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Josh Reviews Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom well over a month ago, but I’ve avoided writing about it until now because my basic reaction to the movie can be boiled down mostly to:

Ugh.

I had a bad feeling about this film from the very first trailer.  I love the original Jurassic Park, and ever since that movie (which was released way back in 1993), I’ve been hoping (in vain) for a good sequel.  I didn’t care much for The Lost World or Jurassic Park III.  I was excited to see the series relaunched with Jurassic World, but while that movie was visually impressive and had a terrific cast, I thought it pretty much stunk.  And so I didn’t have high hopes for a Jurassic World sequel, but I dared to hope that a different director (J. A. Bayona replaced Colin Trevorrow) could do something better with this franchise and these strong actors.

Nope.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is worse than Jurassic World, and is, to me, the low point for this franchise.

As the movie opens, we learn that the Jurassic Park island, Isla Nublar, is apparently home to an active volcano that threatens to explode and wipe out all of the dinosaurs.  Just pause a moment to chew on that ludicrous idea.  So, you’re saying that the companies behind the original Jurassic Park, and the enormous multi-bazillion-dollar costing Jurassic World theme park we saw in the last film, built those parks on an island with an active VOLCANO???  That is the most insane, ludicrous idea in this entire movie series about cloned dinosaurs repeatedly running amok.  This concept makes clear that the people making this movie do not care one whit for telling a story with any intelligence or plot sense.  That realization immediately shut me off to this film.  This story set-up is staggeringly insulting to the audience.  And the film doesn’t get any better from there.

Turns out our main heroes, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt), are going on a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs from their exploding island.  This immediately makes these two main characters look even more idiotic than they did in the previous film (in which, for example, Owen demonstrated the hubris of the villains of every other Jurassic Park film, thinking he could tame and control velociraptors).  Every previous Jurassic Park film has emphasized the dangers of allowing dinosaurs to escape from the island.  So why is this now a good idea here in this movie?  Heck, even in this very movie, Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm returns in a cameo to make clear that allowing the dinosaurs loose is a terrible idea!!  The film tries in a halfhearted way to make us care about the dinosaurs as we might care for any other sort of animal.  Had the film actually been able to make that sort of an emotional turn — making us truly care for these animals we had previously seen mostly as dangerous people-eating monsters — we might have had an interestingly complex story on our hands.  But the film does not come anywhere close to that.

(Additionally, for anyone paying attention to this series, we realize that the film’s moral “quandary,” about whether to save the dinosaurs or allow them to become extinct again when Isla Nublar’s volcano explodes isn’t at all the dilemma the film sets it out to be.  Why not?  Because even if every dinosaur on Isla Nublar were to die, that wouldn’t mean the dinos would be extinct again!  There is a SECOND whole island filled with dinosaurs, remember?  Both The Lost World and Jurassic Park III took place on that second island, Isla Sorna!  I wrote about this in my review of Jurassic Park III I found it silly, at the time, that those movies took place on this second island, which had only been created in Michael Crichton’s The Lost World novel because he had destroyed Isla Nublar at the end of his first book.  But that wasn’t the case in the movies, and I thought those films, particularly Jurassic Park III, would have worked better had they ignored that second island Isla Sorna and taken place on the original Jurassic Park island, Isla Nublar.  Here now in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the filmmakers have done what I’d wanted them to do years ago, which is forget about that second island — except now we can’t forget about it, because two whole Jurassic Park movies took place there!!  Sigh.)

So, anyways, the movie starts from a place of our two heroes acting like idiots, which makes it hard to root for or care about them.  That was not necessarily an insurmountable problem, but as in the previous film, nothing that follows this dumb setup in any way develops Claire or Owen into characters in whom we can invest.  Ms. Howard and Mr. Pratt are both charming and likable, but there’s nothing to these characters beyond that, nor are we given any reason to root for them as a couple.  (In the last movie, when we meet them, we learn they’d had a relationship but were now apart, until dino-chaos throws them together again and they banter and bicker and the movie wants us to believe they’re meant for each other.  At the start of this film, they’re back in EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE and then go through EXACTLY THE SAME STORY.)

As was strongly hinted at in the film’s pre-release marketing, only the first part of the film takes place on Isla Nublar — the rest takes place back in the continental United States.  (It’s going to be hard for me to avoid some SPOILERS in the next few paragraphs, gang, so beware.)  It turns out a rich dude has taken dinosaurs off the island and back to the U.S. so he can sell them on the black market as weapons.  Think that goes well?  What follows is basically an expansion of the last twenty minutes of The Lost World, in which the dinosaurs get loose and wreak havoc here in the U.S., rather than on an island.  If you’re thinking that I was not excited at what was basically a rehash of something we’d already seen, then you’re absolutely right.

The movie does introduce one interesting idea — the notion that John Hammond’s partner, Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) used the same technology that Hammond used to recreate dinosaurs in order to create a clone of his dead daughter.  That’s a twisted idea and a fascinating extrapolation from the original concept of Jurassic Park.  Sadly, the film doesn’t really do anything with this idea.  The young girl, Isabella Sermon, who plays this girl, Maisie, does a fine job, but we’ve seen the story of the brave kid who survives the dinosaurs and bonds with the male lead many times before, and this film doesn’t do anything remotely different with the idea.

I did enjoy the two new side-kicks: Justice Smith as Franklin Webb and Daniella Pineda as Zia Rodriguez.  While neither was developed into anything remotely resembling a real character, both actors were entertaining as the movie put them through their dino-paces.  The great James Cromwell was wasted in the tiny role of Benjamin Lockwood (referenced above), and while it’s always fun to see Toby Jones, he was only given a single note to play as a easily weapons dealer.

I was pleased that Jurassic World brought back B. D. Wong as Henry Wu.  When he escaped alive at the end of the last film, I was curious as to where his story was going.  I was glad he was back again here in Fallen Kingdom, though bummed that we didn’t get to learn much more about him or why he’s doing what he’s doing.  They’ve turned Dr. Wu into a one-dimensional mad scientist. I’d have preferred a little more nuance to this character.  Oh well.

The film’s ending had potential to have been interesting.  The moment that all four previous Jurassic Park films have teased finally arrives, as the dinosaurs are released into the wild right here in the United States.  But just like how the movie wants us to believe that Claire & Owen’s mission to rescue the dinosaurs isn’t the massively stupid act it so clearly is, so too here are the end, Maisie’s decision to set the dinosaurs loose is played as a heroic moment… but to me, that moment is really the same ending as the grim ending of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which the world as we knew it was over and man’s extinction was at hand!!  It’d have been cool if the film had really gone for this sort of downer ending — it would have been a shocking moment, perhaps akin to the surprising turn at the end of Terminator 3, in which the heroes fail to stop Judgement Day.  But it doesn’t feel to me as if the film intends the ending to be a downer ending — which is weird to me!  It feels like one more miscalculation in a film filled with miscalculations.

I am bummed to have disliked this movie so much.  I love the Jurassic Park concept, and I’d still love to see a truly great Jurassic Park sequel someday!!  But this sure as shootin’ ain’t it.

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