Monday, June 20, 2022

Film Reviews: The Reboot-quels rule the Multiplexes with “Lightyear,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion”

Lightyear (c) Disney / Pixar

Film Review: Lightyear 
In Cinemas 

Among the many franchise “Hail Mary” shots the Big Studios are releasing to help them retain their box office dominance, the oddest and maybe the most enjoyable one, is Disney/Pixar’s “Lightyear” which doesn’t focus on the famous toy that Andy loved in “Toy Story,” but the movie character that toy is based on, now voiced by Chris Evans (in total Captain America mode). How Andy watched “Lightyear” and didn’t immediately want a SOX toy is beyond me, since that robotic cat is the standout character in this first Pixar movie to make it to cinemas since 2020’s “Onward.” I enjoyed “Lightyear” enough, most likely because the references to “Toy Story” were minimal. Sure, there are callback lines, and if you were wondering if the big villain from “Toy Story 2” and the “Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster” attraction at the Disney Parks makes an appearance, he sure does, along with a neat backstory and a believable motive. Essentially, this film shares more DNA with “Interstellar” and “Lost in Space” than “Toy Story,” and because of that, “Lightyear” is a pretty good summer movie but, alas, only a subpar Pixar one. The big heart at the center of the most recent Pixar films (“Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red”), which went straight to Disney+ because of the pandemic, is largely absent here, even with the inclusion of the much-discussed gay relationship (kiss included) in essentially a dialogue free montage. Buzz does retain his iconic motto of “To Infinity, and Beyond,” but “Lightyear” remains stagnantly routine. 

Top Gun: Maverick (c) Paramount Pictures

Film Review: Top Gun: Maverick 
In Cinemas 

There are times in “Top Gun: Maverick” when director Joseph Kosinski so seamlessly incorporates “Top Gun” mythos moments from Tony Scott’s 1986 original that I was confused whether I was seeing the original or a homage. When Maverick races a jet with his motorcycle on the runway: is that real or Memorex? I am mystified by the raves this sequel received after its splashy opening at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Sure, there are fun action sequences and Cruise is still a charismatic movie star, even if his moments in the shirtless beach game (this time two ball football instead of volleyball) are minimal compared to the time given to Miles Teller as Rooster (son of Anthony Edwards’ Goose) and especially Glen Powell’s physically sculpted Hangman. But the movie’s so clichéd that I only perked up whenever Jennifer Connolly showed up as Maverick’s former love interest Penny, just for a testosterone break. And if you’re wondering: except for a quick flashback cameo, the Kelly McGillis erasure is mostly complete. Despite the quick editing, there’s an action sequence in the middle of the film in which most of the characters are watching on radar what we the audience are seeing on screen; big shout-outs to the cast for looking so invested in what is essentially a Twitch of someone playing Asteroids. The film’s big mission is so similar to the Death Star run from “Star Wars” that it even unironically quotes a line from Yoda and includes a predictable Han Solo moment. And while it great to see more diversity here, I didn’t even realize “The Good Place’s” Manny Jacinto was one of the few Asian faces in the Top Gun class because of his minimal screen time. Thankfully, we finally get real emotions in the scene Tom Cruise has with Val Kilmer’s Iceman, who is now the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Maverick’s boss. Suddenly we have a continuation of a story instead of a rehash of one. 

Jurassic World Dominion (c) Universal Pictures

Film Review: Jurassic World Dominion 
In Cinemas 

The “Jurassic Park” cinematic universe has gone so off the rails that the sight of dinosaurs that created so much wonder in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original film is barely even given a cursory nod here. Dinosaurs, like Shake Shack, are everywhere now, so what’s the big deal? The filmmakers seem uninterested in our co-habitation and instead focused more on a swarm of Jurassic locusts; I thought I was instead watching a sequel to “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (a deep locust cut but look it up). Also, "Locust Inferno" is the worst disco song...ever.  Oddly, director Colin Trevorrow and the screenwriters doubled down with their continuation of the Maisie Lockwood plot from “Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom” which could have easily been dropped and forgotten. But, no, this genetic clone (Isabella Sermon) and the aforementioned locusts are now the driving forces of the franchise that somehow finally unites the “Jurassic Park” crew of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum with the “Jurassic World” duo of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. For the first half of the film, the plot involving the “Park” trio wins hands down, mostly because of nostalgia, meanwhile in the “World” storyline, I kept wondering how Pratt’s dinosaur-whispering Owen had not already had his hand bitten off given his attempting his calming hand trick with every creature he meets. I was pretty bored throughout the movie, but I have to admit, when the worlds collide, it was fun seeing Dern and Howard share some dinosaur whupping scenes together, which technically pass the Bechtel test. I also liked an earlier, James Bond-inspired chase sequence in Malta in which the bad gal (play smoothly by Dichen Lachman) has weaponized-dinosaurs at her disposal. “No Time to Dinosaur,” perhaps?

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