2018 Mid-Year Review

We’ve just reached the halfway mark of 2018, and already box office records have been broken, franchise fatigues shattered, and even gotten some extraordinary movies in the process. There’s no way to know how many of these will stick out as memorable features this time six months from now, but the front half of 2018 has certainly set a high bar for what’s to come later in the year.

So without further ado, let’s count down the best (and worst) of 2018 – so far…

The Worst

5. Insidious: The Last Key – This saga has trended in a logarithmic downward spiral and the latest entry is no real exception. Lynne Ramsey is strong (as always) as a medium battling inner and outer demons alike, but this uneven jump scare-fest abruptly wobbles between supernatural absurdity, real-world domestic abuse, and ambiguously creepy guys. It never makes up its mind around what tone it’s aiming for, so seems to strive for everything while achieving nothing.

4. Fifty Shades Freed – While not offensively bad, this *ahem* climax of another Universal property was a let down after the outrageously silly ride of the previous two Shades. The sex scenes weren’t as giggle-inducing, but the ending scene was surprisingly sweet and met expectations for how to tie this whole thing up.

3. Tomb Raider – More bland than anything else, this wannabe-blockbuster is a waste of gift from God Alicia Vikander, who we see race boxers on a motorcycle (!), solve cryptic puzzles without a sweat (her dad taught her, we’re told), and come face to face with an ancient witch’s curse. Action set pieces transpire before us, but the stakes never quite hammer home and nothing seems to matter. If any good comes of this, Ms. Vikander will be available to stick to the art house fare that made her a star!

2. Truth or Dare – On principle I see every horror movie, especially if it’s set in college, and Truth or Dare is both of those things. It’s a big mess though, filled with questionable decision making by its young heroes and a convoluted plot (and another age-old curse!) that’s both frustrating and 100% what you expect. A good takeaway though is a character referred to as “Day-Drinking Penelope” and a preposterous scene where she’s Dared to do shots and walk on the roof…or she dies!

1. A Quiet Place – I’m more alone than the lead isolated family on this one, but I found this movie endlessly silly and giggle-inducing. I appreciate the inclusive nature of A Quiet Place being told through ASL, but couldn’t keep it together through goofy set pieces like a camera panning over mega-pregnant Emily Blunt scared in a bathtub as tense music plays, or a revelatory moment highlighting John Krasinski’s exposition whiteboard: “What is the weakness?” when it all comes together. Bonus points for every moment a character turns around and “Shh”s another, just in case you forgot you have to be quiet or else an alien brutally kills you. This is a good one to watch in a high chair, while it’s all spoon-fed to you.

The Best

5. Black Panther – Not unlike Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the newest superhero entry in the Marvel-verse fires on all cylinders with its tremendous world-building and wide spectrum of instantly memorable and iconic characters. The fierce lineup of female leads and the terrifically unsettling villain are all so strong, you almost forget about His Panthersty (who’s also great in his own right).

4. Incredibles 2 – The story continues for everyone’s favorite animated super-family, as Elastigirl picks up superhero duties and Mr. Incredible stays home to watch the kids. It’s hard to compare it to the original (one of the great movies of the 21st century), but this one is loaded with more action, feels more timely, and is even more non-stop.

3. Avengers: Infinity War – Even months later, this one still looks like a Thanos-sized behemoth in the distance. This movie arrived with the highest of expectations and shattered even those, delivering a kaleidoscopic joyride across planets and franchises before delivering one final, devastating blow. More Rogue One than Guardians of the Galaxy, this challenging film proves that there’s no such thing as the Marvel formula and (hopefully) cracks open the creative possibilities for Phase Four.

2. Love, Simon – This is certainly the “smallest” movie in my top 5, which in some ways makes it the biggest of all. This is a story that has probably happen, and continue to happen, until we reach a post-orientation society where nervous young adults coming out is a thing of the past. Until then, we have a wonderfully sweet and reassuring story (from a major studio, no less) of one teen doing just that, and how he finds support (or otherwise) from those around him.

1. Annihilation – Alex Garland’s utterly terrifying follow-up to Ex Machina is an unforgivably intense journey to hell and back. A mysterious presence is spreading through the coast of Florida, and a team of scientists venture into this “Shimmer” to collect DNA samples and get out. This classic “adventure gone wrong” tale is inverted like a Möbius strip, as the women face monsters unknown and forces beyond their understanding at play. At the surface it’s a monster movie, but at its twisted core it’s a tale of identity and exchange, and what happens when that transformation unfolds unwillingly.

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How Does Life Weigh? The Underlying Question of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018)

For those of you keeping track, I wasn’t a fan of the first Jurassic World. I found it a silly pastiche of CGI garbage, though an oddly charming one in its naïveté.

With the follow-up, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I was also taken on a somewhat mindless adventure, but can’t shake off some of the underlying questions it raises. Yeah yeah, “life finds a way” alright, but whose lives matter? Do some lives matter more than others?

Fallen Kingdom seems to suggest that yes, some do, but I’m not sure the logic follows a clear through-line. The central conflict (before something “else” goes wrong, anyways) is that Isla Nublar, the site of the now-abandoned Jurassic World, is also host to an active volcano and all the dinosaurs left behind are in danger. Swept up in the movement to protect an endangered species, Claire (theme park operations lead turned environmental activist) advocates to save them. When she’s recruited to return to the island for this cause, she doesn’t hesitate to join in.

So do the lives of artificially cloned dinosaurs matter? Yes.

Now, of the dinosaurs they find on the island, only a handful of species are saved – namely the carnivorous ones, such as the T-Rex and velociraptor, and hauled back to the mainland in massive carriers. Boring herbivores like the brachiosaurus are left behind (in a surprisingly touching scene for this kind of movie). They are abandoned to perish horrifically amidst the lava and flame of an erupting volcano, while T-Rexes and the like can nap on their cruise back to safety.

So do the lives of artificially cloned dinosaurs matter? Well, more if they’re carnivorous and “cool” and I guess action-packed.

But then, back on land at Lockwood Estate, the dino version of De Vil Manor, a lengthy action set piece ensues where the Indoraptor (a man-made hybrid of Indominus Rex and a Velociraptor, because sure) becomes free and roams the estate, terrorizing humans and dinosaurs alike. As artificially cloned animals go, the Indoraptor is basically doomed to fail in its moral space; this hybrid is literally built to be a killing machine, but it’s doing what it does best. Who can blame it!

Anyway, I guess the humans can, because the climax ends with the Indoraptor triumphantly punctured by the skull of a triceratops. So “life finds a way” via a relic of a deceased (but real, organic) dinosaur, mortally wounding a recently-alive but 100% man-made dinosaur.

So do the lives of artificially cloned dinosaurs matter? Not if they are a man-made species.

What’s bothersome about this (and I can’t believe I even care) is that the Indoraptor doesn’t matter in this ethical void, and the its death is somehow a victory. Alright, but how is the Indoraptor’s right to live any different or lesser than that of another man-made organism (if not man-made species) like the cloned “real” dinosaurs? Regardless of origin, they’re all living, breathing things. Wouldn’t an advocate for endangered species (I’m looking at you, Claire) be open to, if not enthusiastic about, protecting an animal that’s literally one of a kind?

What’s your take on this whole thing? Am I as crazy as Claire for caring about these man-made dinos? Let me know your thoughts!