FALLEN KINGDOM ½
2018, PG-13, 128 mins.
Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing / Rafe Spall as Eli Mills / Justice Smith as Franklin Webb / Daniella Pineda as Dr. Zia Rodriguez / James Cromwell as Sir Benjamin Lockwood / Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood / Toby Jones as Gunnar Eversoll / Ted Levine as Ken Wheatley / B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu / Geraldine Chaplin as Iris / Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm
Directed by J.A. Bayona / Written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow
Remember what it was like to see a living, breathing dinosaur come lovingly and thrillingly to life for the first time in Steven Spielberg's original JURASSIC PARK?
It was a
legitimately awe inspiring moment that instilled in viewers a sense of
childlike wonder in ways that few films of its era could (that, and this
moment ushered in - for better or worse - a wide-sweeping computer
generated visual effects revolution whose ripple effects can still be felt
to this very day). I recall
being in a cinema way, way back in the summer of 1993 and being
thoroughly mesmerized by JURASSIC PARK's sights and sounds.
For the first time on a silver screen these prehistoric animals
felt wholly real to me.
The problem with
all subsequent JURASSIC PARK sequels that have littered the multiplexes
over the last quarter of a century is that, with each new installment,
that aforementioned and ethereal wow! factor has increasingly
diminished. The fourth and
most recent sequel, 2015's JURASSIC WORLD,
was a box office juggernaut not seen for the series since the original,
but its slavish attempts at fan servicing and logic-free scripting that
bordered on idiotic hurt its overall visceral impact for me (and
considering the massive amounts of carnage and collateral damage that
these giant cloned creatures have left in their wake over the years, you
have to wonder whether any type of amusement park could ever be even
feasible and accepted by the general public). The inevitable
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM continues on the narrative from the last
one - serving as the fifth franchise entry, but second in a proposed self
contained trilogy - that, more than ever, shows the de-evolution of
series. Worse yet, it emerges
as even more off-puttingly absurd and laughable than its predecessor,
which results in the most tired, uninspired, and perfunctory JURASSIC PARK
Set three years
after the tragic events of JURASSIC WORLD - which yet again featured many
seemingly smart people making a litany of dumb decisions about the safety of
opening up yet another dino themed park for the consumer masses - the former head of
that doomed park, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), has now become - wait for
it - the leader of the Dinosaur Protection Group, a non-profit
organization that's dedicated to saving them from going extinct.
Now, you have to kind of sit back and wonder how the fairly
unscrupulous former businesswoman from the last film that used deplorably
ethical methods to make a buck would ever be allowed to head up a dinosaur
conservation group, but never mind. Her whole newfound goal is to ensure that what
happened on Isla Nublar years ago never happens again, but she remains
constantly frustrated at the lack of congressional action by her country
to save what remains of the dinosaurs.
She has a chance
meeting with a fellow dino rights activist and Eli (Rafe Spall), who works
alongside billionaire Lockwood (James Cromwell, enunciated in an on again, off again
British accent), who in turn once worked with the enigmatic John Hammond,
the man that started the whole dinosaur cloning phenomenon decades ago.
Eli has a simple proposal: He wants the remaining dinos on the
island removed to be taken to a peaceful sanctuary, but - rather conveniently
- Claire is the only one that has the tech know-how to access the digital
trackers implanted in each one. Realizing that she can't take on this task alone, she pleads
with ex-boyfriend and raptor wrangler/trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to return
with her and a military team back to the Isla Nublar to save the
creatures. Two problems get
in the way: (1) There is a very active volcano on the island that will
burst at any moment, most likely killing all living things on island and
(2) Owen, Claire, and every other human that occupies this story have
obviously not learned from the moronic mistakes of past characters in
previous JURASSIC PARK films in terms of going back to a secluded island
overrun by dangerous dinosaurs with murky army officials calling the
director Colin Trevorrow is gone this time (he still serves and producer
and writer) and in his place now is J.A. Bayona, a highly inspired choice,
seeing as he made the searing natural disaster picture THE
IMPOSSIBLE and one of the best least seen family films of recent
memory in A MONSTER CALLS.
If anything, he brings a strong directorial pedigree to JURASSIC
WORLD 2 that yields, at times, a breathtakingly beautiful film to simply
look at. With cinematographer
Oscar Faura painting the screen with ominous shadow play replete with moody
compositions, Bayona's JURASSIC WORLD sequel is every bit as visually
impressive as anything that came before it.
No more is this true than in the film's opening sequence, which
shows two pilots steering an underwater pod through the ocean looking for
the remains of the giant Indominus Rex - the dino baddie from the last
film - to harvest. Scenes
like that have a real sense of scale and atmosphere, and Bayona even drums
up individual moments of surprising poignancy, such as an unforgettable
image of one poor dinosaur that's stranded behind on Isla Nublar and
engulfed by volcanic ash and magma. This is, simply put, impressive stuff.
But, gee whiz, JURASSIC WORLD 2's complete unwillingness to push this franchise's storytelling template forward in dynamic and refreshing ways is its complete creative undoing and ultimately undermines having the limitless talents of Bayona on board. Plot wise, this sequel never really compellingly strays away from established and frankly worn out franchise troupes, and even when it tries to take a significant departure in its second half (more on that in a bit) it's more of an incredulous detour than a fascinating one. And unlike great and thoughtful science fiction, JURASSIC WORLD 2 never challenges viewers with its would-be enthralling ideas and themes because, deep down, it desperately wants to get to the dino on human mayhem.
for instance, the central conundrum that troubles probably everyone with a pulse
on planet Earth in this movie: Should dinosaurs be preserved,
protected, and saved? More
specifically, should the remaining ones stranded on that damn island be
rescued and afforded the same rights and protections as other endangered
species? In one amazingly
brief cameo, Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Malcolm appears before a congressional
committee to relay how these creatures were not created by God, but rather
by the hubris of man, meaning that, at the end of the day, maybe mankind should
let the volcano wipe them out because that's nature's way of
covering up and solving a mistake. Because
Goldblum occupies roughly five minutes of screentime here, leaving his
would-be compelling rhetoric feeling frustratingly abridged, JURASSIC
WORLD 2 seems annoyingly reticent to explore its potentially weighty ideas
with any real significance.
The film's grasp
of even modest logic is staggeringly limited throughout as well.
I was never fully convinced that Claire and Owen - both apparently
intelligent individuals - would ever jump at the chance to return to an
island that contains dinosaurs that mass murdered civilians and that has a
volcano that's about to go off...and all without probably vetting their
employer that gives them the job. I
also unintentionally howled at a later scene that showcased Pratt -
running at what should be speeds approaching The Flash - outracing a
volcanic eruption. Even more
hysterical is Claire and Owen stowing themselves away on a military cargo
shipped filled with dinosaurs that's making what I'm assuming is a long and
arduous journey home. When
they make it back to shore they look astoundingly composed, refreshed, and
nourished. How did they achieve this while avoiding detection?
At the risk of
delving into minor spoilers, the second half of JURASSIC WORLD 2 is where
it completely and insipidly becomes unraveled from reality, during which
time we're introduced to Lockwood's gothic mansion that secretly houses -
without his knowledge - a dungeon-like prison a few stories below for the
returning dinos that will then be sold - cue eye roll - at a high stakes
underground auction for the rich and dangerously unstable.
Plausibly, you might be wondering, as I did, how Lockwood would be
blissfully unaware that there are roaring dinosaurs just a few floors
beneath his estate, not to mention how any large scale beast would be able
to be transported there without attracting attention.
Predictably, the facility also houses a secret laboratory where
more freak experiments are being done to create even more dangerous breeds
of raptors, ones that can instinctively attack prey...that has a laser sight
targeting it by a human. This whole
subplot plays off of an equally inane arc from JURASSIC WORLD about the
notion of weaponizing dinos for the battlefield; neither film makes for a
legitimately intriguing case for how these unnatural and unstable monsters
would ever been tamed well enough to fight alongside humans in a war.
And don't even get me started on how badly this film hides the
identity of its real villain and a beyond bizarre and tacked on plot twist
involving a key member of Lockwood's family that elicited multiple groans
at the screening I attended.
By the time JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM ended my neck was sore from all of the head shaking. This is a sequel that wants to be a sophisticated piece of sci-fi about grand ideas and instead lacks the wherewithal to deal with them in engrossing ways. Unconstructively, the film - like its last few prequels - falls back on mindless cat and mouse action and scares, but even those scenes here lack a sizeable and lasting bite; this is the most bloodless and least frightening of all the JURASSIC PARK entries. Desperation and overall fatigue is truly rearing its ugly head with JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, and it's becoming abundantly clear that the sense of sweeping majesty and fascination that Spielberg drummed up in these mythical creatures 25 years ago is now in egregiously short supply. Alas, and to paraphrase Dr. Malcolm, life - and cynically brainless sequels looking to cash in and make a buck - finds a way.
Oh, how the once mighty have fallen.