Sequels: For Better and Worst

Summers seem ready made for big blockbusters. Everyone wants to retreat to a chilly theater for some bombastic entertainment that’s larger than life and share that experience with family and friends. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, theaters have screens after screens of special-effect-laden Sci-Fi, scary (or scary/funny) Horror, Super Hero/Action films and animation. Sadly, it’s gotten to be a tradition to trot out the latest sequel.

It’s easy to see why Hollywood relies on sequels to bring in the box office bucks. These are tried and true stories with a built-in audience and fans flock to them. This summer we’ve already had a Marvel Movie: “Doctor Strange” (which I’ve argued is more a continuation of a Marvel tv series), a spin-off from the Toy Story franchise in “Buzz Lightyear” and two tentpole sequels that were just released.

A tentpole film is a big blockbuster that studios invest a lot of money and marketing dollars into, hoping it’ll be THE summer film everyone must see. This year, it looked to be two well-funded sequels: “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World: Dominion”. Both films use the latest filmmaking technology to bring the audience exciting experiences. “Top Gun” has breath-taking aerial footage of jets performing daring stunts and engaged in battle with enemy planes. “Jurassic World” has updated the immersive experience of dinosaurs living among us and works hard to create a world where they’re shown co-existing with other wildlife.

One imagines that both directors, Colin Trevorrow (who made the fun “Safety Not Guaranteed” before the Jurassic World films and tv series) and Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”, also a sequel, Top Gun sequel) believed that they had something special. That they had something NEW to reveal in their sequel. The box office has already decided which film will be viewed as a success. One is the film everyone wants to see and indeed, many audiences are seeing multiple times. And one film is the sequel that didn’t please many fans.

I was fortunate to get to see “Top Gun: Maverick” in IMAX. This was one film that I knew would be so much better with huge surround sound, subwoofers that made the seats vibrate with every jet engine roar and a hugely appreciative audience. It was worth the extra ten dollars. It was very savvy for the marketing team and studio, Paramount Pictures to hold back the film till audiences were ready and willing to return to theaters. And to release it only to theaters to guarantee that they’d have the blockbuster of the year.

I didn’t choose to see “Jurassic World: Dominion” in 3D, though I knew that would make the dinosaurs even more “realistic”. I’m not keen on jump scares nor do I want to feel that I could reach out and touch those creatures with big teeth (prehistoric or not) stalking me/them. It was fun to see some of the cast favorites from the first film and there were some great new female characters, particularly the young star, Maisie (Isabelle Sermon) and the pilot. What didn’t work for me, and likely most audiences, is that the film is a complete reprise.

A sequel is only good if there’s something new to offer. “Jurassic” is a continuation of the previous film and supposedly the conclusion to the run of the series. Beyond a pretty locust murmuration, it’s a huge repeat. There are even two dinosaur battles that are alike–in the same movie. It feels like a rip-off of other films as well: there’s a Star Wars-like market, a badass woman pilot (Dewanda Wise), and a high-tech science facility/cult headquarters that could be in any Science Fiction film. Even the baddie is constantly eating like a Brad Pitt character (Rusty eating in “Ocean’s Eleven”). It’s Bond/Bourne/Mission Impossible…with dinosaurs.

“Top Gun: Maverick” works because enough time has passed to make people curious to see what the writers and Tom Cruise could come up with. The plot is a basic good guys vs generic bad guys with a nod to the first “Star Wars” (fly down a valley/corridor, shoot a precise small target, evade gun turrets). What’s been updated is what makes it worth seeing. Yes, Cruise is back and almost ageless, but he’s now having to atone to his dead comrade’s son (Miles Teller). The young pilots on the mission are now multi-racial and there’s a woman on the team.

There’s a new woman, Jennifer Connelly, as the love interest for Maverick. She does a nice job of playing someone who’s had a history with Cruise’s character and let’s the audience see that he’s more than an egocentric flyboy. The fact that she has a daughter who’s not keen on seeing her Mom hurt again gives the film an edge as well. Yes, you’ll see the movie for the flight scenes and they are spectacular, but you’ll cheer for the comradery of the team, the sweetness of the romance, and the emotional cameo by Val Kilmer.

Both films are a fun summer outing. Time passes fast amid the crash and roar of both soundtracks plus both films feature plenty of action scenes. Maybe you’ll have watched the first film before seeing both. Which film will you find is the better sequel?

You may leave “Top Gun” cheering. You may leave “Jurassic World” jeering. Let’s just say, skip “Jurassic World: Dominion” and watch the first film, “Jurassic Park” instead.

Drinks with Films rating:

“Top Gun: Maverick”: 3 ½ shots of tequila (out of 5) but don’t leave your cellphone on the bar

“Jurassic World: Dominion”: 2 sips of water on the run, always on the run (out of 5) for the female characters and Jeff Goldblum (man, I love him!)

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