Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by J A Bayona
The first Jurassic World was one of my earliest reviews once I starting writing about films in theaters instead of just ones that were within arm’s reach, and I remember really liking a lot of it even if it did have some really bad moments throughout and a rather oblivious tone with the way it treats a lot of its cast. After seeing Trevorrow’s follow up, The Book of Henry, it seems clear that he may not be the best at balancing disparate elements together; especially when compared to how seamlessly Spielberg combined the wonder of dinosaurs with their capacity for pure terror in the original Jurassic Park. For this one though he’s taken a step back for a new director to try and get this goofy idea work once again even if the trailers make it look a LOT like The Lost World. Can this franchise hold onto relevance for one more outing, or is finally time for this franchise to go extinct? Let’s find out!!
Following the events of the last film, we find ourselves a few years out from the Jurassic World incident where everyone who’s still alive has moved on to something new and the dinosaurs on the island are simply left to their own devices. However, it turns out that the island where a GIGANTIC THEME PART WAS OPERATING ONLY A HANDFUL OF YEARS AGO is sitting on top of an active volcano, so I guess that means the park was doomed either way. This is a problem however because the island is the only place on Earth that is home to these magnificent killing machines, and several people around the world including a dinosaur protection organization led up by Calire Dearing from part one (Bryce Dallas Howard) are intent on finding them a new home before the volcano explodes. She ends up getting the attention of Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who I don’t THINK was in the original Jurassic Park but was apparently John Hammond’s business partner the whole time, and he has the resources to get those dinosaurs to safety. Well that’s great, but why does he as well as his right hand man Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) need her? So apparently, since she was an employee back then, she STILL has access to the security system (apparently that’s STILL up and running) and once she logs in, she can track the remaining dinosaurs on the island through GPS chips in their skin. Even with that though, there’s still one creature that will surely elude them which JUST SO HAPPENS to be Blue the Veloceraptor from part one. If only they knew some hunky bro who trained Blue and could potentially cox them to get in a cage and off the island. Oh wait! They DO know such a hunky bro! Claire drafts Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join them on this wild expedition along with two volunteers at the organization she works for; Franklin Webb to HACK INTO THE MAINFRAME or whatever and Dr Zia Rodriguez who’s a dinosaur vet (Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda). With such a crack team as well as a paramilitary group to back them up led by a hard ass solider (Ted Levine), they’re ready to face anything on the island, but they better do it fast because that volcano can blow at ANY minute! Why they couldn’t assemble this team together a month ago I have no idea, but I guess even SUPER rich guys like Mr. Lockwood can only do so much in a limited amount of time. Can this unlikely rag tag of activists and bros manage to save these dinosaurs as well as locate Blue? Why exactly are Lockwood and Eli ready to entrust all of this in their hands, and do they have plans that they’re keeping close to the chest? Just what the hell do they mean by Fallen Kingdom anyway? Could it be… the Kingdom of MAN!?
Um… well there’s no doubt that this is a mediocre to bad movie, but I actually found it kind of fascinating in the ways that it fell short. If you want a succinct and broad reason why this is so underwhelming you can point to its turgid pacing and bloated runtime as the MAIN reason this is a rough sit, but there’s something else at play here that makes it not just bad, but… fascinating. I don’t think I’ve been this intrigued by a straight up bad movie since Batman v Superman which shares a similar amount of… shall we say AMBITION, though I’ll give it to Zack Snyder that his stamp is much more distinct. In a way, it almost feels like a logical direction to take it; the IN CASE OF EMERGENCY BREAK GLASS moment in the series where they’ve done everything they could think of with the premise and so the only option left is the bad one. It’s almost kind of brilliant that they’ve made a movie that so perfectly mirrors the strain that this franchise must be feeling; like how Adaptation is an exaggerated memoir to Kaufman’s own inability to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief. That doesn’t make this movie GOOD considering it’s still an egregiously long and totally inconsistent mess, but it does make it… fascinating.
As far as what’s GOOD about this movie, eh… at least it still has really good effects! Look, I’m not one who will discount spectacle as a selling point in a movie, but that’s really the only thing that this movie has going for it. There are constantly dinosaurs on screen that all look great, the environmental destruction on the island is intense albeit a bit farfetched, and the action scenes flow well enough that they keep you at least somewhat engaged as they are going on. Where things start to fall apart however (specifically with the action, though we’ll get to the failings elsewhere soon enough), is the rather slapdash nature of the script that presents us with scenarios that have no buildup either in the actual dialogue and story progression or the editing of the film itself. There’s a betrayal scene that doesn’t REALLY come out of the blue because it’s such an obvious trope, but when we cut back to the results of that, it’s very unclear exactly what transpired. Okay, you show that these two characters get betrayed, but there’s no lead in to what the betrayers did and you have to piece together what in the heck happened while you’re in the middle of a resulting action scene. It’s like that throughout the whole movie and it gets old quickly. A character that is INJURED is forced to stay behind but they suddenly show back up in the middle the action; VERY far away from where they were left. A bad guy who is portrayed to be rather sensible (at least in terms of recognizing danger) does one of the most foolish things I’ve ever seen someone do around a dinosaur for no reason other than they needed to close that plot thread. Just enjoying this for the spectacle is POSSIBLE I guess, but it certainly could have been tightened up with better editing and a smoother sense of flow in the story.
If you ARE here for a story, well you’re pretty much out of luck because the one they came up with here is rather badly told. It’s got good ideas and it does an OKAY job of justifying the set pieces (I still don’t know why they’re doing this right as the volcano is about to blow but at least they ESTABLISH that), but everything else feels incredibly lazy and they seemed to have regressed from the last film; choosing to double down on what they did before instead of learning anything from it. I still like the first film mostly because of how well depicted the theme park was and the idealism that led the people running it to eventually make the mistakes that would doom it; all of which admittedly was the point of the ORIGINAL movie, but I thought Jurassic World was a decent enough update to that! Because the park is gone now they have to rely on the other parts of that story, namely Chris Pratt as Burt Macklin but for real and Bryce Dallas Howard as the one who has to put up with him, and there’s really no improvement in that area. Chris Pratt is STILL an obnoxious boor that the movie constantly rewards for being as such (he gets a million Big Damn Hero moments that are framed like awe inspiring feats of valor by a mythical figure), and the whole movie feels like a throwback to movies before people realized (or before those who knew were being heard) just how skeevy the macho action man archetype can be without a hint of irony or critical analysis. Oh, and if you were hoping to see Jeff Goldblum, you should just rewatch the trailer because that is literally the only scene he’s in. The guy is in the movie so briefly that he probably did it on a lunch break, and he’s not integrated into the story at all. He doesn’t know any of the characters in this and no one mentions him even once; not even the people who were part of the original Jurassic Park! The PLOT as it were is functional I guess (let’s go to the island and now let’s fight bad guys in a mansion) but it’s full of narrative dead ends, unimpressive villains, and way too many out of nowhere crises that are resolved through MacGuffins and a very poor understanding of technology.
As I said before though, I found this movie pretty fascinating; especially in the second half once we’re off the island. It’s hard to really delve into without going into outright spoilers, but basically the movie loses all sense of restraint and goes for the scenario that I don’t THINK any of the other movies even entertained doing. Admittedly I haven’t seen The Lost World all the way or any amount of the third film, but the big worst case scenario that no one really touches on is where this film ends up going. The cat is officially out of the bag as far as this franchise and I can’t imagine what they’re going to do from here other than to get more ridiculous and further away from the original ideas of the series. What was the reason for this? Were they desperate? Did they think there was no other place to take the franchise except to unrestrained ludicrousness? To a certain extent though, the movie seems to be somewhat aware of that as the BAD GUYS are constantly going on about how the technology CAN’T BE PUT BACK IN THE BOTTLE, and how the forward march of progress cannot be halted; by which they mean that modern day dinosaurs will be used for increasingly gouache and horrifying purposes as people find more and more ways to make money off of them. DAMN YOU CAPITALISM!! I mean it’s still absolutely ridiculous the ways they think of to exploit these creatures (we really don’t need dinosaurs fighting wars as long as we still have drones!), but then again so is the movie that they’re in. It’s less a raising of the stakes than it is a resigned capitulation to the worst instincts you could have as a filmmaker and a studio making a movie like this; sort of like when they took The Terminator and turned it into some nightmarish grab bag of fan service and time travel minutia, though I’m pretty sure this is gonna be WAY more successful.
This really makes a perfect double feature with The Incredibles 2 as both are underwhelming sequels to much better films, though where The Incredibles was a passionless slog made by really talented people, this is a slightly more passionate and risky effort made by people who are WAY overshadowed by the filmmakers that came before. Maybe it’s not trying its BEST considering how little they cared to fix the problems of the original but it is making an effort to get out of the shadow of its predecessors which is COMMENDABLE if they didn’t go about it in the most witless and foolish way possible. Seriously, how do you take a series about DINOSAURS IN A THEME PARK, and manage to make it even MORE ridiculous!?