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New Escapist Column! On How the MonsterVerse Has Forsaken Awe and Wonder…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday. With the release of Godzilla vs. Kong, it seemed like a good opportunity to look at the film in the context of the larger MonsterVerse – in particular, Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Godzilla vs. Kong is pure spectacle. The film features a host of impressive and showstopping sequences, including two major bouts between the title characters. However, there is something missing in all of this carnage. Like King of the Monsters before it, and like a lot of other modern blockbusters, there’s a curious lack of awe and wonder to the spectacle on display.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

A smashing success?

Non-Review Review: Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla vs. Kong is in some ways an anticlimax, and not just because it’s arriving on HBO Max rather than as a cinematic blockbuster.

Clocking in at under two hours, Godzilla vs. Kong is technically the shortest entry in the Warner Brothers “Monsterverse” series. It comes in a few minutes shy of Kong: Skull Island and well short of both Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This is strange, given that Godzilla vs. Kong is nominally supposed to be the triumphant climax of this shared universe, the event towards which everything has been building. It’s strange that this clash of titans should up feeling so small.

That sinking feeling.

To be fair, there is a strong sense of an attempted course correction about Godzilla vs. Kong, especially in response to the overcrowded cacophony of King of the Monsters. In many ways, Godzilla vs. Kong is a smaller and more contained movie than King of the Monsters, notably hinging on three core monsters rather than an entire menagerie. It’s also to the credit of director Adam Wingard that Godzilla vs. Kong is a tighter, more contained and more focused film with a greater sense of internal coherence.

Unfortunately, though, there’s very littler surprise or wonder to be found in this titanic throwdown.

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Non-Review Review: Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey

The big question with Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is simple: what do audiences want from a Christmas film?

Jingle Jangle exists in the context of Netflix’s recent efforts to build a sturdy collection of modern holiday cinema, from the classic animation of Klaus to the adventure of The Christmas Chronicles to the formula of A Christmas Prince. These are clearly part of an effort to buttress the streaming service’s library with a collection of films that audiences can enjoy in the holiday season. Jingle Jangle marks the latest glitzy addition to that selection, starring Oscar-winner Forrest Whitaker and produced by Oscar-winner John Legend.

The Greatest Snowman.

Jingle Jangle is a fine execution of the standard Christmas movie formula. There are songs. There are children. There is a framing device involving a story that appears to blend fantasy and reality. There is lavish production design. There are morals about the importance of family. There are ominous deadlines that count down very specifically to Christmas. There are toys. There is missletoe. There is an improbably (and yet also inescapably) happy ending. There are also no surprises waiting beneath this lavishly decorated Christmas tree.

Then again, maybe that is the point. Maybe people don’t want surprises at Christmas, but instead the warm comfort of familiarity.

Going by the book.

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Non-Review Review: Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is an intriguing and compelling mess of a film. It is shrewd and clever, if never entirely human.

Director J.A. Bayona might be the first director since Spielberg to put his own unique slant on the Jurassic Park franchise, to move with just enough confidence and faith in his own stylistic sensibilities to escape the shadow of the legendary director who turned a pulpy novel into a beloved family classic. Bayona does that by allowing his own stylistic sensibilities to shine through, to embrace his own interest and to engage with the material on his own terms.

Dino escape.

Fallen Kindom walks a fine line. It is very much a creature grown in a laboratory to satisfy the demands of the larger franchise. There are elements here that exist purely because they are expected, because they are signifiers of what a “Jurassic Park movie” should look like, including both returning characters and new characters fashioned after familiar archetypes. At the same time, there is a coy and wry self-awareness to Fallen Kingdom that was sorely lacking from Jurassic World, a cynicism about its own nature that integrates rather neatly into its larger worldview.

Although it may be damning with faint praise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is easily the best Jurassic Park movie since Jurassic Park: The Lost World, the film in the franchise with which it shares most of its DNA.

Things are heating up.

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