What I am Watching: A whole lot of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and other popcorn films (Meg, MI:Fallout, Jurassic World)

It’s incredible how Dwayne Johnson has transformed from another wrestler trying to make in Hollywood to the most recognizable big budget star of the moment. His recognizability may be the product of quality work or the fact that he has a new movie out nearly every three months (the latest tally is 5 movies in the last 14 months!!!)

I have never followed his career closely, although I was a fan of one of his early action flick, The Run Down and his family-friendly Gridiron Gang. The former proving early on that Dwayne Johnson had enough charisma to carry a mediocre film through to its end by force of will alone. It definitely seems like nothing has changed from the time when he was just dabbling in movies while still keeping a foot in the wrestling ring and his full-time movie career … except for the size of the budgets.

This year, I managed to watch a few of his movies that didn’t include the word “fast” nor “furious” in the title. Seeing as how I am not a fan of those particular movies, I was pleasantly surprised by his other output. Here is a rundown of the ones I got a chance to see.

Jumanji (2017)

This movie had me cracking up. Johnson works best when he plays off of a large cast or a strong group of co-stars. He also does comedy very well and has a natural knack for being the straight man and doing self-deprecating humour. Here he is buffered by the usually funny Jack Black, who does not fail to deliver and the usually unfunny Kevin Hart who gave me some genuine belly laughs.

The film is a remake of the Robin Williams vehicle but completely modified for the internet/video-gamer age. Instead of having the Jumanji board game come to life inside your house, the players are transported into the video game and use the bodies of their avatars to beat Jumanji.

This movie is action-packed, full of great one-liners, and entertaining enough for kids and adults (more than one high school-level dick joke is slipped in there). Of all the movie of his that I sat through, I think this was the most solid as far as script and overall finished product. I had a lot of fun with this one.

Rampage (2018)

This is not a movie about a video game gone mad but, rather, a mad video game starring a large gorilla. The gorilla’s name is George.

This is a brainless movie, but it delivers its stupidity with an “I know I am brainless” wink and nod to the audience thus making it reasonably entertaining to sit through. There were moments throughout where I questioned my own sanity for actually watching it – there are ridiculous action sequences that I don´t think could have passed the editorial board for the most outrageous 80s and 90s Saturday morning cartoons. But The Rock vs a mega-sized wolf, humongous crocodile, and his own genetically mutated oversized gorilla best friend was too much bizarreness to pass over.

Don´t go into this movie expecting a popcorn flick that tries to work beyond its basic premise. Expect explosions because things need to blow up, plot exposition in dialogue because “how else are we to make sense of this pseudo-sci-fi nuttiness”, character development by way of “the script needs you to stop killing each other and be friends right now”, villains with motivations  not much removed from Pinky and the Brain´s desire to “take over the world”, and a whole lot of Negan (from The Walking Dead).

I swear Jeffrey Dean Morgan must have taped this in between shoots for the Zombie series. He is exactly the same character, but with a suit. Watch this one with your B-movie goggles on and you will have a good laugh and a blast.

Skyscraper (2018)

This movie got mostly bad reviews and didn´t do too well at the US box office, although it´s overseas numbers will surely make this yet another hit for Johnson. I didn´t go in expecting much, but I was surprised by how much I really dug this movie. There were comparisons to Die Hard and Towering Inferno but this movie is so much more than those movies (not as good, though). Whereas those classics were more about the characters in peril, this movie is about the peril and the players involved. It also made me reappreciate duct tape and respect the power of a prosthetic limb.

The storyline was sort of believable enough. I won´t give it all away, as the movie did a good job at keeping me guessing as to what was really the motive for setting a huge fire in the world´s tallest building. That is all inconsequential, though, as the fuel that drives this movie is Dwayne Johnson´s affable charisma.

He jumps (in one the movie´s many “who needs the laws of Physics” moments), he climbs, he fights on one leg, and he hugs his kids a lot. By the end of this movie I was wishing Dwayne was my dad – he is so damn cool!!!

Another aspect of this movie I loved was the people’s reaction on the street as they watched the skyscraper burned. It was such a throwback to the original Superman and Spider-man movies where people stand in awe in the streets as their hero does the impossible while hanging from some city precipice. It was a nice touch, that made me cheer Johnson’s character on even more.

The pacing, special effects, and cinematography also keep this movie afloat. It doesn´t bother to build character backstories too much (aside from a quick “10 years ago” prologue that lets us know “The Rock doesn´t like guns” – utterly useless information that tries to make itself important in the climax but falls flat). The shots of the building, in particular, are super impressive. One does certainly feel the massiveness of the skyscraper throughout and wonders how exactly Dwayne will get himself and his family out of the monolith safe.

This is a really good popcorn action flick that doesn´t require a thinking cap but isn´t completely brain dead on arrival.

Now let´s move away from Dwayne Johnson …

Meg (2018)

Speaking of massiveness, Meg is a movie about a giant shark that never once made me feel the weight of the fish. This is mainly due to a plot that lacked suspense and danger.

The thing is, Meg is a perfectly watchable movie: it´s brisk and the acting is big-budget-action-movie quality. What it lacks in actual stakes and suspense makes one wish it had been better, though. Even the scenes with beachgoers (not a spoiler if you have seen the trailers) manage to be anti-climatic for actually explaining exactly what our heroes are going to do in order to lure the shark away minutes before the “savage” attack was about to take place.

Points for two Star Trek references though. My Trekkie heart fluttered. There is a whale in the movie named Gracie, and when a doctor introduces himself, a character says, “you’re like Bones, then”.

This is not an infuriatingly bad movie, but it´s only good enough to ride the upper wave of a what comprises a B-movie. Jaws is still the king of the waters, and perhaps Sharknado is more fun for accepting its camp and laughing along with the audience. Being stuck in that middle ground of not being so bad its good (but also not so good to actually be good) drag this movie down to deep waters it can only poke its head out of for a few minutes at a time to gasp for some quality air.

Mission Impossible 5: Fallout (2018)

I would venture to guess that there are people still to this day trying to figure out the plot of Mission Impossible 1. I have zero shame in admitting that I have no clue what they were going on about, but loved the movie anyway. Though the plots to subsequent Mission Impossibles didn´t get less windy, they seemed a bit more streamlined once the rest of the Mission Impossible team took a back seat to Tom Cruise´s superstar one-man show. This movie brings the gang back, so I guess a plot more twisty than a feminist´s panties at a Trump rally is par for the course.

The movie begins with a mission assignment that seemed rather straightforward, but when that mission goes by the wayside, the story takes a sharp left turn. It was then that I felt absolutely lost for about half of the movie´s runtime. But, like in Mission Impossible 1, I was more marvelled by the sights and actions to really care. I applaud the Mission Impossible team for managing to this again and again.

Who needs to understand every fake-out or new mission when Tom Cruise is jumping out of an aeroplane at breathtaking heights (I took a gasp when that camera panned down to see the Earth below), or riding around Paris in a motorcycle chase as well choreographed as any Parisian ballet troupe, or running from London rooftop to London rooftop, or piloting a helicopter like a kid getting used to not using his training wheels??? — and the list goes on.

Cruise and company seem to have a pulse on what audiences want to see when they enter the dark room of a theatre to watch a quality action movie: spectacles, sound, and suspense. This movie delivers the goods and then some. I am still in doubt as to whether I liked Ghost Protocol more, but this is a worthy addition to the Mission Impossible franchise, which seemed to only have gotten better once they stopped numbering them.

Go see this movie, it is a blast!

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I really had a great time with Jurassic World. It managed to take a tired franchise and make it exciting again. Movies in this universe are nearly critic-proof for me, though. So, if it the dino-romp isn´t embarrassingly bad (and Jurassic Park III nearly took it there) I will usually watch any of these movies if it happens to be playing somewhere.

So there I was on the premiere night, ready for my dinosaur fix. Was Fallen Kingdom worth the effort of going to the movies on a weeknight after work? Not really. Was it trash? Not really.

This movie actually had bits that I enjoyed more than Jurassic World – mainly its darker tone. The problem is that while an attempt to make the dinosaurs scarier and more brutal was there for the development, the filmmakers didn´t double down. Instead we got the obligatory kid character (and she has got to be the most annoying of all the kids in the franchise – completely useless and only got in the way), the scared shitless nerd who screamed like a girl for “comic relief”, the minor character (a paleo-veterinarian) that does smart things at just the right moment in order to extend the plot and her life but has zero backstory (seriously, she goes from answering phones for a “save the dinosaurs” campaign to handling raptors and guys in machine guns … at the same time), and, of course, more evil capitalists and dinosaur hunters who only get in the way of the people who truly “care about the dinosaurs.”

The rehashes from earlier films hurt the direction that this movie could have gone in. There were more than a few moments in Jurassic World where I felt it was going to transform into a near-horror franchise, and truly it could be a hell of one. So, to be brief, it felt like I was watching two films – one, I really enjoyed and another I felt like I had seen four times before.

The movie made over a billion dollars worldwide, so there is no doubt that there will be more dinosaurs romping around. The end of the movie also opened up a pandora box of opportunities for where the franchise could head. I just hope that they think hard about whether the kiddie-friendly days of Jurassic Park are behind it and if they can treat the franchise with a more serious tone, which is actually closer to the mood set in the original books.

This is not a bad movie, but it may feel like ground which has already been explored.

A positive note is that Claire Dearing, the former boss at Jurassic World from the previous movie, is a lot less annoying and much more action ready in this movie than the last – no high heels!

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6 Responses to What I am Watching: A whole lot of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and other popcorn films (Meg, MI:Fallout, Jurassic World)

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