Watching Adam Driver fight dinosaurs isn’t as spectacular as it should be, but this average flick isn’t an extinction-level event either.
March 09, 2023
If there's one thing that a film about Adam Driver fighting dinosaurs shouldn't be, it's average. Only ridiculously entertaining or ridiculously terrible will do, and those two outcomes needn't be mutually exclusive. The appeal of 65 is right there in that four-word premise, as it was always going to be, because getting the intense White Noise, House of Gucci, Annette and Star Wars actor (and BlacKkKlansman and Marriage Story Oscar-nominee) battling prehistoric creatures is that roaringly ace an idea. He should brood, and his dino foes should stalk, snap and snarl. That is indeed what happens thanks to writer/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who penned the first A Quiet Place, plus have horror movies Nightlight and Haunt on their past helming resumes. But for a flick that isn't required to offer anything else and knows it — well, other than laser guns to shoot at said dinosaurs, because not even the man who plays Kylo Ren can confront a Tyrannosaurus rex or pack of raptors barehanded — 65 doesn't possess enough B-movie energy.
Beck and Woods have taken the very B-movie path story-wise, though. As 65's trailer made plain, this is a Frankenstein's monster of a film mashup, stitching together limbs from a stacked pile of other sources to fuel its narrative. The Jurassic Park and Jurassic World franchise, the Predator series, the Alien and Prometheus saga, Logan, The Last of Us, The Man Who Fell to Earth and, yes, A Quiet Place: they each earn more than a few nods, and never with subtlety. So too does Planet of the Apes, but the fact that 65 is set on earth all along isn't a late-picture twist. What else would the title refer to? That said, Beck and Woods begin their movie elsewhere, taking time-travel 65 million years backward out of the equation. Instead, Driver's pilot Mills ends up on our pale blue dot from a civilisation out there in space, and one more advanced during earth's Cretaceous period than humankind is today.
Again, these aren't surprises. Text on-screen points all of this out from the get-go or close enough. When the title card arrives bearing the number-slash-moniker 65, that the film takes place all those years ago, and that Mills is now on the third rock from the Milky Way's sun, is written out on-screen as well. Kudos to the filmmakers for not focusing their movie on the tease; a lesser flick, and not in the so-bad-it's-good way, would've been fine with wholesale ripping off Planet of the Apes but just journeying in the opposite temporal direction. Rather, even with the Rod Serling-esque concept — The Twilight Zone creator and presenter also penned the OG Apes' screenplay, as loosely adapted from the page — 65 is about what happens next with full knowledge of where it's set.
The narrative from there is obvious, with or without any other context. Whatever you think will happen in 65 sight unseen, or from the trailer, does. Mills tries three things: to survive, to fend off those pesky dinosaurs and to get home. But, he isn't alone. He's transporting others as part of a long-range mission when his ship crashes on what's to him an unknown planet, and young Koa (Ariana Greenblatt, In the Heights) also lives post-impact — after their vessel is hit by an undocumented asteroid, sending them plummeting in the first place, and then after it smashes into earth, tearing apart and scattering its two halves 12 kilometres apart. The piece that Mills and Koa are in can't blast off, of course, and the planet's most frightening-ever residents are keen on a meal as the duo of interlopers attempt to use their wits and weaponry while walking from one section to the other.
If you know earth's basic history and how things turned out for the dinosaurs, as we all do, there's no prizes for guessing what else occurs in 65. With startling its audience off the cards, ample pressure falls on the film's ability to engage through character, chaos or both — too much pressure, it proves. Everything is passable. Everything is firmly by the numbers. Nothing is wild, weird or wonderful. That applies to the family thread that runs through the film, after Beck and Woods showed their fondness for the ties of blood, monsters and the end of the world with A Quiet Place. Mills' well-paying gigs have long spirited him away from his wife (Nika King, Euphoria) and daughter (Chloe Coleman, Avatar: The Way of Water), the latter of whom has serious health conditions, making 65's protagonist a Star Wars-esque absent dad. So, when he's tasked with caring for Koa out of proximity and necessity, that job sparks an emotional reaction and connection.
Movies about crashing somewhere strange and scary, being ushered into new worlds filled with threats and endeavouring to adapt all work as birth metaphors — we've all been there — an idea that lingers in 65's quiet moments. What does it mean to be thrust into an unfamiliar realm, learn of its ever-present perils and try to endure? How do we learn resilience, resourcefulness, who we are and what's truly important? These questions aren't unrelated, and they're also at the core of this feature. 65 doesn't dig fossil-level deep, however. It's always a dinos-versus-people sci-fi thriller. Actually, make that dinos-versus-humanoid aliens, given that Mills and Koa hark from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (no, not the George Lucas-started ones) as they're grappling with beasts brought to the screen with standard-at-best (and never Prehistoric Planet-standard) CGI.
65 would be a far worse film without Driver; switching out its star wouldn't make it an extinction-level event, but the whole 'Adam Driver fights dinosaurs' concept is alluring for a reason. Since singing "please don't shoot me into outer space" in Inside Llewyn Davis, he keeps being shot there, or from there, on-screen — and approaches each instance, as he has everything from Girls and Frances Ha to Paterson and The Last Duel, with blistering commitment. If this was a grander, gorier or sillier movie with Driver's performance at its centre, it might've been something special. There's glimmers here, glistening like a dinosaur's teeth. The version that treads forth is watchable, but also the most basic version of what it is, what viewers want and why it exists: yes, Adam Driver fighting dinosaurs.
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