The Spool / Movies
65 needed more meat on its dinosaur bones
Adam Driver's a terrific action survivor, and there are some fun thrills, but poor construction and scriptwork drag this creature feature into the tarpits.
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Adam Driver’s a terrific action survivor, and there are some fun thrills, but poor construction and scriptwork drag this creature feature into the tarpits.

If nothing else, 65 proves that Adam Driver plays a marvelous survival hero. After his ship crash-lands on an uncharted world, his Mills is dazed and wounded—but not to the point that he does not remember what to do in an emergency. He’s got a checklist memorized, and he can follow it until he’s back together. As Mills treats his wound, catalogs the damage to his ship, and ultimately dons an environment suit to survey his crash site, Driver’s body language shifts. Wooziness gives way to groundedness, and halting movements become smooth. Driver makes it clear that even when despairing and terrified, Mills knows what he’s doing.

Whether Mills is trying to communicate with, protect, and parent Koa (Ariana Greenblatt)—the only other survivor of the crash—or fighting against the monstrous beasts who rule the world he and Koa are stranded on, Driver never fails to be convincing and compelling.

In quiet moments, Mills tries to balance necessary pragmatism with his general warmth and unresolved anguish—a difficult task made more so by the language barrier between him and Koa and the ever-increasing stress of being stranded on a planet full of giant, hungry, murderous dinosaurs. In action, he’s both skillful and desperate. His rifle is powerful, but it only has so much ammunition. He’s a good shot, but he has to take on hordes of powerful, fearless, fast animals. The dissonance between Mills’ confident, practiced, improvisation-heavy fighting and his restrained-but-leaking terror is excellent action-hero work on Driver’s part.

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Mills (Adam Driver) and Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) must learn to communicate to survive the terrors of primordial Earth in Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ 65. (Sony)

Driver is excellent in 65. Greenblatt likewise does solid work during her action scenes, and writer-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods craft some strong individual set pieces (Greenblatt trying to hide from both a flock of pterosaur-esque critters and a pack of vicious monitor lizard-type beasts and Driver having to perform emergency oral surgery to dislodge a truly grody-looking parasite are highlights). Unfortunately, the rest of 65 is awful. On paper, it’s a lean, propulsive creature feature with a solid emotional engine. In practice, it’s a draggy, dull, often-offscreen creature feature that repeatedly stymies Driver and Greenblatt’s bond-building.

Mills and Koa must trek from where Mills’ half of the ship crashed to the mountains where the other half went down—the back half contains an (apparently intact) emergency vehicle. To make things more complicated than traveling through uncharted territory filled with hungry monsters already was, it soon becomes clear that a massive asteroid will impact—and close by too. Thus, the duo’s journey is urgent.

But 65 handles its geography and movement so poorly that the urgency never clicks emotionally. Mills and Koa do not feel like they are traveling towards the mountain as much as hopping from setpiece to setpiece. Ancient Earth never clicks like the massive ecosystem it was, and the duo’s progress is told (via one of Mills’ gizmos) rather than shown. The trip’s progress never goes beyond arbitrary. For a 93-minute movie about Adam Driver fighting dinosaurs to escape ancient Earth before the Chicxuluba asteroid hits, 65 is bizarrely sleepy.

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Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) finds herself face to face with a hungry, monitor lizard-esque dino in Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ 65. (Sony)

The dinosaurs are similarly disappointing. Design-wise, they’re an odd mixture of those more avian than classic movie dinos (particularly in their chirping calls, which are a legitimately good piece of sound design) but still not feathered, and full-on old-school capital letters MONSTERS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD. Neither set is badly designed per se, but they do not go well together.

More critically, outside of one enjoyably vicious joke, none of 65‘s spotlight dinos ever become more than dangerous obstacles. They’re sharp-teethed narrative engines, not characters. The closest thing 65 has to a dino-nemesis (a la Jurassic Park‘s infamously “clever” lead raptor) for its heroes doesn’t get more than “briefly encountered them once before and didn’t like getting shot.” Without personality, there’s only so scary the beasts can get—and by extension, only so satisfying that Mills and Koa triumphing over them can be.

And as for Mills and Koa’s bond, 65 refuses to get out of its way. Driver and Greenblatt have solid, thorny chemistry—strangers forced to work together to survive a dangerous world, both dealing with massively heavy personal baggage that they (literally, due to a language barrier) cannot articulate. It’s chemistry that 65 dilutes with ham-handed in-story slideshows and flashbacks that, in a few cases, actively take over scenes where Driver and Greenblatt were doing interesting work together—an almost literal case of telling over showing.

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Mills (Adam Driver) wields an arsenal of advanced tech—but even the mightiest of gear only goes so far on an uncharted world filled with hungry monsters in Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ 65. (Sony)

65 is plodding, dull, and above all else, disappointing. It lets down Adam Driver’s excellent leading turn. It strands its well-constructed setpieces amidst poor storytelling and boring, character-free dinosaurs. Its by-design minimalist script gets caught up in telling and retelling a backstory that Driver’s performance already told and told well. “Adam Driver fights dinosaurs” is a neat idea for an exciting action/horror movie. 65‘s execution of that idea is decidedly poor.

65 is now playing in theaters.

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