'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom': Continuing the ridiculous new reign of the dinosaurs
Save the whales, save the schmales - it’s time to save the dinosaurs. In “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the terrible lizards, once de-extinct afer clever humans manipulated some ancient DNA, are about to become re-extinct. A volcano is ripe to smite all living things on Isla Nublar, home of the dino theme park which, if you recall from 2015’s “Jurassic World,” is now overrun with the beasts.
“Fallen Kingdom” expeditiously introduces the philosophical debate at its core: should people let fate, the universe or just the random cataclysms of nature correct the misguided hubris of humankind, manifest in these uncontrollable, misbegotten beasts? Or are the dinosaurs worthy of salvation simply for being grand, majestic beasts inspiring awe, wonder and opportunities to learn more about creatures from the ancient world?
Ian Malcolm, the chaos-theorist and thinker who once famously said “Life finds a way” in Steven Spielberg’s franchise opener “Jurassic Park” (1993), returns via a Jeff Goldblum cameo to give his opinion: Let ’em eat hot lava, because bringing back the dinosaurs was a mistake. World leaders take his advice. That makes former park honcho Claire Dearing’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) heart bleed, so she leads a campaign fighting for the animals’ plight. She’s passionate despite being nearly eaten or trampled by dinos many times in 2015’s “Jurassic World.” She holds no grudge.
This is a rich cauldron of smoldering ideas that might make for a provocative movie, but “Fallen Kingdom” isn’t it. Spielberg’s timeless and innovative blockbuster spot-welded high-minded implications to visceral thrills, and 25 years later, those ideas haven’t really evolved in this particular cinematic context. With “Fallen Kingdom,” director J.A. Bayona expertly mimics the base pleasures Spielberg established: dinosaurs walloping the crud out of everything. “Jurassic World” - no colon, no subtitle - also put heavy emphasis on crud-walloping, and led to $1.6 billion in worldwide box office receipts, so why tinker with successful formula?
“Fallen Kingdom” is, however, a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. Bayona (“The Impossible,” “A Monster Calls”), working from a script by “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, relishes opportunities for suspenseful moments, dynamic action and iconic imagery. Trevorrow’s work is comparatively boilerplate. But the films are similarly preposterous, void of logic, and honeycombed with plot holes. They’re designed like the mighty stegosaurus: impressive in sheer visual spectacle, but with a brain the size of a walnut.
The plot contrives to put Claire and fellow “Jurassic World” expert/escapee Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) back on the island. They’re recruited to be part of a not-entirely-legal dinosaur extraction project bankrolled by elderly Jurassic Park partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), and orchestrated by Lockwood’s assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). You’d think a massive military-like cadre capturing megaton lizards, loading them onto ships and transporting them to Lockwood’s private island while dodging fireballs and ash from an erupting volcano would be a task conspicuous enough to be noticed by international political organizations or television journalists, but never mind.
Claire’s job is to get the crew past the old security safeguards, and Owen is tasked with capturing Blue, a raptor he once trained, because she’s “the second-most intelligent piece of life on the planet.” They’re accompanied by Zia (Daniella Peneda), a “paleo-veterinarian” whose accreditation is probably more theoretical than practical, and a cowardly computer nerd-type, Franklin (Justice Smith), whose role as comic relief is definitely more theoretical than practical. Bayona expertly stages and executes tense action sequences as these humans, essentially ticker-tape machines for expository and declarative dialogue, attempt to save the dinos and themselves from the island apocalypse.
I’ve thus far summarized roughly the first third of the movie, the rest of which is, in the kindest term I can summon, moronic. To reveal more plot developments would be to spoil twists and surprises - a truth I’m grateful for, because doing it would make me feel like an idiot by proxy.
However, I can reveal the following: The recitation of necessary plot points just in the nick of time before someone gets mauled. The franchise-requisite child-endangerment scenes, this time starring Isabella Sermon, playing Lockwood’s granddaughter. A dinosaur auction for a cabal of megarich international illuminati-types, including some Russian colluders looking to drop eight figures on an ankylosaurus. And a blue-lit laboratory full of bubbling tanks and test tubes of colorful liquids and computerized machines that go bleep-blorp, because where else would an insanely vicious and hyperintelligent Indoraptor be engineered?
Right - the Indoraptor. The series’ new and improved set of teeth and claws inevitably wreaks havoc after the movie’s most pinheaded character lets it loose. It must be said, at least in vague terms, that “Fallen Kingdom” sets a new standard for the unintelligence of movie characters, whose motivations and actions range from curious to batty to bewildering senselessness. And that’s just the heroes. The villains are deranged beyond all reason. And thank the Cinema Gods everyone is so intellectually devolved, because otherwise, all kinds of ridiculously entertaining stuff wouldn’t happen.
Also be thankful Bayona is a gifted stylist with a firm grip on the steering wheel - the movie’s pedal-through-the-metal pacing is truly its saving grace. It’s a deeply silly distraction from the troubles of the day, and an audaciously absurd exploitation of the childlike wonder we nurture for the giant monsters that once walked the earth. One scene features a nameless security guard hearing a rustle in the dark, and exclaiming, “What’s that?” I leaned over to the nearest person in the theater and asked them to wager $1 that it was a dinosaur. They didn’t take the bet. This movie’s audience has girded its expectations accordingly.
‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda
Director: J.A. Bayona
Run time: 128 minutes