Tag Archives: Adventure

A Review of Jumanji: The Next Level

Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillian posing as their characters in a film poster for Jumanji: The Next Level. They’re all surrounded by baboons. Jumanji: The Next Level is a 2019 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four people who were  transported into a magical video game. Just like during the first visit, they must figure out how to win in order to return to their ordinary lives.

This is the sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which I previously reviewed here and would strongly recommend watching first. The franchise in general is a reboot of the 1996 Jumanji film. It is not necessary to watch the original in order to understand what’s going on  here.

I will go into more detail about why I recommend watching Welcome to the Jungle in my review below.

Once again, I’m leaving secondary characters out of this post for spoiler reasons. Please note that this review does contain some spoilers for the first film, so reader beware!

 

Characters

Game World

 

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone. He's standing in a jungle.
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier “Smolder” Bravestone

 

Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone was a strong and confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Eddie’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black (centre) as Professor Sheldon  “Shelly” Oberon

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Milo’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse 

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Danny DeVito as Edward "Eddie" Gilpin
Danny DeVito as Edward “Eddie” Gilpin

 

Eddie was the grandfather of Spencer, a character from the first film. He was a pessimistic man who believed his best days were behind him.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain (right) as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

Fridge was a college student now. His group of friends wasn’t as close-knit as it used to be, and he struggled with that shift.

Danny Glover as Milo Walker
Danny Glover as Milo Walker

 

Milo was Eddie’s old, dear friend. Despite knowing each other for decades, there was an underlying tension between them that none of the younger characters were cognizant of at first.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

Martha was also a college student now. She was as intelligent and cynical as ever, but her new educational environment had caused her to blossom in ways that weren’t possible for her as a shy high schooler a few years ago.

 

My Review

If you’re in the market for a light, fluffy storyline, keep reading.

One of the criticisms I noted about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the lack of character development. While it remained pretty shallow, I did enjoy seeing some growth in the two returning protagonists as well as in all four avatars in general . Martha and Fridge had obviously had a chance to grow up a bit since high school. It was interesting to contrast their behaviour to the behaviour of their elders.

Ordinarily, I’d expect senior citizens to be more self-assured and level-headed than people who haven’t even left their teens yet. The fact that all four main characters were thrown into a situation that only the two younger ones knew how to handle made it fascinating to tease out the differences between all of their reactions.

We need more films that include senior citizens as heroes. Having not one but two of them included in this storyline made me curious to see how things would play out for them.

Why should you watch this series in order? The character development is part of it. Most people mature rapidly in their late teens and early 20s. I thought it was cool to see how Fridge and Martha had changed since we last met them. There were also some switch-ups to the cast of main characters that won’t be as meaningful to anyone who wasn’t aware of how things were in Welcome to the Jungle.

In addition to that, some of the plot twists work better for audiences who are already aware of how Jumanji is supposed to be experienced. Let’s just say that Milo and Eddie had a unique approach to winning that is best understood if you have firm expectations of how one should behave in a video game.

By all means watch the original Jumanji, too, if you love this universe, but enough of it was revisited here that I wouldn’t make that mandatory.

There were a couple of sexual jokes that made me roll my eyes. The first instalment in this reboot did a great job of poking fun at the idea that women who play video games are something unusual or that identifying as a woman should affect how you play or what you do with your avatar. I wish that same snarky energy had continued in this sequel. It made this franchise stand out in my mind in a truly refreshing way, and I’d love to recommend future instalments of it to people who love gaming but shy away from the sometimes juvenile and sexist comments people make about women in this hobby. Sometimes the best way to change harmful social scripts like that is by mocking the hell out of them, so here’s hoping we get more of that in the third instalment if or when it happens.

Do you need to be a certain type of gamer, or even a gamer at all, to enjoy this story? Absolutely not. I’m the sort of gamer who generally sticks with sandbox games like Minecraft, and I had no problem keeping up with what was going on. Everything was explained well. Although my spouse who knows more about the topic once again enjoyed a few jokes tucked in there that seemed to be geared towards viewers who are into more strictly structured storytelling.

Jumanji: The Next Level was brain candy in the best sense of that phrase. If you need a fun distraction that doesn’t require any deep thought, this might be right up your alley.

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Jumanji: The Next Level is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Wholesome Adventures: A Review of Frozen II

Film poster for Frozen II. Image on poster is of Elsa using her powers to create ice against a purple background.Frozen II is the 2019 animated fantasy sequel to Frozen. It is about Elsa and Anna’s attempts to figure out the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and save their kingdom from being destroyed by the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.

It isn’t strictly necessary to watch Frozen before checking out Frozen II, but I do highly recommend the first film in this series to anyone who loves the fantasy genre or animated films in general.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will only be discussing characters who were also in Frozen.

Characters

Idina Menzel as Elsa
Idina Menzel as Elsa

Elsa was the Queen of Arendelle and Princess Anna’s elder sister. She possessed magical ice powers whose origins were unknown. While she’d grown quite comfortable with using them, she had a deep longing to understand where they came from and why she had them.

Kristen Bell as Anna
Kristen Bell as Anna

 

Anna was the Princess of Arendelle and Elsa’s younger sister. She was deeply in love with her boyfriend, Kristoff. 

Josh Gad as Olaf
Josh Gad (right) as Olaf

Olaf was a sentient snowman created by Elsa’s magic who was first introduced in Frozen. He was as intelligent and silly as always.

Jonathan Groff as Kristoff
Jonathan Groff (centre top) as Kristoff

Kristoff was an ice harvester and Anna’s boyfriend. He was strong, loyal, and determined to help the people he cared about in any way he could.

Sven was his pet reindeer. He was a good reindeer.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for a story filled with wholesomeness and joy.

I love a good adventure that ramps up quickly in a storyline, so I was glad to see this film move so fast in the beginning. That snappy pacing was exactly what Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven needed before setting off on their journey.

Yes, there was a brief summary of what happened in Frozen for anyone who isn’t familiar with this franchise. It was shared by Olaf and was as hilarious as it was accurate. As mentioned earlier, I think anyone who hasn’t seen the first film would have no trouble getting caught up to speed if they jumped straight into Frozen II. The nice thing about film series written for kids is that they tend to be pretty welcoming of new or distracted viewers, and this one was no exception to that rule.

Every sequel has to live up to the story that began that series. I had high expectations for Frozen II based on how much I loved Frozen. While this was a fun story, I thought it didn’t quite have all of the magic of the first one. Many of the jokes in it were references to things that happened in the first instalment, so they had to be explained for people just tuning into this series. I did find myself wishing the screenwriters had spent more time developing new, original jokes, especially when it came to characters that hadn’t been introduced previously. With that being said, I still enjoyed Frozen II and do recommend it.

Olaf was by far my favourite part of this film. Just like in Frozen, he was a regular source of amusement for both the audience and the other characters. His understanding of how the world works was childlike in certain ways and yet quite mature for a snowman of his age in others. I desperately wanted to include one of his jokes in this review, but I think it’s best if you discover all of them for yourselves.

If you need a lighthearted distraction for viewers of all ages, Frozen II is a good place to start.

Frozen II is available on Netflix and Apple TV. It is no doubt quickly attempting to catch up with Frozen and become available everywhere else in the known universe as well.

A Review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Content warning: snakes and bugs. I will not be discussing these topics in my review.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a 2017 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four high school students who were accidentally transported into a magical video game and needed to beat every level of it in order to get back to the real world.

This movie is a reboot of a franchise that began with the original Jumanji in 1996. According to my spouse, there were multiple Easter eggs from the first version of this tale tucked into the storyline, so keep an eye out for them if you’re already familiar with this franchise.

With that being said, I’d never seen the original and had no problem figuring out what was happening in the plot or who the characters were because everything was explained clearly.

Some of the secondary characters had too many spoilers wrapped up into their backstories to be introduced in this post, so I’ll stick with the four protagonists in the character section of this review. They will be described both as their game world avatars and real life personas.

Characters

Game World

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone

 

Dr. Smolder Bravestone was a strong, confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Spencer’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon

 

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Bethany’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar

 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin
Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin.

Alex was nerdy and sometimes socially awkward student at Brantford High School.  He and Fridge were childhood best friends, but now he feared he’d been left behind.

Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker
Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker

 

Bethany was a  popular, pretty, and self-centered student at Brantford High School. She spent a great deal of time taking selfies and posting them on social media as shown in the photo above.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

 

Anthony was a strong and athletic student at Brantford High School. He was proud of how much work he’d put into his body and enjoyed showing off his strength.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

 

Morgan was a quiet, shy, intelligent, and cynical student at Brantford High School. She struggled with letting people get close to her, especially if she thought they wanted something from her.

My Review

My characters descriptions were more negative than usual in this review. The beginning of this film made it a point to hammer home each character’s flaws, how aware they were of them, and how those problems were affecting their lives.

The four main characters moments after they were transformed into Mouse, Dr. Bravestone, Ruby, and Shelly.

Since the four teens the audience were just introduced to were about to be transformed into video game avatars, getting to know them was crucial.

One of the things this film did incredibly well was to show how each character’s tics and habits carried over into the game. All of the adult actors mimicked the teens they were playing so well that it was easy to forget they were acting!

I loved seeing all of the little ways they reminded the audience of their teenaged selves. This was especially funny when it came to Shelly because of how she’d been transformed from a beautiful young girl into a fairly average middle-aged man.

Yes, the storyline did address the gender flip there, but it was done in a very respectful manner. Gender and gender identity was never the butt of the joke in this tale which was refreshing. When the storyline gently made fun of Shelly, it was for her self-absorption and other character flaws, not the fact that she had no idea how to properly urinate standing up. (Although there was a hilarious scene involving just that early on in the plot!)

What I would have liked to see was more attention paid to the character development. The four protagonists were all written in pretty stereotypical manners as you might have gathered from the descriptions of them above. While I understood that much of it was written that way to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous – and even sexist –  tropes in video games, I think more time could have been spent developing the main characters and showing how they were different from typical video game avatars.

As entertaining as the plot was, there were times when I was honestly a bit bored with the characters at times because of how easy it was to predict how they’d behave. I’m saying that with the understanding that a casual video game player like me probably isn’t the ideal audience for this sort of film at all. People who immerse themselves in that hobby may have a very different reaction to it, so I don’t want this criticism to dissuade anyone from giving it a try if the trailer grabs their interest.

Just remember that there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff going on here. The less seriously you take it, the better.

The cartoonish violence was a lot of fun, though. I’m the sort of person who looks away from the screen or TV when a violent scene pops up, and I was able to handle the fight scenes without a problem. Characters certainly get thrown around a lot in all sorts of ways that are only possible in a virtual world, but there was no blood or gore to make my stomach turn. That was definitely something I appreciated.

All in all, this was an amusing way to spend a couple of hours. It was a light, cheerful storyline that didn’t require the audience to do much analyzing at all. You just had to sit back and enjoy the show. There’s something to be said for movies like that!

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is available on Netflix.

A  True Selfless Act Always Sparks Another: A Review of Klaus

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its WallsA Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Downsizing.

Film poster for Klaus. It shows santa with Jesper and a village child. Theyre surrounded by other characters who are looking at them with emotions ranging from adoration to annoyance. No content warning is necessary. I’d recommend this movie to viewers of all ages and backgrounds.

Klaus is a 2019 animated children’s film about a young, wealthy man named Jespen whose father sent him to a small, freezing cold town called Smeerensburg in order to establish a working postal office there.

I’ll leave it up to you to learn why his father decided to do this. It was something addressed in the opening scene, but it was so important to the plot that I’d rather not give away any hints about it.

Smeerensburg was a community filled with families who were feuding with each other. Their grudges were so enormous that none of the children were even sent to school lest they end up sitting next to the child of a family their parents hated. This meant that many of the young citizens of this town couldn’t read or write!

Needless to say, this wasn’t an easy assignment for Jespen. Luckily, his budding friendship with a toymaker named Klaus provided one bright spot in his new life.

 

Characters

Jason Schwartzman as Jesper
Jason Schwartzman as Jesper

Jesper was a postman who’d never actually finished postman school. He could be selfish at times, but he was also a creative and intelligent person.

J. K. Simmons as Klaus
J. K. Simmons (right) as Klaus

Klaus was the village carpenter who made toys that no one had ever played with. He was a deeply kind and generous man.

Rashida Jones as Alva
Rashida Jones as Alva

Alva was the town fishmonger who had originally trained to be a school teacher. Since it’s hard to teach an empty classroom, she’d been forced to change occupations and was not particularly happy about it. Her biggest wish at the beginning of this film was to move somewhere far away from Smeerensburg once she’d saved up enough money.

Needa Margrethe Labba
Needa Margrethe Labba as Márgu

Márgu was a Saami girl whose family lived on the outskirts of town. She did not speak English, but she did love visiting Jesper and playing with the other children.

 

My Review

I’m writing this review as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas or enjoy the sentimentality of the holiday season, so what I’m about to say may come as a surprise: I loved this film!

Jesper was a wonderful protagonist. There was a lot of information about his backstory that I couldn’t include in this post for spoiler reasons, but he was a pretty well-rounded character…especially for something written for kids. I found it entertaining to see how he adjusted to life in dreary Smeerensburg. This wasn’t a cheerful place to live to say the least, and Jesper didn’t have a lot of experience in weathering unpleasant circumstances.

I also appreciated the lack of sentimentality (for the most part) in the story. Life in this community was hard for a lot of people, and the filmmakers showed as much of that as was appropriate for the age group they were marketing this towards. The fact that they managed to pull that off without including anything scary or too mature for kids to watch was impressive.

Honestly, some of the best scenes in this film were the ones that explained how the legend of Santa was formed.

For example, when and why did people first start believing that his sled was powered by flying reindeer? That question and many more were given funny, heartwarming answers that fit the tone of the plot perfectly. The photo near this paragraph gives a hint about another winter tradition that was explained in the plot, although that’s also something best left to each new viewer to discover for themselves.

A  true selfless act always sparks another.

Speaking of Santa, I’m guessing you can all guess which character he was in this tale. The storyline began long before he or anyone else knew what his destiny would be. There were so many lovely hints about who he was becoming along the way. I’ve never seen a story that focused on his origins before, so it was a ton of fun to check this one out.

The quote I shared above and in the title of this post came from this character. He had a lot of wise things to say, but this was my favourite line from him. It captured the essence of this film beautifully. Smeerensburg had so many problems that fed into each other that it was hard for the people who lived there to imagine how anything could change.

I really liked the idea of focusing on small things individuals could do to make the lives of others better without expecting anything in return. That’s the sort of philosophy that I think would make the world a better place if it were followed by everyone.

There were plenty of humorous moments as well. While the message itself was a serious one, the characters had no problem cracking jokes to suit every age group. I enjoyed that mixture of serious and silly content.

This was one of those children’s films that I’d recommend just as highly to adults. Watching it was a wonderful experience.

Klaus is available on Netflix.

A Review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and A Dog’s Purpose.

Film Content Warning: blood, hypodermic needles, animal abuse, and animal deaths. These scenes were brief and were often more implied than actually shown.  As always, this otherwise will be a spoiler-free review, and I’m happy to share more details in private with anyone who requests them.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a 2018 science fiction adventure film that is the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World. Fallen Kingdom is set on a fictional island about 200 miles southwest of Costa Rica called Isla Nublar where all of the dinosaurs from Jurassic World were relocated from a failed amusement park before this tale began.

Isla Nublar was intended to be the permanent home for the dinosaurs. When scientists realized that the volcano on that island was soon going to erupt, the main characters in this universe had to decide how and where to relocate the dinosaurs before Isla Nublar was destroyed.

If you haven’t seen Jurassic World or the original Jurassic Park trilogy from the 90s, before, don’t worry. There are plenty of references to the earlier instalments in the later films that are fun Easter eggs for devoted fans, but everything in this franchise has worked well as standalone stories so far. I will briefly fill you in on a few important details in my character descriptions, too.

The Characters

I began discussing characters in the past tense in my first horror film review here to avoid the slightest whiff of spoilers about their fates. This is something I’ve continued doing for the sake of blog continuity and should not be interpreted in any other way.

This cast is on the larger side, but it’s important to know who everyone is before I jump into my review.

Chris Pratt playing Owen Grady

Chris Pratt as Owen Grady

Own Grady was the Animal Behaviourist hired by Ben to help round up as many dinosaurs as possible on Isla Nublar before the volcano destroyed them. He had previously worked as a Velociraptor trainer for the Jurassic World theme park in the first part of this trilogy, so he was an expert on the topic.

While he was impulsive at times, Owen was at heart a deeply kind and brave man.

 

Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing

Claire was the former Operations Manager of Jurassic World. After that theme parked closed down, she became a dinosaur-rights activist and founder of the Dinosaur Protection Group. Their mission was to round up as many dinosaurs on Isla Nublar as possible and relocate them somewhere safer.

Unlike some of the men around her, Claire was both emotionally and intellectually intelligent. She knew exactly how to read subtle signals from another person and adjust her behaviour accordingly. I try to avoid picking favourite characters in my reviews, but she was the lynchpin of this film.

James Cromwell as Sir Benjamin Lockwood

James Cromwell as Sir Benjamin Lockwood

Sir Lockwood was one of the two people who originally invented the cloning techniques that brought dinosaurs back to life approximately twenty-five years before this tale began. He was as brilliant as ever, but his attention to detail had begun to waver due to his deteriorating physical condition.

Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood

Maisie was Sir Lockwood’s granddaughter and heir. She had inherited his love of dinosaurs and science.

Rafe Spall as Eli Mills

Eli was Sir Lockwood’s personal assistant who required Owen and Claire to join the dinosaur rescue mission. He was an intelligent, ambitious man who was cautious about who he trusted and how much information he shared with them about his work.

Justice Smith as Franklin Webb

Justice Smith as Franklin Webb

Franklin was a former IT Technician for Jurassic World who now worked with Claire at the Dinosaur Protection Group. His technological knowledge was excellent, and his quirky personality brought a dash of humour to the plot.

Daniella Pineda as Zia Rodriguez

Zia was the paleoveterinarian for the Dinosaur Protection Group.

She did a wonderful job of thinking on her feet in a crisis. Along with Franklin, she was a character I wish had been given more opportunity to shine in the plot. What I saw of their personalities was well-developed, and I loved the way they interacted with the rest of the rescue crew.

Ted Levine (centre) as Ken Wheatley. The characters behind him are his fellow mercenaries.

Ken Wheatley was a season mercenary hired by Eli Mills to provide protection for the rescue crew while they were rounding up dinosaurs.

He was a tough, assertive man who felt most comfortable when he was in charge.

B.D. Wong as Henry Wu

B.D. Wong as Henry Wu

Henry was the head geneticist of both Jurassic World and the original Jurassic Park. There was no one in this universe who knew more about dinosaurs than he did.

 

My Review

Chris Pratt looking at a dinosaurOne of the most interesting things about this film was how many different conflicts it included. The first quarter of the show were spent introducing the characters, explaining a few things about the first Jurassic World flick, and seeing how various characters reacted to the idea of saving the dinosaurs instead of letting them go extinct again.

No sooner was this conflict resolved than a few more took its place as the plot sped up. This was a cycle that happened multiple times during the roughly two-hour runtime, and it occasionally made me feel like I was watching a series of short films set in the same universe instead of one long one. This was something I grew to like quite a bit once I recognized the pattern.

The humour in this film was well done, especially when it came to Franklin’s lines. I mentioned earlier wishing that he and Zia had been given more screen time, and this was a big part of the reason why. They both had quietly lighthearted approaches to their roles that worked nicely for the subject matter.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Daniella Pineda at the Dinosaur Protection Group Headquarters
Zia and Claire at the Dinosaur Protection Group Headquarters.

Obviously, this is an action and adventure movie, so keep that in mind when reading this paragraph. One of the things I didn’t like was how little attention was paid to character development. Would I expect characters in this genre to have rich inner lives and dozens of minutes apiece to explore then? Of course not, but I would have liked to see more examples of people stepping out of the boxes they’d been places in.

The plot was fast-paced and filled with exciting explosions and scuffles, but the characters were a bit too predictable for me. There’s a difference between following the tropes of a specific genre and being chained to them. I did find my attention wandering at times due to how quickly I figured out what would happen to which character, and I’m saying that as someone who enjoys this genre in general. This was something I noticed the most with Ken Wheatley and Henry Wu.

With that being said, I still had a good time watching it. The CGI and animatronics for the dinosaurs was excellent as usual, and I loved seeing how various species reacted to everything from seeing a human to being captured to encountering lava. How a carnivore reacted to these things was nothing at all like a herbivore’s reaction. What made it even more interesting was seeing how members of similar species responded to the same stimulus. Those scenes were clearly thought out and a lot of fun to watch, especially if Owen was involved in any way.

The ending was handled nicely as well. I liked the resolutions that were brought to certain conflicts as well as the new questions Fallen Kingdom asked that will hopefully be answered in the final instalment of this trilogy.

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is available on iTunes.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Astraea

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of Time, The Lovely Bones and Semiosis. Today I’m back with another recommendation for hopeful sci-fi, and this time it’s a film!  If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to… Read More