Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Review
The subtext of the two Jurassic World films couldn’t be made more into plain, easily-readable text than the latest film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Featuring almost no plot or action changes from 2015’s Jurassic World, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom could be seen as how the entertainment industry treats distinct and unique properties and people. Take a good idea, distort it into something almost unrecognizable from what made it unique in the first place, and make it “cooler” with “more teeth.”
As a satire, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom succeeds on almost an otherworldly level, showing us the logical next step after homogenizing the wild and untamed spirit of independent film directors. The plot almost speaks for itself: an erupting volcano is threatening to destroy Jurassic World’s home island, Isla Nublar, and the remaining dinosaur population with it, much like the way the hit-starved studios destroy the legacy left by good films with constant reboots. Enter the elderly idealist savior, Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) – an out-of-touch figurehead who won’t listen to warnings until it’s too late – who goes against the United States Senate’s recommendation of non-involvement with the island’s destruction, seeking out fresh, hip idealist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to rescue the dinosaurs.
Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) returns to give us the exact reason why Jurassic World and its de-extinct residents should go away: they were never meant to be here in the first place, and nature is making a correction. A valid point; the unique has had its time, and we should let it be. But the more we try to cash in on the original’s success, no matter how lucrative the dividends, we only get an end product further away from what originally made it special. Not even the previous film’s manly hero Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) wants to save the dinosaurs; even he knows that Jurassic World needs to go.
As expected, Claire’s efforts to save the dinosaurs gets horribly out of her control, as both the volcano and human forces – Lockwood’s right hand man Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), mercenary Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), and the once-benevolent Dr. Henry Wu (B. D. Wong) – wrangle their wills over hers. The metaphor is firmly cemented by seeing how the terminally-ill Lockwood is ensconced in his palatial estate above the laboratory. He feels he’s putting good into the world, while Mills, Wheatley, and Wu engage in darker machinations decidedly out of his purview; dinosaurs (figurative for the film, metaphoric for this review) are being cloned and weaponized, and Lockwood doesn’t know a thing about it. Not even his granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon – youth demographic, anyone?) can get through to him when she tries to tell him things are going wrong.
Of course, as this film batters both its characters and audience with underdeveloped emotional blackmail, Owen has to come along for the ride after he’s told his favorite Velociraptor Blue is still alive. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom abounds with cheap shots like this. A dinosaur stands abandoned on a pier about to be engulfed by lava; a baby Centrosaurus cuddles with its mother in a cage while toxic gas swirls around them; an excessive and almost nigh predictable twist defines a character’s relation to the overarching plot; Blue is shot and no-nonsense paleoveterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) has to do meatball surgery on her.
A dropped-in, unearned emotional ploy or two is forgivable; when a film artificially raises the stakes too many times, you have to wonder if the purpose is to mask the lack of an interesting story. Or is it to keep the ball rolling, never letting anything fully develop before springing to the next concern or conflict? Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom makes a case for the latter, but falls to the former, with director J. A. Bayona pulling out almost every trick he can muster visually to keep our minds off Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow’s lackluster script.
Seriously. Another initial meeting between Claire and Owen at his mobile home while he’s working? Another hybrid dinosaur bred for search-and-destroy missions? A climactic fight which is almost beat-for-beat what happened in the first film? The ending shot of a dinosaur roaring over its new domain? There are huge questions as to how much of this film is a sequel and how much of it is a flat-out remake of the 2015 original, which all falls at the feet of the script. Or it could very well be the ultimate middle finger to repetitive summer tentpole cinema. Bayona, to his credit, takes what’s been given him and at least throws in some neat visuals (the surfer-about-to-be-chomped scene from the trailer goes over well), but his finesse can’t save you from eating more of the same thing major motion picture studios want to feed you during the summer months.
Jurassic World provided some good character foundations for Owen and Claire, our two returning heroes, but Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom makes them – and everyone else – into barely-there CGI facilitators. The worst part is how the script treats Claire, giving her exactly nothing to do; instead, she becomes the entire operation’s patsy. (That she’s played by the daughter of Hollywood legend Ron Howard doesn’t factor into the satire at all. Not one bit.) Sure, Owen makes a half-hearted endeavor to absolve her of what the animal rescue transformed into, but it doesn’t matter. Aside from introducing new characters Zia and tech wizard Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) – the latter taking the out-of-his-depth, screams-at-everything, more-comfortable-in-his-mother’s-basement role – and being Lockwood’s contact to start the dinosaur rescue, Claire’s presence is merely to provide some kind of romantic tension with Owen. Quite a contrast from her take-charge persona from the first, wouldn’t you say?
Could Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom possibly be this much of a self-aware bitch-slap of a summer blockbuster? If so, then all due accolades to Connolly, Trevorrow, and Bayona for having the balls to do it this large and with the studio’s blessing; were this true, the film probably deserves to be rated on par with Steven Spielberg’s 1993 groundbreaking franchise-originator. There are far too many factors which keep this from simply being a standard multiplex-packer of the Michael Bay variety. However, there’s no way a major motion picture studio could unleash a franchise film of this magnitude and have it be this, well, meh. It’s either an unoriginal misfire or a fantastically overt commentary on the state of how much we, as an audience, enjoy the same thing over and over and over again. Even the ending – where a choice between killing the dinosaurs off and releasing them is made, and take note of who makes it – shows us exactly what the studios believe the audience to be and what they want of us.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.
Post-credits scene: Yes.
Running time: 128 minutes.
Released by Universal Pictures.