REVIEW: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ is a Toothless Mess

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*Contains spoilers

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ starts with a ton of potential and nosedives into one of the most bafflingly terrible films I have seen in quite a while. The movie begins with a mercenary team venturing to the island from the first film to recover the DNA of Indominus Rex. Isla Nublar is now half submerged by water and a storm rages in a blackened sky. A submarine ventures into the depths as an extraction helicopter waits above. The team are clearly nervous that dinosaurs are still around. Someone says that all of the creatures must be dead by now. We know how this ends. “Famous last words” and so on… What follows is a tremendously well-shot and fun sequence. Gorgeous tableaus show humans dwarfed by the dangerous hellscape around them. Bushes move while familiar growls and chirps encircle. Lightning flashes illuminating the silhouettes of dinosaurs everywhere. The team doesn’t stand a chance.

The beginning of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is dumb. But it’s the right kind of dumb. Even the smallest amount of critical analysis makes the plot crumble. Why did the team attempt this mission in the middle of a thundering maelstrom? Did they not have any way of surveying the area to figure out if anything was living? None of that matters because the sequence is just so damned entertaining. By the time the late title card arrived, I was grinning from ear-to-ear. This had the potential to be something truly special. A silly and over-the-top adventure along the lines of ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ a film I adore for it’s unapologetic ridiculousness. Unfortunately, the first five minutes are the best part of ‘Fallen Kingdom.’ By a mile. I wish the potential of that opening bore out. I wish I was reviewing that film.

The terrific beginning of ‘Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom’ is dumb. The rest of the film is aggressively stupid. I almost don’t know where to begin.

The plot of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ revolves around an attempt to rescue the dinosaurs trapped on Isla Nublar. There is a volcano which is set to erupt and kill all life on the island. There is a fierce worldwide debate as to whether these animals should be saved. In an all-too-brief cameo Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as Ian Malcolm and speaks before Congress warning against saving these animals. We made a mistake by creating these creatures and nature is attempting to fix that mistake. As usual, Ian Malcolm is one of the only people making any sense. And as usual: no one listens to him. We are re-introduced to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) who is no longer an icy businesswoman and is now part of a group of dinosaur rights activists called the Dinosaur Protection Group. Her cartoonishly bleeding-heart sidekicks are Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Zia Rodriquez (Daniella Pineda.) Zia is a Paleo-Veterinarian and Franklin is afraid of everything. That description is as much character development as you get. The dino-rights activists watch MSNBC (a good touch) and cry as Congress announces that the creatures will be allowed to die.

Claire is then summoned to the mansion of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who was John Hammond’s partner in cloning dinosaurs apparently. If this character was ever introduced before this film, I must not remember. His smarmy business-guy front-man Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) explains that they would like to fund an expedition for Claire to save some of the dinos before the volcano erupts. They will be taken to an island preserve, not another Jurassic Park/World where the animals could live in seclusion and safety. Apparently Claire has not seen ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ which this plot lifts from directly and doesn’t realize that smarmy business-guy front-man actually wants the dinos for nefarious purposes. Claire tracks down Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to enlist his help with Blue, the highly-intelligent and trained raptor from ‘Jurassic World.’ Owen (who Pratt plays as Star Lord because apparently that’s his one acting mode) and Claire once again light the screen aflame with their blistering lack of chemistry.

The dino rescue squad travel to the island and meet with a definitely-not-evil-and-in-league-with-the-deceitful-business-guy mercenary Ken Wheatley (played by the always-terrific Ted Levine.) Hijinx ensue and volcanos erupt. Action set-pieces happen. This part of the film is pretty good. But you also saw most of it in the too-long trailer for the film. In pursuit of avoiding spoilers I will spare the rest of the details other than to say, if you’ve seen ‘The Lost World,’ you know where this is going. Except we trade San Diego for a giant mansion. It is in this final act of the film where it truly gets bizarre.

On its own that description seems fairly innocuous, but interwoven into this film are moments that strain credulity far past the point of breaking. This is a film which consistently insults the intelligence of its audience. There is a moment which is perfect embodiment of this: Owen opens a utility hatch on the wall. Inside is a box labeled ‘lighting control system.’ I looked that those words and read them immediately as I’m sure everyone above a fifth-grade reading level would do. Owen however slowly runs his fingers across the words in a moment which rung out as ridiculous and unreal, as if his fingers were saying “Are you keeping up audience? Can you read this?” ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is a series of moments that are telegraphed from a mile away. You can be sure in every single case that the good guys won’t get hurt and the bad guys will get killed. And when the bad guys get killed, it will be comically bloodless. If the good guys have to draw blood from a sleeping T-Rex and have to go into its cage to do it, you can bet that it’s going to wake up. If someone says “we made it!” something will always jump out right after. This is a movie laced with clichés.

You’ve seen this all before, and that creates a building feeling of being bored. There is a good hour in the middle of this two-hour-plus movie with no action, but even when the action comes it doesn’t surprise. This is paint-by-numbers filmmaking. It’s like an overproduced pop song with twenty writers. It takes no risk and tries to please everyone and ends up feeling stale. The dialogue constantly tells you things you already inferred. The writing is often clunky and lines delivered stiffly.

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Any one crime this film commits is not too bad on its own, but here it is a death by a thousand cuts. The main plot of the villains to sell dinosaurs at a comical house auction. When Henry Wu (BD Wong) shows up as an evil mad scientist and unveils his creation: the indoraptor wealthy people start to bid on it. He insists it’s not for sale. Smarmy-business-man sells it anyway. For $25 million. I am not a dino-economist but that doesn’t seem like the name-your-price a one-of-a-kind dinosaur prototype.  Wu is upset. “They will copy it!” he says. If they can copy it, why are they paying millions for dinosaurs in the first place? Speaking of copies, what about the adorable little girl who turns out to be the clone of some character we’ve never heard of. If we can make perfect clones of humans, why are we messing around with dinosaurs? That is a much bigger deal. I can’t decide if this revelation is supposed to be shocking. It is delivered in such a clunky and bizarre fashion that I found myself more puzzled than anything. What about the head-butt dinosaur that always conveniently arrives when Star Lord Owen needs to knock a wall down?

And why, above all other things, is Owen able to immediately take out ten security guards with machine guns? He is an animal trainer and yet he Jason Bournes his way through a room of mercenaries because that’s what the plot required.

I enjoyed ‘Jurassic World’ quite a lot. I had zero expectations for that movie and found it to be a diversion that had a real sense of joyous mayhem. There were even moments of true inspiration such as the fanboy of the original Jurassic Park who uses it as a meta-commentary on the state of the franchise. “Indominus Rex presented by Verizon.” Pure gold. I can understand how that film made all the money. It was a cultural touchstone. People who grew up with ‘Jurassic Park’ were able to bring their own children to experience it. Maybe it was retreading old ground, but it did so with a genuine reverence and did no harm.

‘Fallen Kingdom’ squanders that good will. This film was inevitable. When a movie makes as much money as ‘Jurassic World,’ a sequel is assured. Unfortunately this ends up as a spectacular failure. Director J.A. Bayona who directed the terrific ‘The Orphanage’ and the mediocre ‘The Impossible’ and ‘A Monster Calls’ once again shows his visual mastery. He seems to revel in the fairy-tale imagery of a dinosaur crawling through the window of a little girl’s bedroom or highlighted by the full moon. At times there is a truly beautiful film that peeks out through the cracks. Unfortunately the script by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly comes up very short. ‘Fallen Kingdom’ seems like a cash-grab. As if it was rushed out to capitalize on the success of the first. It a few great moments but the flaws weigh it down to the point of toppling.

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‘JURASSIC WORLD:FALLEN KINGDOM’ IS IN THEATERS JUNE, 21ST 2018

 

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