Review of the Week–Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Much like last week’s review, some of us have been eagerly awaiting the release of this next movie. Me, not so much. But I figured I might as well go to see how it did anyway. We’re being visited by another blast from the past, and in this case the emphasis is heavily on the “blast” part. Welcome to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom!

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Maintaining the time jump from the first film in the series, Jurassic World, the world is three years out from the disaster of the revamped dinosaur park Jurassic World on Isla Nublar, where once again the creatures broke free and caused chaos in the streets. As a volcanic eruption on the island looms and the dinos face extinction, Claire Dearing and Owen Grady are once again roped into returning to the fallen park and evacuating as many animals as possible–including Blue, the last living velociraptor. Rescuing the dinosaurs, it turns out, was the easy part: the so-called “rescue” was actually just a profiteering mission meant to auction off the dinos as living weapons to the highest bidders, including a brand-new genetically engineered monster called the Indoraptor. Claire and Owen therefore have to contain the situation as best they can, and stop things from spinning out of control and leading to a problem that can’t be undone.

First off, let’s recognize something here: just as Jurassic World was basically a remake of Jurassic ParkFallen Kingdom was pretty much a simple redo on the second movie in that original trilogy, The Lost World. I happen to hold the rather unpopular opinion that The Lost World was actually the best of the three because it took what was basically a rather dull and predictable special effects bonanza and turned it into a pretty fun action-adventure. This same sort of thing is what Fallen Kingdom wanted to do with its predecessor, and in some ways it actually succeeded. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jurassic World simply because I’m not a huge fan of its source material: I was much more interested in and sympathetic towards Fallen Kingdom because I was a fan of where it came from, and in fairness it mimicked The Lost World pretty well up to a point. The story was almost beat for beat the same, substituting the San Diego theme park for a secret illicit dinosaur auction–an interesting twist, but not so different as to really raise my eyebrows. Oh, and look–they brought back the genetically-altered weapon dino from Jurassic World! Except it’s, umm, smaller and even more unstable now! Great idea! But seriously, where was the originality in this movie?

I firmly maintain that some of the changes to the script in Fallen Kingdom served no real purpose other than to make it stand out from the previous installments, or to provide red-herring plot twists that may have excited some moviegoers, but when you think about them don’t actually matter to the story at all. In The Lost World, it doesn’t take a volcano blowing up to get mercenaries interested in taking the dinosaurs. It’s all corporate greed, and really that’s all the motivation you truly need. It’s totally believable, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Oh, but you need to obviously one-up what’s come before, so INSERT GIANT VOLCANIC ERUPTION HERE. Brilliant!

Seriously though, it was sort of laughably ridiculous to have Chris Pratt be able to outrun a volcano. Uh-huh. That would totally happen in real life. Oh, and can someone tell me what the point of the little girl to the story was? I thought the twist where it turned out she was a clone was kind of interesting, and it gave Claire and Owen an ally to work with on the inside once they got to the mansion, but really, how was it relevant to the overall story? In my view, the only reason was to give the two main characters a convenient out to say they didn’t have anything to do with dinosaurs being released to roam the Earth again. And that’s disappointing. Wouldn’t it have been much more meaningful and impactful to have, say, Owen release the dinos–if only to save Blue? Or Claire, because she just couldn’t bear to let them all die? And then they have to directly deal with the consequences. Nope, let’s just give that honor to Random Character #1, who probably won’t show up in the next film–conveniently removing any kind of accountability, and therefore interesting character development, from our heroes. Cool.

Look, I know I’m bellyaching a lot here, some of it probably unfairly. Honestly, I liked Fallen Kingdom a lot more than I liked Jurassic World. But that still doesn’t mean it was a great film. However, the acting was a bit better. I liked the fact that Claire, and by extension Bryce Dallas Howard, was given a bit more to work with in this movie by becoming a much more badass sort of environmental activist and showing off her animal smarts than the helpless, high-heel-wearing damsel in distress she was in Jurassic World. So that was nice at least. Chris Pratt was entertaining as always, but still he fell into the same trap that I noticed in the first film where I just didn’t see him letting his authentic acting chops out. He’s best in roles where he can be funny and witty and the lighter side of things, and in these movies it feels like he’s trying to fit into the stone-faced, macho-man action star role that’s just not him at all. Am I typecasting, or being stereotypical? Maybe. But it just doesn’t feel right. In a truly good piece of casting, I should feel like the character could only be portrayed by the person who played them. I feel like Owen Grady could have been just about anyone in Jurassic World and it wouldn’t have mattered, and Fallen Kingdom did little to change my mind. I think Pratt might have been a little more fun to watch in this one, but again, I questioned his casting. The other characters were pretty much unimportant set dressing, easily discarded and easy to forget.

One thing I will say about Fallen Kingdom though is that it finally, FINALLY introduced some actual stakes into the Jurassic Park franchise. One of the things that’s always bothered me about these films is that while it’s certainly a spectacle to see dinosaurs running amok, at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. The dinos are trapped on an island, they can’t hurt anyone outside of that, and that’s the end of it. There’s no real-world consequences there–unless you count the T-Rex’s brief foray into San Diego in The Lost World. But even that was a feint that was quickly put back in the box by Jeff Goldblum and company. As Ian Malcolm (nice cameo, by the way!) so accurately points out at the end of the film, this time there is no taking things back. The dinosaurs are loose on the world for good and all, and humanity is going to have to learn to coexist with these prehistoric creatures if they want to survive the new age. I suppose the true gravity of the situation remains to be seen in the sequel, but I’d be very interested to see Claire and Owen trying to deal with a world where dinosaurs are destroying human civilization in the next movie. Perhaps that kind of vision is just wishful thinking, though.

My Rating: 6/10

Don’t get me wrong: Fallen Kingdom is an improvement on Jurassic World–but not by much. It tweaks the generic formula of the franchise slightly and adds some interesting, real-world stakes to the conflict between humans and dinosaurs, and is without a doubt engrossing and fun to watch in the moment. But in the end, a sore lack of attention to detail and a plot ridden with red herrings and predictable callbacks to old films makes it unable to escape from the shadow of Jurassic Park’s past. There’s just not enough original thinking in these movies to keep me interested by them, and in the end, I think Fallen Kingdom is doomed to be yet another example of a big-budget blockbuster that played it way too safe and sought to relive past glories, the the detriment of its future.

 

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