2015 Mid-Summer Blockbuster Review

By Hutton Jackson
A&E and Online Editor

Blockbuster Poster

This summer has been filled with plenty of movies claiming to be the “blockbuster of the summer.” With many of the big releases already in theaters, The Minstrel wants to help you decide which films to see, and which to skip.

Jurassic World

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Directed by Colin Trevorrow, Jurassic World marks the return to the world of dinosaurs Steven Spielberg brought to life 22 years ago.

The film features the original park reopened as “Jurassic World” and in the film’s timeline, the park has been operating successfully for 10 years. In order to keep visitor attendance from decreasing, park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) tasks head geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) with creating a genetically spliced dinosaur. However, as one may know from the first three films, things don’t ever go as planned, and Claire must enlist the help of raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to help her and her nephews survive the terrors of the park.

With previous sequels featuring small groups returning to the other island, the logical step was to return to the original island and increase the stakes. The result is a thrilling homage to the original, as well as a unique take on the genre. Trevorrow is able to magnificently capture the sense of wonder audiences felt with seeing the first film and provides audiences with the nostalgia of Jurassic Park through many references and tributes. These references never come across as forced and tie in greatly with the overall plot.

One of the other reasons the film works so well are the lead actors Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Pratt, known for many of his comedic roles, proves that he has what it takes to be the next great action star. Although he arguably got to prove this in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, his role in Jurassic World is much more serious, further proving his range as an actor. Howard’s chemistry with Pratt is also one of the many things that works well in the film.

One criticism viewers may have is that the film at the end deviates from its sci-fi horror roots to become more of an over-the-top action film. Yet, the spectacle of seeing the dinosaurs and the mayhem they cause is still present. Overall, Jurassic World is an extremely enjoyable film, and fans of the original especially should relish the return to the series’ roots.

Jurassic World is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

I give this movie an 8/10.

S.H.A.R.K. Grade

(Rates on a scale of 1-5, how much Suspense, Humor, Action, Romance, and Kid-friendly material is in the movie.)

1- None to Very Little, 2- Little, 3- Average, 4- Much, 5- Very much

S 5     H 2    A 3     R 3    K 2

 

Terminator: Genisys

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Terminator: Genisys, the fifth installment in the series, features the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once again fulfills the line he famously utters in previous films: “I’ll be back.”

Terminator: Genisys is another film that seeks to return to its roots and pay homage to the two more popular films in the series The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney star as the original characters Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese from The Terminator. The story ignores the events of the less popular Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation and begins with the future events that kick off the original film, with Kyle Reese sent back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor. However, when Reese arrives he doesn’t find a helpless Sarah like in the first, but a skilled Sarah aware of her future and accompanied by an older T-800 terminator she calls “Pops” (Arnold Schwarzenegger). This kicks off a series of events that eventually lead to massive changes to the series timeline.

While the film does have some cool references to the original early in the film, including some shot-for-shot remakes of scenes, the changes to the original timeline end up undermining the previous installments. Likewise, while it is always going to be difficult to portray time travel in films, the rules of time travel the originals established seem to be often ignored and only used when it benefits the plot. The result is a messy story with numerous plot holes and head-scratching decisions by the characters.

The acting from the film’s stars is overall terrible. Jai Courtney proves once again that he doesn’t have the charisma to be a leading man and brings nothing interesting or memorable to his character, Kyle Reese. Nothing of his portrayal harkens back to Michael Biehn’s performance, and Courtney doesn’t even seem to care throughout most of the film. While Emilia Clarke physically looks identical to original Sarah Connor actress Linda Hamilton, her acting is also weak. Jason Clarke is one-dimensional as John Connor and his talents are for the most part wasted. Part of the poor performances can be blamed on awful dialogue.

The best part of the film is arguably seeing Schwarzenegger’s Terminator back in action, yet the character’s presence in the film is never fully explained and is for the most part only present to further the plot and directly provide answers to some of the story’s most absurd questions. Despite this, it is exciting to see an old Arnold back in action.

Overall, Terminator Genisys fails to live up to its potential and is another step in the wrong direction for the franchise. Hopefully, the film finally ends the cycle of poor attempts to recapture the success of the first two films because at this point, each new installment seems to further ruin the legacy of James Cameron’s originals.

Terminator: Genisys is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language.

I give this movie a 3.5/10.

S.H.A.R.K. Grade

(Rates on a scale of 1-5, how much Suspense, Humor, Action, Romance, and Kid-friendly material is in the movie)

1- None to Very Little, 2- Little, 3- Average, 4- Much, 5- Very much

S 4     H 2    A 5     R 3    K 2

 

Minions

Photo courtesy of Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/codex41/9725166177
Photo courtesy of Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/codex41/9725166177

After releasing the widely successful Despicable Me films, Illumination Entertainment decided to release a prequel featuring the popular bumbling yellow creatures.

The film begins with a history of the minions leading up to their search for a new master in the 1960’s. Longing for a new villain to serve, three minions, Kevin, Bob and Stuart, embark on a journey to Ney York City. While there, they discover that all the world’s villains meet every year at Villain Con in Orlando, Fla. At Villain Con, the minions discover Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), a criminal mastermind who’s bent on stealing the Queen of England’s crown.

The minions and their constant shenanigans are on full display in this film and the film features plenty of laughs. Those who enjoyed watching the minions in the first two Despicable Me films will be undoubtedly laughing from start from finish in this film. The story itself is fairly simple, and some of the more memorable scenes are the minions’ interactions with various icons from the 1960’s such as Queen Elizabeth. In addition to the many pop culture references is a soundtrack that features bands such as The Who, The Beatles and The Kinks, making the movie a must see for any 60’s music fan.

Viewers who watch closely are also sure to catch several references to the previous films throughout and will be pleased by a special appearance from a familiar villain. In the end Minions is a fairly straightforward film about everyone’s favorite yellow henchmen that is sure to make you laugh all the way through.

Minions is rated PG for action and rude humor.

I give this movie a 7/10.

S.H.A.R.K. Grade

(Rates on a scale of 1-5, how much Suspense, Humor, Action, Romance, and Kid-friendly material is in the movie)

1- None to Very Little, 2- Little, 3- Average, 4- Much, 5- Very much

S 2     H 5    A 3     R 1    K 5

 

Ant-man

Photo courtesy of Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121483302@N02/14335315143
Photo courtesy of Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121483302@N02/14335315143

Marvel ends its second phase of films with one of its riskiest projects starring Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd. Despite early production troubles and various director and casting changes, Ant-man manages to be one of Marvel’s funniest films to date.

One of the things Ant-man successfully does is avoid taking itself seriously, which is essential when making a film based on a superhero who can shrink and communicate with ants. Yet, it does this so well that several of the more serious scenes in the film feel a bit out of place at times, which is an issue.

In terms of acting, Paul Rudd is terrific as the lovable ex-thief Scott Lang. He is recruited by the original Ant-man Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the duo’s back and forth banter is a highlight of the film. Evangeline Lilly is also good as Hope van Dyne, but her character feels underused. Hopefully, Marvel gives her more of an opportunity to shine in future films. In the end, it is Michael Peña’s Luis, Lang’s fellow thief and friend, who steals the show. All his scenes are hilarious and actually work within the context of the film, unlike some of Marvel’s previous characters such as Darcy (Thor) and Trevor Slattery (Iron Man 3) whose comic relief and overall presence distracts from the film rather than adding to it.

The action in the film is also incredibly well-shot and Ant-man’s unique fighting style is on full display. With Ant-man set to appear in Captain America: Civil War next year, it will be interesting to see how his powers are incorporated when paired with the other Avengers.

On the topic of the Avengers, Ant-man’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly Hank Pym’s connections to S.H.I.E.L.D., is woven in seamlessly. The brief flashbacks help establish Ant-man’s place in the world and provide many potential opportunities to show a young Hank Pym and his wife Janet van Dyne, also known as Wasp, in action in future films or television shows.

But while Ant-man’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe works, some of the several references to the Avengers in the film feel extremely forced. One scene in particular features Ant-man briefly fight one of the Avengers and the scene feels like a lame attempt to advertise upcoming Marvel films. It’s irritating considering Marvel has shown that it can be more creative in its references in the past without blatantly telling audiences, “Look, Ant-man is in the same universe as the Avengers!”

Another criticism is Corey Stoll’s villain Darren Cross, who is one-dimensional and whose only motive appears to be to pose as a threat to the heroes. Marvel Studios seems to follow a simple formula with their villains and the result, with very few exceptions, is usually an underdeveloped and uninteresting adversary that seeks to destroy the hero with little motive other than serving the story. If Marvel wants to continue to release hit films, this is something they need to address.

Despite these issues, Ant-man is still a fun and hilarious action-packed film that can be enjoyed by viewers that are willing to not take the premise too seriously and just enjoy the humor and spectacle the film offers.

Ant-man is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

I give this movie a 7.5/10.

S.H.A.R.K. Grade

(Rates on a scale of 1-5, how much Suspense, Humor, Action, Romance, and Kid-friendly material is in the movie)

1- None to Very Little, 2- Little, 3- Average, 4- Much, 5- Very much

S 4     H 5    A 5     R 2    K 3

 

Southpaw

Cover of the "Southpaw" Motion Picture Soundtrack. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Cover of the “Southpaw” Motion Picture Soundtrack. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, famous for films Shooter and Training Day, Southpaw is a film about an undefeated boxer who, when tragedy strikes, is faced with the challenge of putting his life back together and returning to the ring in order to win back custody of his daughter.

The film finds gutsy boxer and former foster child Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) reaping the benefits of another big fight and living a life of luxury with his wife and daughter. However, when a disaster occurs his life quickly spirals out of control. Wanting to get his life back together and to be with his daughter again, Hope enlists trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) to help him fix his life and prepare him for the biggest fight of his career.

The story is gripping from start to finish and paints a grim, yet accurate picture of life outside the ring. In addition, the violence in the ring is brutal and grotesque and doesn’t hold back when showing the true side of boxing. Although a purely fictional story, Southpaw is able to show a side of professional fighting often not seen, such as its affects on the fighter’s family as well as the realities of a parent’s battle with sobriety and employment in order to gain custody over his child.

Jake Gyllenhaal owns the role as Billy Hope and his performance is Oscar-worthy. He portrays a once arrogant, quick-tempered boxer who has everything he knows and loves taken from him in an instant and you feel the pain he is feeling throughout the film. Likewise, Rachel McAdams is also terrific as Hope’s wife Maureen even in the small screen time she receives. Forest Whitaker also gives an inspiring performance as a reluctant trainer who takes a chance on Hope with the intent of showing that boxing is more than being able to take a punch. Even young actress Oona Laurence puts on a touching performance as Hope’s daughter, Leila.

The combination of touching story, gritty cinematography and Oscar-caliber acting makes Southpaw the film to beat this summer. It will have audiences by the heart from start to finish and is as inspiring a film as a fictional story can get.

Southpaw is rated R for language throughout and some violence.

I give this movie a 9/10.

S.H.A.R.K. Grade

(Rates on a scale of 1-5, how much Suspense, Humor, Action, Romance, and Kid-friendly material is in the movie)

1- None to Very Little, 2- Little, 3- Average, 4- Much, 5- Very much

S 4     H 1    A 5     R 3    K 1

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