Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is stupid with two “o’s” and in all caps. It’s schlock. J. A. Bayona, the director, knows it’s schlock and leans so far into it, it almost topples over. The first Jurassic World was an exercise in enduring tedium. Fallen Kingdom is better, technically, but it’s still not worth two hours of your time.
The characters of Fallen Kingdom are caught in a Cold War of idiocy. Each side threatening to out-dumb the other. If you remember how dumb the characters were in the first Jurassic World you’ll understand how astounding a feat Fallen Kingdom is. Although it’s not the characters’ fault, not really. They’re just written that way.
Fallen Kingdom can be divided into two parts. Quite frankly you can divide the film up into more parts than two, and scatter its ashes across the ocean. The first part is getting the dinosaurs off Isla Nublar. Dear reader, you might be asking yourself, why would they be trying to get the dinosaurs off the island?
The answer, while not in the wind, still blows. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former head of the Jurassic World theme park, is now the head of a PETA-like organization for the dinosaurs. The volcano on the island where the man-eating dinosaurs live is about to explode and cause an extinction level event. The sane reaction is, “Oh goody.” Claire’s reaction and those of her fellow organizers is to rally to the dinosaurs’ cause. To be fair, she is also the same person who thought the Indominus Rex was a good idea. Her history of good decisions is bordering on nil.
A dying billionaire called Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) offers Claire a chance to save the dinosaurs. Because welcome to 2018 where we want to go to the island with the active volcano and rescue the untamed genetically engineered murderous beasts. Lockwood has an island, presumably one he bought on Craigslist where all shady secretive billionaires sell their islands.
He needs Claire because the tracking devices embedded in the dinosaurs are connected to a system which needs Claire’s handprint to be turned on. If you think that’s convoluted, brother, wait until the movie gets going. Lockwood and his right-hand man Eli (Rafe Spall) also want Blue, the intelligent ‘good’ raptor from the previous film. Of course, there’s only one man who can find her, trap her, and get her on board the transport vessel safely.
But Sam Neil’s Dr. Alan Grant hasn’t gone near the franchise since the third Jurassic Park movie so we’re left with Owen (Chris Pratt). The Jurassic World franchise is developing an annoying talent for being the one cinematic universe in which Chris Pratt is dull, obnoxious, and insipid. Pratt’s Owen is a self-involved jerk who has mistaken arrogance and cluelessness for charming.
Which brings us to the curious case of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire. Not since the Lara Croft films has a franchise come so close to fetishizing its heroine quite like the Jurassic Worlds. Much was made about Claire’s heels in the first movie. Her introduction in Fallen Kingdom is a sort of sly nod to the previous installments backwards thinking. Still, Claire’s current outfit isn’t much better. A tight bodice showcasing sweater and a pencil skirt all but drawn on. She trades this outfit quickly for fatigues and comfortable hiking boots. Which would be ideal if not for the myriad of ways Fallen Kingdom seems to find to put Claire in humiliating or painful situations.
Bayona seems to delight in putting Claire in situations where she has to screech, cry, squeal, or bleed. It would be one thing but the rest of the heroes seem to get along fine. Claire’s friend and colleague, Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) the feisty punk rock paleo-veterinarian and ex-marine is captured but somehow never is made to squirm. Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) is the hapless IT guy along for the ride who stumbles from time to time but is allowed to escape with his dignity intact.
On the island, they meet the head of the excavation operation Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). Levine plays Ken with such a manic glee you’d swear he’s a long-lost cousin of Snidely Whiplash. When you see Levine in a movie your mind instantly jumps to assuming he’s a bad guy. Fallen Kingdom has Levine exploring new heights of skullduggery mixed with bouts of boneheadedness. Ken has a habit of stealing dinosaur teeth from the gaping maw of the beast itself. It’s shocking Ken lives as long as he does.
Owen, Claire, Franklin, and Zia make it off the island in the nick of time. Only to discover the shady secretive billionaire’s right-hand man had a nefarious plan all along. Eli is going to sell the dinosaurs on the black market. Thankfully he has Gunnar (Toby Jones) the premiere black market auctioneer.
As absurd as all this may seem I assure you it’s even more ludicrous if you happen to watch it. Bayona, however, packs Fallen Kingdom with the best. While Pratt may disappoint, Cromwell, Jones, Levine, and Howard do not. Toby Jones plays a southern fried dandy; a toothy smile with a malevolent twinkle in his eye.
More than that though Bayona and his cameraman, Oscar Furara, lend Fallen Kingdom a striking visual sense. Idiotic though it may be, Fallen Kingdom is jammed with evocative imagery well above its source material. As they leave the island, the volcano exploding, we see a brontosaurus stranded on the dock bellowing mournfully to the passing ship as clouds of earth erupt around it.
With each passing installment of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies, we begin to truly understand how masterful and unique the first Jurassic Park really is. It’s technical and storytelling mastery remains untouched by any other movie in its franchise. The Jurassic World movies especially seem to have forgotten the core of what the other movies are about.
Jurassic Park is a monster movie. I’m old enough to remember being terrified of Velociraptors because they could open doors. As children, we tend to believe such wild things can be stopped by mundane things such as light and doors. The thought of a monster that could open a door was the stuff of nightmares.
Odd then that Jurassic World should ask us to sympathize with the dinosaurs. Jurassic Park was about people trying to get away from the island and the dinosaurs. Every subsequent movie since then has been about rushing back to the island and bringing the dinosaurs to the mainland.
It’s telling of Bayona’s sensibilities as an artist that the monsters should be deserving of our sympathies. In Bayona’s defense, he sees the dinosaurs as children do. Terrifying but fascinating things that seem lost and out of place.
Bayona’s earlier film When A Monster Calls was a startling ellagic beautiful tale of loss and mourning. I found myself left largely cold by the scenes rooted in reality. Here Bayona has fled reality totally. While he has made not a good film he has made a markedly better film than the previous one.
Every bit of this nonsense is from Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. Their script is one part morality tale in which only the bad people die. The other part being a shrieking folktale in which nothing makes sense because it’s being translated by people who don’t speak the native language. Trevorrow wrote and directed the previous Jurassic World and I all but fell asleep. He also directed last years bonkers fable-esque Book of Henry. Having seen Fallen Kingdom I can now say Trevorrow is the foremost practitioner of unhinged melodrama. Had he been the sole writer I imagine his heedlessness and Bayona’s unique evocative eye may have made something truly spectacular.
As it is we’re stuck with a genetically mutated Indominus Rex crossed with a raptor which gives us the Indominus Raptor. A name so uniformly silly even the great and charismatic B.D. Wong can’t say it with a straight face. Paradoxically, the dumbest part of the movie is also the best. For about ten minutes Fallen Kingdom does become a monster movie as the Indominus Raptor hunts a little girl through a gothic mansion. For that brief period of time Fallen Kingdom begins to unequivocally work as Bayona captures the Gothic and tense mood of the surroundings.
It doesn’t last long and before you know it we’re back to the humdrum lunacy. Though we do have a hint of a story involving clones sadly that storyline goes nowhere. It only leads to a little girl pressing a button that opens a door and allows all the captured dinosaurs to escape into the world. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I hate kids.
Fallen Kingdom has bouts of fun but too often the fun is trampled by its lugubrious stupidity. Pratt’s Owen at one point is passed out on the ground, drugged, and wakes to an encroaching pool of lava. What follows is a protracted physical comedic scene more at home in a Jerry Lewis movie than Fallen Kingdom.
Bayona ladens Fallen Kingdom with visual callbacks to Jurassic Park. He does so in such a way that never detracts from the movie itself. If you catch it fine if you don’t it still holds a shot unto itself.
Fallen Kingdom isn’t awful but it isn’t good either. I laughed when one of the secret organizations at the black market dino auction made the highest bid of the night, twenty-five million dollars. It seems there is no end to the havoc caused by the Great Recession. I can’t recommend actively going to see Fallen Kingdom. But if you happen to find yourself with some friends and they offer to pay and you have nothing else to do, you could do worse.