At this point in the seemingly never-ending Jurassic film franchise, it can
safely be said that humans are idiots and they should just let the dinosaurs
have the planet. After all, they had it for a lot longer than we have, and if it
wasn't for a big dumb meteor it's likely they'd still be around. And if we had
any doubts about who deserves this planet, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
peppers the film with plenty more reasons to take the dinosaurs' side.
At least the film is in the hands of the fabulous Spanish director J.A. Bayona
(2007's The Orphanage) who, like his longtime friend and mentor, Oscar winning
director Guillermo Del Toro, has a proven ability to elevate genre material to
include genuine emotion and psychological insight. Jurassic World: Fallen
Kingdom then, would not seem to be in Bayona’s wheelhouse, since the franchise
is hardly character driven. The only interest anyone has shown in a Jurassic
Park character was during the 2015 series reboot,
"Jurassic World", when park
manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, 2016's
"Pete's Dragon") was reduced
to continuously running for her life wearing vertiginous heels.
Credit Bayona, then, for having a cheeky sense of humor: the first shot of
Claire in Fallen Kingdom is a pan-up of her professionally-attired form,
starting with her shoes. Her new footwear seems less fashionable but more
appropriate for the upcoming activities, namely running, with the occasional
jumping and falling. But before the fun begins, there’s some table setting. No
longer park manager, Claire now runs a paleo-protection group and with the
original park abandoned and Isla Nublar’s enormous lava-spewing volcano about to
wipe out the dinosaurs again (that’s twice in 66 million years, damn their lousy
luck!), these genetically miraculous monstrosities are in desperate need of
protecting. Enter Eli Mills (Rafe Spall, 2012's “Prometheus”), who runs the estate
of ailing, philanthropic 1-percenter, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell, 2007's
3"). Eli asks Claire to spearhead a Lockwood-endorsed effort to rescue
as many dinosaurs as possible and relocate them to another island. Of course,
when the last syllable of your first name is “lie”, you’ve probably got
something to hide (just ask Waldo Lydecker from 1944’s Laura. The first syllable
of his last name gave him away).
Five films in, one must now concede that the series plateau-ed about an hour into
the first installment 25 years ago, when a slack-jawed Laura Dern slowly rose
from the seat of her Jeep to marvel at, as it turns out, the dawning of the CGI
age. Awe, one of Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg’s early specialties, is
just not cool anymore. Today’s action-adventure films are more of the “what have
you done for me lately” variety. And Bayona, who gave us the devastating tsunami
sequence from 2012’s The Impossible, definitely knows how to bring it. He also
slips in the occasional moment of grief, such as the long shot of the
Brachiosaurus who fails to make it off the island, his body slowly engulfed in
smoke as his anguished wails fade into the distance.
With Claire onboard, she puts together her team. After enlisting her reluctant
partner from the previous film, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, 2017's
"Guardians of the
Galaxy Vol. 2"
, dialing down the snark without losing the charm) she’s further
accompanied by a young paleo-veterinarian (Daniella Pineda) and an even younger
computer geek (Justice Smith), mainly to insure that folks who were zero years
old when the first film was released will have someone to follow on Instagram.
Together they’re front and center during the best 15-minutes of the picture, as
the volcano lays final claim to Isla Nublar and everyone is chased by panicked
dinosaurs, pummeled by flying chunks of lava and nearly drowned after falling
off a cliff.
The first Jurassic Park played an insidious game with its audience: we were
lifted by the notion that such a monumental feat of genetic engineering seemed
vaguely plausible, then we were made to feel arrogant, if not stupid, that we
considered playing God a good idea. Fallen World is not that subtle or genuine.
As Eli’s plan for the dinosaurs is revealed, notions of greed and private versus
government-funded philanthropy are introduced less to be explored and more as a
shortcut to know who the bad guys are. And a bizarre, late-inning bomb drop
regarding Lockwood’s 10-year old granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) goes
nowhere, although it does hint at some creepy places this franchise could go.
Otherwise, Fallen World is an expertly manufactured hunk of corporate
moviemaking, whose success will mostly depend on one’s appetite for slow
push-ins of astonished or terrified scientists. The story, co-written by Derek
Connolly and Jurassic World helmer Colin Trevorrow, has that dispiriting whiff
of machine-stamped franchise moviemaking. You can almost envision the 50 or so
3x5 scene description cards pinned to a corkboard and arranged to make a movie.
As an inevitable result, the characters are either too thin or too broad,
especially poor Ted Levine (2010's Shutter Island) as the gruff mercenary,
Wheatley, who’d surely chomp on a cigar if provided one as he walks the ominous,
dinosaur-infested rooms of Lockwood’s mansion shouting, “I want my bonus!”
Fallen Kingdom is bookended by a cameo from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum,
"Thor: Ragnarok") who appeared in the series’ first two installments. He
testifies to Congress that we should stop using cutting edge technology for our
own entertainment, let evolution take its course and allow the Isla Nublar
volcano to wipe out the dinosaurs. There’s a message there, of course, about the
evolution of a film series and whether it should be allowed the dignity of
coming to its natural end. Trevorrow’s Jurassic World mischievously noted the
difficulty in providing increasingly more thrilling experiences to the
entertainment-craving masses. And in Spielberg’s 1993 original, Dr. Malcolm
noted, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they
didn’t stop to think if they should.” So, really, the entire Jurassic Park
series is a veiled plea to stop making Jurassic Park movies. If only someone
could genetically engineer a studio executive who’ll listen…It's time for this
franchise to go extinct.