I’m “biast” (con): was less than in love with Jurassic World
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Hollywood finds a way. Hollywood always finds a way. To keep telling the same stories over and over again, that is. Even when fresh ideas are literally right in front of its eyes, like in the very movies that turn into retreads, it doesn’t know what to do with them.
If you’ve seen The Lost World: Jurassic Park — the 1997 sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park* — then you’ve pretty much seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to 2015’s reboot of the franchise. Once again, what was intended as an open-to-the-public theme park is now closed after a dinos-chomp-humans disaster, and for seconds, let’s invent a reason to get a few people back there anyway. And it’s the same reason as Lost World: some rich assholes want to remove the abandoned dinosaurs and bring them back to the mainland. There’s more urgency to Fallen Kingdom**’s conceit than there was to Lost World’s: Isla Nublar’s dormant volcano has come alive, and a massive, island-devastating eruption is coming, which will wipe out all the animals. Although, actually, this shouldn’t be a matter of great urgency. This is a world in which dinosaurs have been resurrected for a quarter of a century, and it is impossible to believe that there aren’t gene banks and frozen embryos, at a minimum, stored elsewhere, and possibly even other facilities where living dinosaurs are known to exist. The implication in Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) and Derek Connolly’s (Kong: Skull Island, Monster Trucks) script is that dinosaurs will go extinct again if none are rescued from Isla Nublar, and that seems rather unlikely.
Anyway, former Jurassic World administration Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard: Gold, Pete’s Dragon) and raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt: Avengers: Infinity War, Passengers) are among the team that returns to the island, financed by too-wealthy-for-anyone’s-good Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell: Big Hero 6, The Artist), who was, it turns out, a partner of Hammond’s in the original Jurassic Park venture whom we had never heard about before. (Lockwood as a Hammond stand-in is but one of the callbacks to the original films that Kingdom will dredge up, as if we couldn’t recognize a giant-dinosaurs-on-the-rampage movie without them. Watch for the riveting “rebooting the system” scene!) They need Claire to activate the park security systems that will let them track the dinosaurs, and they need Owen because they desperately want to capture Blue, the smart, social raptor that Owen had trained to obey commands. You will be unsurprised to hear that the rescue does not go well, and that Lockwood’s people are driven by secret and less than ecologically noble motives.
Fallen Kingdom may feel inexcusably familiar, but it’s very slightly an all-around better movie than Jurassic World. The sequence in which the volcano finally goes kerflooey and the panic that sets off among the humans and the dinosaurs to escape it is deliciously intense. (See this in IMAX if you plan to see it at all.) Director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls, The Impossible) manages to bring a tiny bit of the spirit of Spielberg in this section of the film, in the pathos of terrified dinosaurs caught up in the eruption, and particularly as Claire and Owen, presumed dead in the cataclysm, surreptitiously witness Lockwood’s nefarious forces loading up their dino catch onto a freighter. This recalls bits of Raiders of the Lost Ark not just visually but also emotionally, as Claire and Owen resolve to stop bad guys who have precisely the opposite of the entire planet’s best interests at heart (never mind the dinos’ best interests!). Even moreso than Lost World, or any other Jurassic Park movie so far, perhaps, there’s a frisson — only a little, but still — of an understanding here, and later, that bringing dinosaurs back to life is an undertaking that has fundamentally altered the course of human history. People talked about this in other movies, but we really feel it now.
That said, the promise that this movie was sold on — “Welcome to Jurassic world,” ie, the dinosaurs are free and rambling everywhere, no longer constrained on a remote island — is but one of the ideas that Kingdom doesn’t have a lot of interest in exploring. It’s clearly keeping this one in reserve for the next film (currently due in 2021), but the other few intriguing ideas new to this rebooted franchise are cast aside in favor of dino action (of which there isn’t even enough anyway!). Blue is a fascinating character — she almost rises above the status of mere animal — and the notion of trainable smart dinos is absolutely ripe for storytelling exploitation. Debates about what bits of nature are worth saving could be the source of an entire film on its own — Claire was called away from her work with the activist “Dinosaur Protection Group” — but that’s left by the wayside. The SJW warning that ridiculously rich men ruin everything deserves more exploration. The newly more overt Frankensteinian allusions could have done with more examination. There’s too much going on in Fallen Kingdom, and yet somehow not enough, either. The fact that the original Jurassic Park Cassandra, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum: Isle of Dogs, Thor: Ragnarok), is here relegated to two tiny scenes — just about all of which you’ve seen in the trailers and ads — is an unintended microcosm of the biggest problems with Fallen Kingdom on the whole.
And yet, while Fallen Kingdom lacks the lovely grimness of Bayona’s previous movie, A Monster Calls, the director is far more fair to the female characters here than Jurassic World was: He makes a big deal out of showing us that Claire is wearing sensible boots this time, rather than the stiletto heels she foolishly ran around Isla Nublar in last time. And awesome “paleoveterinarian” Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda: The Fitzgerald Family Christmas), who is on the trip to Isla Nublar, and badass little girl Maisie Lockwood (newcomer Isabella Sermon) — Benjamin’s granddaughter, who thankfully does not stow away like Ian Malcolm’s daughter once did — are terrific characters, and more interesting, in fact, than either Claire or Owen.
Nothing — absolutely nothing — can ever compare with the first Jurassic Park, with the wonder and the horror of it. And yet: dinosaurs! I wish this was a better movie, but I’ll take the dinosaurs.
*‘Jurassic Park’ is 25 years old?! How the hell did that happen?!
**One suspects “Fallen Kingdom” came about as a subtitle for the film by running “Lost World” through a thesaurus.