Summer Fun: One good, one medium, and one piece of dreck

    Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2, a financial success and the longest animated feature film in history, is a good argument for not popping out a sequel right after the success of the first film. Fortunately, this film is more like a continuation than a sequel, and remakes rather than recycles the best parts of the first film. Emphases switch, focusing on Elastigirl rather than Mr. Incredible, and giving Jack-Jack a slowly developing role that delights with each revelation of his budding powers.

It hasn’t quite the edge of the first, with that film’s still politically incorrect exchange of Elastigirl saying “Everyone is special, Dash,” with Dash’s response of “That’s just another way of saying no one is,” and with the film’s blatant encouragement of viewing those with certain gifts as special. It also contained a blistering—and comic—send-up of the darkest aspects of insurance companies that still stings today. There are political asides in the new film that connect its early-1960s world with today, but aside from a “frustration with-new-math” thread that runs through the film, socio-political issues are softly alluded to in isolated moments rather than landing hard or being a part of a underlying theme.

The big switch of putting Mr. Incredible in the house and Elastigirl out battling the bad guys could either be seen as prescient, being an idea more than a decade old, or as a nearly cliché gender switch. There was enough strength in her character in the first film, and enough male buffoonery for his, however, to make this switch believable and a little less forced.

The film is funny, beautifully rendered (apart from the light sequence that theaters are warning those susceptible to seizures about), and builds on rather than repeats the structural and personal elements of the first film. It can’t have the pizzazz of the first film, whose strength was its originality combined with warm support for the traditional nuclear family. It also has a few too many action sequences that recall too many Marvel and DC moments. But it has its well-thought-out joys. Besides, any film that properly uses the word “conflates” as part of an impassioned exchange will always have a warm spot in my heart.

 .   Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Then there is Jurassic World: Fallen World, which continues the argument of not rushing out sequels. Unlike Incredibles 2, this film gets most of the sequel aspects wrong. It retains the two leads, a good idea of course, as well as an always-bizarre appearance from Jeff Goldblum. But the film doesn’t do anything new, or even interesting, with the characters. It introduces some new ones, but only two are part of the central team, and they each threaten to be more of a stock than a real character throughout the movie. The movie bad guys signal their nefariousness a mile away, or appear full-blown wicked upon arrival, neither of which provides depth or surprise.

Figuring out how to make the sequel fresh was apparently too much for the creators. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl had a believable switch in Incredibles 2. Here the switch is to make the dangerous creatures the object of pity and concern, a concept which is mangled and trampled upon as much as a stomping dino in a parking lot, especially at the confusing and wretched end of the film.

The film doesn’t know how to use the previous film’s strengths to its advantage. There is one dramatic dino-roar against an equally dramatic background, recalling earlier such images. But then we see it at least two more times. The first film in the series had us discover, along with the movie’s characters, the beauty of seeing these creatures for the first time, while also clearly admiring the special effects behind their creation. Here someone just talks about it, and the film denies us our own experience of the wonder of these beasts. It seems as if there were a series of boxes that needed to be ticked, and what we see is the compilation of those ticked boxes—the person who seems to escape but doesn’t! The sea monster that brings about a surprise death. The rolling ball. The big bad business guy (a cliché which Incredibles 2 actually turned on its head).

The only new character outside “the team” that we could care about is [spoiler alerts] a little girl who is woefully misused. She’s the One We Care About, because she’s young, cute, and in something of a tough position. But then she becomes something of a mystery, which [spoiler alert again] which is under-addressed and which coulda/shoulda become a central part of the film (which may well have made It stronger), but which is revealed and then undeveloped in the lamest manner possible. Finally, in something of a unexpected but welcome move at the end, the temporary surprise turns in a forehead-whacking moment that nearly drains the character of almost all of our built-up sympathies.

And the editing! What coulda/shoulda been seamless action sequences are divided up into separate pieces of film where the characters seem to be positioned in place and then told “Wait…wait…go!”—normal filming techniques. But then those pieces were put together with little respect for the flow of the action. Certainly normal people don’t wait so long before running away! A film like this needs all the believability that it can get, and film technique shouldn’t contribute to the problem.

The ending of the film only makes sense as a set-up for a sequel. Sigh. Bored.

   Rampage

This is easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. (If you’re never heard of it, count your blessings, and considered yourself warned—it’s coming out on video soon.) It looks bad, has an awful script, is consistently badly acted, and is completely unbelievable, even for its genre. Dwayne Johnson is bland, Oscar-nominated Naomie Harris is bland and wasted, and Malin Akerman is truly awful. (I don’t understand how she has a career, as the only palatable performance I’ve seen her in is Todd Strauss-Schulson’s underseen The Final Girls.)

ToWhy did I see such an awful movie? I was with my brother, a film-lover, as he was recuperating from a painful medical procedure, and we saw three movies in three days to get him distracted. We saw a couple of good ones, and then thought this would be dumb fun. We were half right. But we decided to redeem it in our memories by harking back to an infinitely better film—Casablanca. From now on, “We’ll always have Rampage”!

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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