Don’t let’s try to pretend that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have ever been the patron saints of verisimilitude. Even in their original medium of the comics of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, there is a tongue-in-cheek flavor that is comfortable with the idea of anthropomorphized turtles who study the art of ninjitsu. But, there’s a distinction between embracing absurdity for stylistic purposes and simply abandoning logic when telling your story, and the second TNMT film, Out of the Shadows, is embarrassingly guilty of the latter. There are still moments that you can kick up your feet and enjoy some of the teenagers’ interactions and feats, but most of the time watching the latest Turtles is spent scoffing, laughing, and quizzically squinting at the screen in a vain attempt to understand why.
The Conjuring was one of the most impressive horror films to emerge from Hollywood in the last decade, so James Wan’s follow-up to the 2013 hit has been widely anticipated. In a turn that restores a modicum of faith in mankind, the sequel is an overwhelming success. Ed and Lorraine Warren return with another paranormal investigation, this one based on their most-documented case: The Enfield poltergeist. As before, the pair and their relationship form the kernel of a masterful supernatural high-horror film. The Conjuring 2 will delight and terrify genre fans and whichever casual movie-goers have the courage to buy a ticket and peer through their fingers.
Batman v Superman plods along with the pacing of a courtroom, which may be why it is named like a civil suit between our two heroes. Given the manufactured fighting between the two, there may have been more believable drama had Batman decided to sue the Man of Steel for destruction of property. Instead, we are left with the standard flaws that always seem to accompany the direction of Zack Snyder: bizarre use of music, rushed and unearned plotting, and action sequences that, while reasonably entertaining, strain comprehension. It is altogether a shame, because the eponymous characters are iconic and beloved – and well portrayed in this film. There simply isn’t anything terribly interesting for them to do.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation revels in its tropes. Heists, MacGuffins, and double/triple crosses abound and elevate the film to the very apex of the spy film genre. Director Christopher McQuarrie (director of Jack Reacher, writer of Edge of Tomorrow) ably adds his touches and always keeps the action intelligible, but this is unequivocally Tom Cruise’s movie. Cruise’s portrayal of Ethan Hunt has carried the Mission: Impossible franchise since its inception, but in the past his task has sometimes bordered on Sisyphean thanks to poor plotting, writing, and directing. Rogue Nation is a much easier boulder to push, and never tumbles from its well-earned heights.
The original Jurassic Park is a modern masterpiece with memorable and developed characters, a tight plot, and it helped usher in the modern use of CGI in blockbuster films, to boot. None of the sequels have ever lived up to the possibilities created by Jurassic Park in terms of story, character, or heart, and sadly Jurassic World is no exception – but it is closer than anything else. The film also partly succeeds as a meta-commentary on the failure of the modern blockbuster by dialing the dino-action up to 11. Jurassic World often draws attention to the prowess of the original and on the upwards creep of audience expectation, to the point that the final battle scene can only be interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on “bigger and better” CGI fights. What results is a fun-looking film lacking a coherent plot with broadly-drawn characters who are as annoying as they are forgettable – but at least four different dinosaurs face off in the climactic battle!
A sequel to a great film has to find a Goldilocks zone between two guaranteed recipes for failure. Should the sequel exploit the success of the original and attempt to re-tell the same story, it will feel derivative and add nothing. This is epitomized by The Hangover sequels. At the other end of the spectrum, if a sequel departs completely from the original, it feels isolated and disconnected, leading an audience to feel cheated of what they loved from the originals. The greatest sequels in film history use the characters and world from the originals and expand upon them. Like The Godfather Part II, a great sequel can delve deeper into major characters and explore their motivations outside of their original context from the earlier film. Or, like Aliens, it can utilize the critical component of the original in an entirely new environment or genre of story. The Raid 2, from Gareth Evans, accomplishes both of these feats by taking the Rama character (Iko Uwais, again doubling as the lead fight choreographer) from the original and placing him undercover in pursuit of an organized crime syndicate. Here we get to explore more of Rama’s world and character, and we are rewarded well for our journey.