Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom | J.A. Bayona | June 22nd, 2018
Three years ago, the Jurassic Park franchise was brought back to life, for better and for worse, with Jurassic World. Director Colin Trevorrow brought a fully realized dinosaur theme park to the screen and provided an entertaining mishmash of old and new themes. After the mediocre Jurassic Park III, audiences seemed more than ready to go back to the world first created by author Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg. The first Jurassic World didn’t have a lot of the magic, wonder, or adventure that Jurassic Park and The Lost World possessed. What it did have was a pretty good cast, great visual effects, and an overall enjoyable blast of nostalgic thrills. I enjoyed it for what it was and would have been fine if that was the end of the series for a while or even for good. Was it a great movie? Not by any means, but it was certainly a fun watch.
Jurassic World went on to break box office records and was generally accepted by new and die-hard fans of the franchise. Inevitably, there was going to be a sequel. The second film in this new Jurassic trilogy had the chance to try something new, or at the very least had a chance to go in a fresh direction. Unfortunately, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a tedious and evokes a maximum feeling of “we’ve seen this 100 times before.” The film is like the greatest hits of Jurassic Park moments, but these new moments now exist in a completely different and ridiculous bubble. Will any film in this franchise replicate the suspense and the magic of the original Jurassic Park? Probably not, but the opportunity is always there to try. Fallen Kingdom‘s main problem is that Colin Trevorrow’s script scrapes the bottom of the opportunity barrel. It’s flat-out bad.
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return as Owen Grady and Claire Dearing from the previous film. Their characters from the first Jurassic World weren’t revolutionary by any means, and if you weren’t a fan of them in the last film, you’re not going to come around to them this time. Claire is now running a non-profit organization that raises funds to protect the dinosaurs that were left on the island after the park was yet again closed. The clock to rescue the dinos begins when the dormant volcano on Isla Nublar becomes active. Even the government debates whether to intervene (with some shoehorned testimony from Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm). She is soon contacted by billionaire Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). We’re told – via some clunky exposition – that Lockwood was the original partner of Jurassic Park financier John Hammond. Lockwood’s right-hand man, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), informs Claire that there is a rescue mission underway to save the dinosaurs from the island before the volcano fully erupts.
Cue the same “we have to go back to the island, AGAIN” plot. Now, I may sound cynical, but I don’t mind how many times that these films have gone back to Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna. What’s bothersome is that this is almost the exact plot of The Lost World. Go back to the island all you want, but at least make it interesting. It doesn’t take much brain power to figure out that there is an ulterior motive for retrieving the dinos from the island. Of course, Claire convinces her old flame Owen to return, and so we’re back on the island fairly quickly. Owen wants to go back to rescue Blue, his raptor from the first Jurassic World. That’s about as much motivation his character gets in this one. The pacing of the first hour is all over the place. The editing is also some of the worst of the year so far. Quick cuts, abrupt character introductions, and forced character motivations derail any momentum that the first half establishes. The new characters, including IT tech/comic relief Franklin (Justice Smith) and veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda), are perfectly okay additions to the cast. Unfortunately, they come in and out of the story, as if Trevorrow wasn’t sure how to utilize them in the script past their most basic occupational skills.
Which leads to the main problem of this Jurassic film. The story. Colin Trevorrow clearly has affection for Jurassic Park. Having affection for a film, however, does not always create a flattering imitation. Trevorrow takes the cloning and subdued science-fiction of the first Jurassic Park and dials the ridiculous up to 11. When Trevorrow wrote and directed Jurassic World, the hybrid cloning science and villain motivations were a little hokey. With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the series has ventured into SyFy Channel-absurd territory. The franchise has always been science-fiction, but to a fairly reasonable point. Fallen Kingdom transitions into worldwide conspiracy and bad sci-fi technobabble that has already become mind-numbing in the Transformers franchise.
This is the most frustrating part of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating to see, since the director J.A. Bayona is a talented filmmaker – from The Orphanage to The Impossible to A Monster Calls. He does his best with the script that was given to him, which results in a few scenes that are actually visually great and thrilling. There’s even one scene involving a Brachiosaurus that emotionally affected the audience quite a bit (myself included). Most of these moments are sadly in the first half of the film. The second half takes a strange and awkward turn. There’s a mustache-twirling villain gathering straight out of a bad James Bond movie, numerous cringe-worthy dialogue exchanges, and a complete lack of any tension whatsoever. It’s all just too silly to be taken seriously at any tangible level. One can only suspend disbelief so much. The first Jurassic World had a brush with ridiculous moments, including the ending where the T-Rex and Blue team up to defeat the hybrid Indominous Rex. Scenes like that are tame in comparison to some of the developments in Fallen Kingdom.
Every Jurassic Park film has a moment or moments that are silly or even downright ludicrous. The difference here is that those moments were often held up by the plausible and stable framework of the plot that surrounded them. That frustrating imbalance in tone here is also sad to see. Bayona crafts a few scenes in the second half that play out like a haunted house film, with another new raptor hybrid (sigh) hunting the humans. This could have worked, yet somehow the movie feels bogged down and small since so much of the action takes place in the same location. It also doesn’t help that the film doesn’t make you worry for any of these characters. Shocking things can happen in a summer blockbuster these days (thanks, Infinity War), but there is never that sense of uncertainty here. No surprises. It’s Jurassic going through the motions, and the motions are filled with cliches, a bland villain, last-minute saves, and obvious “twists”.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom adds nothing truly special to the world that these films exist in. With a third film already planned for this trilogy, I hope that some truly new ideas and freshness can be spliced into the final entry in this now-unrecognizable franchise. It’s a big dumb action movie – something like The Fast and the Furious franchise, which revels in the ridiculous and self-aware absurdity, is not something I expected Jurassic Park to eventually turn into. It’s a strange mish-mash of tone and story, yet amounts to nothing unique, despite the sum of its parts. It’s also something I’ve never experienced watching one of these films. It’s a bore.