Mankind has a horrible tendency to tamper with forces beyond our control. Due to greed, power, and a hint of nostalgic emotion, we have a desire to prove our greatness by controlling that which is inherently uncontrollable. Sometimes it is best to let the dead remain dead, as opposed to trying to play God and releasing man-made abominations upon society. I refer, of course, not to the dinosaurs inside the Jurassic Park franchise, but to this insanely clichéd, flawed new series of Jurassic films, especially the current entry, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; a film that, despite some well-executed sequences, fails to meet the basic measurements of entertaining popcorn thrillers.
It’s been three years since the disastrous events at Jurassic World Theme Park. A once-dormant volcano has become active once again, threatening all of the cloned dinosaurs on the island. As Congress debates whether the once-extinct species should disappear once again, former park Operations Manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) meets with billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his associate Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) about a rescue mission to save the endangered species. Along with a team of scientists (Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith), some shady mercenaries (led by Ted Levine), and former dino trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the group must battle corporate greed, traitorous enterprises, and a new breed of dinosaur, one with all of the threat of the Indominus Rex and all of the cunning of the Velociraptor: the Indo-Raptor (ah, Jesus, are we really doing this?)!
Look, let’s not kid ourselves about what we’re dealing with here. While the original Jurassic Park was a masterpiece of cinematic filmmaking, a crackerjack adventure for adults and a horror movie designed for the kiddies, Jurassic World was not good. The entire film was a combination of clichés and ripping off the plot of Aliens in order to miss the point of the original entirely and craft exactly one good scene (although granted, I would watch that T-Rex and Velociraptor team up 10/10 times). Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is, overall, a better film than World ever was (more on that in a minute), but it too fails to live up to even the basic tenets of joyful blockbusters, mostly because it lacks that vital Spielbergian magic. When Steven Spielberg makes a film, even when he utilizes clichés, he adds visual touches to liven up the material – the John Williams leitmotif, the visual cues of the dino in the mirror or the shaking water glass, etc. He understands that the dinosaurs are just wild animals trying to survive, and they are rarely ever the “bad guys” of the film, even when they are a threat. Instead of trying to replicate that magic or that originality, the newer films instead focus on providing as many clichés as possible, in order to keep the audience from getting too confused. Every decision in this film screams “90s blockbuster,” and I don’t mean that in a James Cameron way. This film throws every rote decision it can at us. You want two nerdy archetypes who are scared of the dinos and can also tap at a keyboard and shout “I’m in!”? You got it. You need two romantic leads who have absolutely no chemistry? Here’s Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. You want a young precocious girl who is played by someone way too old to be playing hide and seek? Sure, why not? Need a simple villain that won’t confuse audiences? What if we just clone the last villain and call him the “Indo-Raptor?” Yeah, that’s not lazy at all. And, of course, you need to have some sort of faux philosophical discussion inside the film. Sure, Spielberg actually wove chaos theory and the morality of cloning into his original film, but why don’t we throw all of that away to briefly talk for two seconds about animal rights? This choice is made even odder by the film’s desire to have it both ways: that the dinosaurs are too dangerous to exist but also must be kept alive for…reasons? There’s no clear answer as to why that’s the right decision. And if you want smart, intelligent twists, then you best look elsewhere; there are two twists in this film, one of which is so obvious they mercifully reveal it after ten minutes of screentime, and the other they deliver in the final twenty minutes as if it is a big deal despite the fact that the minute that plot is introduced most of the audience could likely guess its conclusion (I know I did). This all builds up to a shockingly ridiculous conclusion that includes, I sh*t you not, a GIANT RED BUTTON THAT WILL DECIDE THE FATE OF THE WORLD. And by hitting that button, it creates a reality where we have to sit through an uncaring Jeff Goldblum staring directly into the camera and saying the title of the film. Why, God? It’s an ending that begs us for a sequel but never proves to us why it deserves one.
Of course, clichés work if there is some effort behind the camera to make them work. And in that regard, Fallen Kingdom is something of a mixed bag. In many ways, this is one of the laziest films produced this year. All of the magic that makes the Jurassic Park movies great is lessened by cut corners. Michael Giacchino’s music not only fails to stand up to his own wonderful scores, it consistently feels like a cheap knockoff of John Williams’ iconic instrumentals. The series is becoming iconic in the way its special effects have somehow become worse since 1993, with the dinosaurs and lava looking fake as hell. Perhaps this is because, as I was reminded on Facebook recently (thanks, Dana), the original dinosaurs were done with animatronics, giving them a physically imposing presence. Still, this doesn’t excuse the fact that the writing is consistently atrocious, ranging from terrible dialogue to a climax that is way too long and not exciting enough to maintain. And then there’s the storytelling failures. In a “f*ck you” to audiences that complained about Bryce Dallas Howard being in heels while running through the jungle last time about, she is introduced with a “sexy” female gaze shot that pans up her body, starting at her heels. Mercifully, she gets to change into boots for the rest of the movie. In another scene, a surgery is performed on one of the dinosaurs, and the doctor literally makes one cut and shouts, “She’s gonna be ok!” It’s supposed to be a moment of relief for the audience, but anyone with half a brain would realize that the surgery isn’t even half performed at this point. And even the treatment of the villains is a letdown – even when these films do rely on a human villain, they at least make sure to kill them off in spectacular fashion, knowing that audiences are there with a certain sense of bloodlust. And while the villains of Fallen Kingdom do meet a grisly end, the deaths are rarely exciting or unique enough to avoid audiences staying home to watch their Jurassic Park box sets. There are so many insane decisions in this movie it is oftentimes hard to sit through.
And yet, somehow, despite all of the missteps, not everything in this movie is a complete waste. J.A. Bayona is a world class director of suspense, and when he can, he does everything in his power to incorporate it into the film. The T-Rex not only looks great, but it looks pretty realistic too. This makes tense sequences like the opening scene and a mostly batsh*t insane blood transfusion sequence high on thrills and chills, and are almost worth the price of admission by themselves. There’s an underwater sequence early on in the film that is just stunning – from cinematography to pacing to editing, it is a true joy to watch. There are some flashback sequences involving Blue the Velociraptor that are cute, charming, and absolutely essential filmmaking. And surprisingly, as dumb as the Indo-Raptor is as a villain, the way Bayona utilizes it is truly exciting. He milks this creature for all its worth, giving the audience moments of true joy and terror with the wag of its tail or the reach of its claw. What’s more, all of the great material with the Indo-Raptor comes from a finale set inside a Victorian mansion, and while the sequence doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of its premise, the fact that they even tried to set the tense climax inside a “haunted” house is a bold, interesting move. While it was a disappointment as a whole, Bayona consistently keeps things exciting, from the opening chase to the absolutely perfect final shot (not the one after the credits, which is not worth waiting for).
As for the acting, let’s face it: you’re not really interested in the acting. Pratt is effortlessly charming, as he is wont to do, and Bryce Dallas Howard is less obnoxious this time around. Rafe Spall is fine, I guess, even if he’s a fairly obvious villain from minute one. James Cromwell is pretty decent as Benjamin Lockwood, a contemporary of Attenborough’s John Hammond. Isabella Sermon plays a pretty obvious, pretty dumb character, but her performance is entertaining nonetheless (I prefer her performance to any of those obnoxious kids from the World). And then there’s Goldblum. Ah, Jeff Goldblum. He’s not in the film a great deal, but Ian Malcolm does show up at the beginning and the end, just enough to remind the audience how great/sexy he is, even when he’s not trying to be. You could cut him from the film and not change a damn thing, but honestly, why would you? As for the rest of the side characters, they can be summed up like this: when character actors Ted Levine and B.D. Wong show up, it’s truly exciting, and when the nerds show up (i.e. Smith and Pineda), it’s borderline unwatchable. But again, it doesn’t matter – you’re not coming to this film for the acting.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is overall a better film than Jurassic World. It is more cohesive, more thrilling, and all around well-rounded. However, it still lacks the key ingredients of a great movie: it lacks true excitement, true wonder, and true stakes. You never care about these characters, you never care about these dinosaurs, and inevitably, you never care about this movie. It’s a dumb action film through and through, and while you could waste your time on more tedious endeavors, I would not say this film warrants anything more than a curiosity rental months down the line. Unless the series can find a way to revitalize itself going forward, then we as a society should let these movies go extinct in peace. Why tarnish a great thing with an endless string of mediocrity?