice to the character), and even her great scenes with Boyega can’t change the fact that her death wasn’t dying in a fight against the monsters…it was in a copter crash. She never got that “moment of awesome” Stacker got, and there was so much more development she could have received with the re-establishing her relationship with Jake. Besides the child actors this was the worst part of the film.

Love Interest Woman – There is a woman named Jewel. Both Jake and Nate have a crush on her. She is an object in a contrived love triangle object. I couldn’t tell you her personality, her aims, or what she wants. She exists purely as “love interest girl” and is the worst part of the script. She wasn’t needed.

In the end, what holds up this film and keeps it from sucking are: the old characters and those tied to the old characters from the first film, Newt and Hermann were wonderful, Pentecost and Lambert had a great relationship, and Liwen Shao (the new character) shakes the story up in ways that only enrich this universe. I loved her character arc, and hope that she is a major part if they make a third film. This is a film that largely exists because of success in the international box office, specifically China. In the end I’m glad it was made.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

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Colossal (2017): An Amazing Exploration of Monsters as Metaphor

     “Colossal” is an amazing film. This is a film that has giant monsters, explores ideas of addiction and abuse through use of the monsters and has a great script and actors to go along with it. Hathaway is empathetic but also monstrous at times and Sudeikis’s Oscar is this constant threat through the film that lends power to the narrative.  All this is explored masterfully by Sedakis and Hathaway and Vigalondo’s script is so tight that it flows from scene to scene in exploring each scene and never feels bogged down with McCeary’s music to help better express these themes. I’m a fan of Monster and Kaiju films and this is my favorite type of these films since “Pacific Rim.”

     The film was directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo and produced by Nicolas Chartier, Zev Foreman, Dominac Rustam, Nahikari Ipiña and Shawn Williamson.

      The story involves Gloria (Anne Hathaway) getting kicked out of her boyfriend’s apartment in New York after her life of drinking and joblessness has come to a breaking point. Having nowhere to go she returns to her childhood home where her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) gets her a job at his bar. She soon realizes that the recent monster attacks in Seoul are from her as everytime she enters a playground the monster appears. From here she must deal with the consequences of becoming the monster while facing addiction and abuse.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is powerful as the idea of someone controlling a monster when they enter a certain area is really neat as it allows for human psyche to be explored. The monster works as metaphor and lends power to the themes of addiction, abuse and going from selfish to selfless.

An Exploration of Abuse and Recovery – The main arc is Gloria getting over her alcohol addiction when she’s kicked out of her apartment in NY and returns to her childhood home where she reconnects with a childhood friend who starts gas-lighting her (as he does his other friends). It comes to a head when she realizes that in the park she becomes a monster and begins getting her life back on track when she realizes her drinking and walking through the park is killing people. As she realizes how toxic her boss is she tries to leave but he finds that he becomes a giant robot in South Korea so begins destroying Seoul or threatening too if she leaves the town. At this point she’s over her addiction and now it it getting rid of an abuser which she does by leaving to South Korea and in doing her Monster appears in the small town and throws him away, ending his threat and in turn she finally has freedom as she has cut out the addiction and stopped the abuse.

 Okay: The Location of the Monsters – Narratively it honestly would have made more sense for the Monsters to be fighting in NY since that is where Gloria leaves from when she is causing a lot of damage to those around her when she leaves. Because the location is South Korea we don’t get the perspectives of any of the South Koreans unlike traditional Kaiju movies where the people in the location are the ones who drive the plot and story. It was still okay as her going to South Korea was powerful and underspoken, no one knew she was the Monster so to the people of it was very much it’s own thing (she never gets credit for being the monster outside of her small friend group), a being in and of itself not being controlled but acting as a protector. If she’d been Korean it would have made more sense that the Monster was located there…instead her only connection is a school project to honor South Korea where her and Oscar get their powers. Again, it wasn’t bad but it still could have been better. She’s from NY so put the Monsters in NY or have her be Korean so we can get the perspective of the people there outside of news reports…and so it makes what is happening even more personal.

     As I said before, this is the best monster film I’ve watched since “Pacific Rim.” This is a film that is intelligent, explores big ideas and has really rich and flawed characters. The villain feels like a threat and someone you’d meet in real life and even my one issue with film is more of a nitpick, which really comes with being a critic. Go and check this film out if you have the chance. I saw it at Salem Cinema, the indie art house in my town, so that is probably your best bet for catching it…though if it becomes popular it will no doubt get the wider release it deserves. I highly recommend this film and hope we see more smart films like this in the future as this is easily one of my favorite films to come out this year.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Good Casting Keeps This Film at Level but the Film Never Reaches Great

   This was the first official “King Kong” movie I’ve ever watched. My familiarity with this genre as far a giant ape interacting humans was only the remake of “Mighty Joe Young” that Disney made back in the 90’s, though culturally I’ve always been familiar with the great ape and the tropes that usually surround his genre. Tropes that I find troublesome that this film does a good job at not using (presentation of islanders as Cannibals ready to sacrifice visitors and of course Kong being attracted to a human lady). Avoiding these tropes gave the film strength, though it suffers from other issues that keep it from reaching greatness.

    The film was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, and produced by Jon Jashni, Alex Garcia, Thomas Tull and Mary Parent.

    The story takes place at the end of the Vietnam War as Bill (John Goodman) wants to get his organization Monarch (organization that researches monsters and was in the last American “Godzilla” movie) to Skull Island while U.S. Forces are still near the Island. He gets the approval is joined by a tracker named James (Tom Hiddleson) an anti-war photographer Mason (Brie Larson) and troops lead by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who when they all reach Island realizes what information Bill was holding back and that Kong is not the worst threat on the Island.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! It is our world but with untouchable islands, monsters underneath the ground and giant creatures that feel complicated emotions and are more complex than us at times.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and really captures the beauty and danger of “Skull Island.” This movie has a lot of color, which is a nice change of pace from WB’s coloring everything in drab and grey (Hell the DC Cinematic Universe). This helped give the story more life when the dialogue wasn’t cutting it.

Colonel Packard – Samuel L. Jackson’s character is very much a Captain Ahab as he is overwhelmed by what he thinks the war took from him (the U.S. leaving Vietnam he took to be his own failure) and in turn he is itching for a fight. We see him become obsessed with taking out Kong after his men die when they bombing Kong’s Island. It finally ends with one of his men turning on him as his care for them lead to his obsession with killing Kong and that being all that mattered. Jackson truly is remarkable in the world.

Hank Marlow – John C. Reilly plays a half-mad pilot from World War 2 who made friends with the Japanese pilot who crashed on the island with him and with the people in the tribe. He is a fun character and we see him facing his fear of the Skullcrawlers and in the end he gets to meet his wife and son back in America. I enjoyed his arc and really enjoyed how this role showed just how great Reilly’s range is.

Kong – Kong is humanized in this! In the film he protects the tribe from the Skullcrawlers who come from below. Kong is the last of his kind and we see him judge humans based off how they treat him. There is a lot of great emotion shown in his eyes on a few different scenes and it is wonderful when we see him team up with the heroes to take out the gaint Skullcrawler.

Okay: The Characters – This is an ensemble cast and because of it being an ensemble cast I never felt that we got to know anyone outside of 2 characters. Mason and James tell us a lot about themselves, but we never see it. They are ciphers that we can put ourselves into but that doesn’t make good character. Goodman’s character gets some exploration too but he ceases to do anything once he reaches Skull Island. His tory is taken over by Colonel Packard. The other two members of Monarch don’t get any exploration at all and are just kind of there. Most of the characters die randomly as well.

The Tribe – The tribe is non-verbal and worships Kong. I like how they are presented in that they aren’t the usual cannibals that these films sadly take the path of doing and they are still complicated as in you mess up their sacred areas, they will kill you. I didn’t put them as a pro only because they exist as one unit when they should have been more explored as individuals.

The Cons: The Sullcrawlers – Like the villains in the new American “Godzilla,” these guys are kind of lame. They are giant two legged lizards that eat and kill anything. They are monsters but their design isn’t memorable or unique and they never felt like a giant threat. Colonel Packard felt like a larger threat than these guys ever were.

Structure is a Mess – At first it looks like Goodman’s Bill is the main character, than he gets killed off and the film tries to make Mason and James the main characters, but that never works because they aren’t written fully formed so minor characters like Reilly’s Hank or antagonists like Packard take over the weight which leaves the structure imbalanced. The ending is also left open as we see that the U.S. army clearly sees Kong when he screams to them. This was stupid given that the film was over and they should have just returned home. In that way I think Franchise management is a big part of what ruined the structure. We had to know we’d see Kong later (that didn’t need to be shown) and in doing so editing the script or better exploring a main character fell to the wayside.

   In the end I still enjoyed this movie enough to call it a good B movie. It isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. It is well cast though which fills in some of the lack of character development as both Hiddleson and Larson have great charisma in their roles, which keeps them from becoming a con. I also enjoyed the idea of Kong as a protector and how fantasy the movie felt with all the giant monsters living under the ground (“Pacific Rim” style almost). I’m curious to see what else happens in this universe and after this film, I may have to give the other “King Kong” films a chance.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Jurassic World (2015): Best Characters Wasted and Not Enough Time With Dinosaurs

Jurassic World

      I’m glad I’m looking back at this Franchise with new eyes because the big special effects and somewhat all star cast could not made this film a good one for me. It is an enjoyable film to say the least, but as far as Monster Films or Action Films go, there wasn’t enough time with a lot of the characters and creatures to be fully invested in it. It had some great moments of action to be sure, and anytime the raptors were present the film soured, but the human characters were not enough to carry this film beyond anything more than a forgettable summer flick.

     The film was directed by Colin Trevorrow who was one of the co-writers along with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver wrote the original story and the world was based off the series by Michael Crichton. The Producers were Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley.

   The story takes place 22 years after the original with the Jurassic World as a now flourishing attraction. This has lead to creating more Dinosaurs and the creation of Indominus Rex, a Hybrid made to bring money. When Idominus escapes it is up to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) the raptor handler, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to stop it and save her nephews who have gone off road as the Park is shutting down and going into lockdown due to Indominus’s breakout.

The Pros: Simon Masrani – I wish the movie had been all about this guy. Masrani is the owner of the Jurassic World and does everything himself. He feels like a fully fleshed out character as he seeks to carry on Hammond’s legacy of teaching people humility and feeling them with wonder. In the end his trying to keep the breakout secret leads to him getting killed though when Indominus releases the dinosaurs from the aviary. There was not enough time with this guy. I would have watched the film of how he came to own the park.

Dr. Henry Wu – This scientist who makes a deal with the military is a pretty interesting guy. He is almost mad scientist like but is honest about what he is doing and the fact that all the dinosaurs in the park are hybrids in one degree or another…they aren’t direct Clones so they don’t even look how they would have looked originally. He is the practical to Masrani’s idealism and if the film had been between these two men it would have been great. B.D. Wong does a great job in the role, and he is reprising his role from “Jurassic Park” where he was one of Hammond’s scientists.

The Velociraptors – The Velociraptors are awesome! Especially Blue who has a lot of personality and is rebelling against Pratt’s control the entire time, though he does come through in the end to protect the humans when Indominus loses control over them briefly, but not before he and his pack kill a lot of soldiers.

Indominus Rex – Indominus feels like a Kaiju or Monster out of any classic monster film. It reeks havoc and is only defeated after a big battle and where it has already one. It is cool we get the psychology of it too as it is isolated and alone for it’s entire life so it is only reactive as all it has known is a cage. It was a great enemy too and it takes a pack of raptors, a tyrannosaurs Rex and all our heroes to finally defeat with some help from an aquatic Mosasauras.

Okay: The Tyrannosaurs Rex – It appears briefly at the end to fight when it released from it’s cage but that is about it. It never felt like a threat the way it usually has in film and turning it into a protector just didn’t work as it had no reason to fight Indominus. It was cool seeing it in action with it’s tiny arms though, it just should have been made relevant much earlier. It felt like fan service.

Okay/Con: Claire and Owen – These two are just archetypes and don’t feel like fully fleshed out characters. They are both jerks who come to see people outside themselves though. So they have something of an arc, but they were not enough to carry the film and even the amazing actors who played them couldn’t save the script.

The Cons: The Kids – The kids are annoying. They are meant to be Spielbergian but the older kid is just crushing on girls when he is away from his girlfriend and the little kid mostly cries and quotes facts. They feel realer than some kids in film but they still feel like a plot device so that Claire and Owen have to save the day, and not characters.

The Military – They are just there to take advantage of the dinosaurs and to make them weaponized. They are wasted and we don’t have any good military characters, which is a shame as they play such a prominent role in the film.

   This was an alright film. I was bored in a few places largely due to the human characters and how they were written, but most scenes with the dinosaurs…especially the Raptors and Indominus were great action. If we’d gotten that sooner and focused on Dr. Wu and the CEO Masrani it could have been great as they posed moral questions and perspectives that never fully got explored. If you are looking for a fun summer blockbuster you will probably enjoy this, though in my personal opinion you’d be better with “Fury Road” or “Inside Out” if you want something much greater than this forgettable enjoyable flick.

Final Score: 7 / 10

“Jurassic Park Franchise” Reviews

Jurassic Park Series

    Over the next few weeks I will be reviewing the “Jurassic Park Franchise.” This is series I have not watched for a long time, but as someone who has loved dinosaurs since I was a little kid and used to memorize their names…I do have fond memories of “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World.”

      The fact that these great creatures lived millions of years ago and that we are discovering more about them through what they ate, what species existed and how many evolved into the species of the world today is fascinating. Of course the series isn’t as scientifically accurate on portraying how Dinosaurs look, but it sure does capture the wonder of these animals.

     The series was born out of the imagination of Michael Crichton who wrote the books which gave birth to the Franchise that was first spearheaded by Steven Spielberg. It was the first film that helped put Steven Spielberg on the cinema map, especially due to how he revolutionized practical special effects at the time.

    These films are also at their core monster films, where the characters may not have all that much depth as they are reacting to larger lizards (Dinosaurs) that are causing destruction and must outsmart them in order to defeat them and survive.

    For my approach to the Franchise. I’m going to be starting with “Jurassic World” and ending with “Jurassic Park” and after doing a rating of the Franchise as it exists now from the Worst to Best.

   Here goes the adventure and hopefully a recapturing of the wonder and awesomeness that are dinosaurs.