Defining Stupid: TED 2, JURASSIC WORLD, and Filmmaker’s Intent

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Spoilers for both Ted 2 and Jurassic World

I thought about doing a traditional review of Seth Macfarlane’s new comedy sequel, Ted 2 but after watching it this past weekend it turns out there isn’t too much to talk about.  The movie is pretty funny if you like the Macfarlane brand of comedy (I do). It’s interesting and a bit ironic that the film, basically a civil rights comedy, happened to come out the day of the biggest civil rights supreme court decision of our lifetime.  But you can’t construct a very interesting review based off of “pretty funny, #lovewins”, so I wasn’t going to write about Ted 2 at all. That is until I had multiple conversations with friends and family that were something like this:

Them:  “What did you think of Ted 2?”
Me:  “I thought it was pretty funny! Not as good as the first, but it made me laugh.”
Them: “Ugh, how can you like a stupid movie like that, but rip Jurassic World apart for being dumb?”
Me:  “Why are you always so mean to me?”

I’m paraphrasing, but this basically sums up the complaints I get on a fairly regular basis. How can I enjoy when one movie is clearly stupid, but rag on another film for it’s stupidity? Well…cause it’s my website and I can do what I want, that’s how.

In all seriousness, this is something I’ve been wanting to explore for some time now and these two films just so happen to be the perfect vehicle to do so. In order to frame this discussion properly and differentiate between the kinds of stupidity we’ll be dealing with, I’m going to have to define a couple of terms real quick:

Stupid – For the purposes of this discussion a stupid film is a movie that goes out of it’s way to be stupid.  It wants you to shake your head at the clear stupidity of it all, usually for some sort of comedic effect.  If you laugh at a stupid film’s stupidity it’s filmmakers would say “Mission Accomplished.”

Dumb – On the other hand, a dumb film is a movie that’s trying really hard not to be stupid.  It takes itself and its core conceit very serious.  It’s still really stupid.  You’ll still shake your head at it,  but a dumb film doesn’t want you to and it’ll go out of its way to distract you from all the stupidness, usually with a ton of pointless action scenes.

Ted 2 is Stupid.  Jurassic World is Dumb.

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Ted 2, as well as the original, are movies about a talking teddy bear that smokes pot, acts like a total asshole and sleeps with human woman despite not actually having a penis. The plot of the first movie is about how a 30 something year old man’s relationship with his best friend (a talking bear) is damaging the relationship with his longterm girlfriend. The plot of the second movie is about this same talking teddy bear wanting basic human rights so he can marry his human wife and adopt a human child. This concept is stupid as shit. It’s also hilarious. And what’s more, it being stupid is what makes it funny. Macfarlane’s brand of humor has always required this level of stupidity. We think Family Guy’s Stewie is hilarious because he’s a baby. Brian is funny because he’s a dog. Peter is funny because he’s Jabba the Hutt. It’s also why A Million Ways To Die In The West didn’t work. Macfarlane was telling the same jokes he always does, but this film wasn’t that funny. Why? Because his jokes are always better coming out of a stupid teddy bear then they are coming out of a stupid Seth Macfarlane.

The secret to Macfarlane’s brand of comedy is that he doesn’t much care for plot or characters. He has them of course. Ted 2 (and Ted for that matter) have characters with arcs. They have a story. But Macfarlane isn’t afraid to completely abandon plot and character to chase after a joke. And chase them he will. Ted 2 starts out with a random stage musical number, shifts into a courtroom drama, and then morphs into a road trip comedy before finally ending with a nerd reference filled fist fight at the New York City Comic Con.  None of this makes sense.  None of it flows.  All of it is stupid.  But it’s supposed to be.  That’s the movie he’s constructed.

There’s a scene in Ted 2 where the characters have crashed a car into a barn in the middle of the countryside and are forced to spend the night there.  As they’re wandering the farm, they stumble upon a giant field of marijuana and suddenly they’re recreating the iconic scene from the original Jurassic Park when Grant and Ellie first saw living dinosaurs, theme music and all.  “They’re moving in herds…they do move in herds” Ted says, quoting the line from the film verbatim.

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This is hilarious and really stupid.  And I’m convinced that the only reason they went on this entire road trip was so Macfarlane could work this scene into his movie.  It doesn’t tie into anything, it doesn’t move the plot along.  Macfarlane wanted it, so he put it in.  The result is a moment that doesn’t belong in this movie at all and yet it’s one of the best moments in the film.

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Contrast this with Jurassic World, a movie that takes its core conceit very seriously.  Which, to be fair, it should.  Jurassic World isn’t a comedy; it’s not trying to make us laugh.  But the script is so laughably bad anyway.  This is a film whose main conflict relies on the individuals responsible for containing a deadly dinosaur being stupid enough to forget that they have a GPS tracking device installed on it before walking into its pen.

It’s also a movie that tries to sell the use of dinosaurs as military weapons as a serious tactic.  There is a scene in the movie where we’re told what if we could just have a bunch of velociraptors go into those caves and ferret out terrorists instead of our troops, it would basically solve all of our global military problems.  This is the villain’s master plan and we’re not supposed to think it’s ridiculous at all.

It’s a film that spends the first 30 minutes showing one of the two children characters really dislike their girlfriend and awkwardly leer at every other girl he sees.  Is there every a consequence or payoff to this?  Of course not.  Just like there’s no payoff to the kids’ parents getting a divorce.  It’s setup without payoff and then payoff without setup.  It’s bad, dumb writing.

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The conclusion of Jurassic World is supposed to be a throwback to the end of Jurassic Park when the T-Rex “saves” everyone  from the velociraptors.  Except he’s not really saving them at all, it’s just a thematically fitting deus ex machina in which the T-Rex is just behaving like the animal it is, chaotic and unexpected.  Not in dumb Jurassic World, though.  In this film we have “Blue” the lovable raptor pet in a slow motion scene right out of a Michael Bay movie charge into the Indominus Rex to save his daddy Chris Pratt.  We then have the raptor team up with a T-Rex in an epic two-on-one throw down with the big bad.  After Indominus is defeated the two dinosaurs give each other a “bro nod” and then just fucking walk away.  This is how the movie ends. This actually happens and it’s not played as a joke.

So my main point to all this is that the difference between my definitions of stupid and dumb is the intent of the filmmaker.  What are the creators of this film trying to do and how successful are they at accomplishing that goal?

And that’s all criticism is at the end of the day; judging how well something accomplishes its objectives.  When I say that Jurassic World is a dumb, bad movie and Ted 2 is a stupid, fun movie, I’m not just saying that I didn’t care for one and liked the other.   A food critic that hates fish shouldn’t give a seafood dish a negative review and I shouldn’t just go into a movie like Jurassic World and simply say “I didn’t like it.”

What I am saying is Ted 2 is a stupid movie with a stupid concept that executed stupidly.  And it succeeds because that’s exactly what the filmmakers were trying to do.  Jurassic World is a dumb movie with a dumb concept that’s executed dumbly.  It fails to tell the story it tries to.  It fails to sufficiently conclude on the themes that it created.  It fails to payoff any of the character moments it sets up.  Its hero is a giant fish dinosaur that earlier in the movie we saw brutally murder a completely innocent woman.  It doesn’t make any sense, but it thinks that it does.  Instead of rolling your eyes and laughing along like you would do with Ted 2 you’re rolling your eyes and wondering what the hell they were thinking.

So I might be stupid for thinking Ted 2 is a better movie than Jurassic World, but at least I’m not dumb.

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