Not content with having only filmed three movies where he could play a character from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Adam Driver has gone beyond the hat trick to ideally gift audiences with a story about an astronaut who uses a pulse rifle to blast the dino DNA out of numerous Cretaceous creatures. So why isn’t 65 more fun? Despite a simplistic premise and a lean 90-minute runtime, that logline describing the film is basically all it’s got. Harvesting ideas from other superior movies, writers/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods may be adept at crafting a few neat set pieces (their ideas for A Quiet Place certainly proved this), but going on a space odyssey with Driver felt too ponderous for its own good, no matter how many dinosaurs this film wanted to throw at the audience.
The setup provides a few extra details. Driver plays Commander Mills, a husband and father from a distant galaxy who has signed up to pilot a spacecraft in exchange for the money needed to pay for his daughter’s medical expenses. This also means he’ll have to spend an extended period of time away from her. It gets worse – during his spaceflight, the ship winds up hitting a few asteroids and crashlanding onto a nearby planet. With few options left, after ruling out suicide, Mills decides to find the escape pod that can get him back home, but it will mean contending with the local wildlife that all seems to want to kill him.
So, there are a few other things about this premise to keep up with, but just looking at this movie as it is, I can see it working if it remained this streamlined. A one-man chase film with a single objective could play pretty well, thanks to what Driver brings to a movie. His face, alone, is full of details that portray his introspection and do a lot more good in conveying a sense of his character as opposed to whatever flashbacks or other tools are pushed forward to explain things. Of course, there’s also the additional baggage that comes with this movie.
No, it’s not Ariana Greenblatt’s Koa, a young girl and the other survivor of the spaceship crash whom Mills finds and keeps close, despite being divided by a language barrier. She does what’s needed, allowing the film to have someone Driver can bounce some of his efforts off of and serve any other area in need of a plot glue to hold it together. The real weight on this film is making this mysterious planet Earth from 65 million years ago.
That’s not a big twist. It’s in the title, poster, and trailer; the audience understands this 15 minutes in. 65 is built around the idea that a being who, for all extents and purposes, is basically human, managed to arrive on Earth during the time of the dinosaur. That feels like it is supposed to mean something, but based on this film…it curiously doesn’t. It’s like how no one questions various humans in Star Wars being human and speaking English. They just do. The difference here is that, well, we’re actually on Earth, and one at least somewhat expects that to connect to the history of the world.
I don’t want to go on and on about this element, but the film doesn’t provide much else to think about. There’s not much of a buried theme here, as Mills isn’t a flawed character. He’s a very good man of action, in fact. His mission is driven by wanting his family to survive, but it’s not as though he’s fractured his family and needs to piece it back together. Do the dinosaurs represent anything more profound? No. They’re just large predators that remind audiences how much they don’t get to regularly see dinosaurs in movies (which is wild to think about).
On the other side of things, being a movie about a spaceman taking on dinosaurs, it does seem like there should be a lot of inherent entertainment in that alone (though, admittedly, spaceman vs. caveman would have sold me even faster). Unfortunately, the stretches between dino fights are pretty lackluster. While Driver is committed and Greenblatt manages to get some smiles out of him, there’s not much going on to either ratchet up the tension or keep a sustained sense of nonsense movie joy here. 65 is a mostly serious affair that seems to have missed out on some of the more basic requirements.
Oh, and I almost forgot – giant meteor! The very thing that killed the dinosaurs is on the way to leaving a mark on the planet, which creates a race against time for Mills and Koa. This should be the big ridiculous element to get me more on board with what’s happening, but Beck and Woods just don’t seem to figure out how to make that energy translate well enough for the film. A shame, as I really liked their previous directorial effort, the horror house-set thriller, Haunt. For this film, while being given a much bigger budget and enough room to make an original feature that feels somewhat large in scale, I didn’t feel like I was really transported anywhere.
Sure, when it comes to dinosaurs, the sense of wonder has a few previous high bars to live up to. Still, 65 seemed so plugged into being a minimalist take on a sci-fi survival story that it’s a real shame it ended up being a missed opportunity. The visuals are fine, I suppose. Dinosaurs on a non-Jurassic budget go as far as they need to here, but that’s not the problem. I was ready to embrace something of a throwback to a high-concept B-movie with a decent budget, but this trip back in time (with a twist!) failed to excite.