Review: J.A. Bayona's 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' is Silly, Cruel, and Entirely Unpalatable
by Adam Frazier
June 21, 2018
Steven Spielberg's 1993 film, Jurassic Park, opened to critical and commercial success, earning over $914 million worldwide to become the top grossing movie ever at the time. More importantly, it impressed the hell out of an eight-year-old with an intense interest in prehistoric creatures. As a kid, I would spend hours pouring over books from the library, learning all I could about Ankylosaurus, Plesiosaurus, and Triceratops. I watched every dinosaur movie I could find: Caveman, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, The Land Before Time. They were the closest I could get to seeing living, breathing dinosaurs. Until Jurassic Park, that is. Spielberg's exhilarating masterwork of sustained awe and adventure ignited my imagination and made the impossible possible by resurrecting these long-extinct wonders with honest-to-goodness movie magic.
Over the last 25 years, the Jurassic Park franchise has been one of diminishing returns. Both The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001) have impressive special effects, and entertaining action set pieces, but neither sequel captures the heart of the original, despite rehashing the same ideas, characters, and situations. As for Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow's 2015 sequel/soft reboot, there isn't a single moment of genuine awe to be found. There's plenty of computer-generated monsters and mayhem, but little else — save for a mean-spirited story populated by flat, entirely unlikable characters. If you went back in time and told eight-year-old me that I'd someday grow tired of Jurassic Park movies, I would say you're crazy, but Jurassic World's lazy, mocking approach made that seemingly impossible feat a reality.
Enter Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a film with even less magic and imagination than its predecessor. Directed by J.A. Bayona (of The Impossible and A Monster Calls), Fallen Kingdom doubles down on the absurdity and cruelty of Jurassic World and delivers an abysmal movie that's as silly as it is soulless. Three years after the events of the last film, in which genetically engineered dinosaurs destroyed the luxury theme park and resort, Isla Nublar now sits abandoned while the surviving dinosaurs fend for themselves in the overgrown ruins. When the island's dormant volcano suddenly becomes active, animal behaviorist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and former park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are recruited, alongside a hacker (Justice Smith) and a paleo-veterinarian (Daniella Pineda), to rescue the animals from the extinction-level event.
Funded by billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), former partner of Jurassic Park founder John Hammond, the mission is organized by his two-faced assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). Mills has hired a team of mercenaries, led by the sadistic Wheatley (Ted Levine of The Silence of the Lambs), to aid Owen and Claire in the recovery of these precious specimens. If this sounds familiar, that's because it's the plot of The Lost World; some rich guy with a tenuous connection to Hammond hires a big game hunter to capture dinosaurs so he can profit off of them. Owen, meanwhile, is driven to find Blue — his hyperintelligent pet Velociraptor — before Mills and the nefarious Dr. Henry Wu (B D. Wong) can create a new hybrid, the "Indoraptor", which is promised to be the most dangerous creature ever to walk the Earth.
I hated this movie. It's infuriatingly, almost deliberately dumb and needlessly grim. It's as if there was a genetic experiment in which the DNA of Roland Emmerich's Godzilla was spliced with DC's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to create a monstrous hybrid of stupidity and cynicism. The script, written by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, is by far the weakest of the series — an uninspired remix of the films that came before. Did I mention that Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) shows up for two whole minutes to deliver some melodramatic dialogue about dinosaurs, mostly in voiceover? Yeah, that's a thing that happens. Cool. Hey, remember Jurassic Park? I sure do. I wish I were watching it right now, instead of writing about a dinosaur movie where the dinosaurs exist only to be shot, caged, zapped with stun-guns, and have their teeth ripped out with pliers. Sounds like great blockbuster escapism, right? "C'mon down to Jurassic World, kids! It's like Guantanamo Bay for dinosaurs!"
New ideas worthy of further examination are glanced over in favor of presenting something you've seen done better a dozen times before. Fallen Kingdom resolves its volcano storyline in the first 30 minutes, leaving the other 100 to explore an extremely obvious mystery at Lockwood Manor, a spooky mansion with monsters lurking in the basement. The idea of a race-against-the-clock film where an active volcano forces humans to work together to save creatures that nature selected for extinction is intriguing to me. There's a moral and logistical quandary — do we let these animals die, or do we save them? How do we save them? And how do we co-exist on an increasingly uninhabitable planet? It could potentially have something to say about the destructive nature of our species, but this movie isn't interested in saying anything, it just wants to throw some CGI dinosaurs up on the screen and hope you'll somehow be impressed by them, without putting any effort into telling a story that elicits an emotional response.
When it isn't rehashing its own franchise, Fallen Kingdom also lifts from other genre classics, like James Cameron's Aliens. Spall's Ellis is a stand-in for Paul Reiser's Burke, a suit motivated by profit margins who conspires to retrieve a dangerous organism and sell it as a bio-weapon. Owen and Claire are a pale imitation of Hicks and Ripley, finding a Newt in 10-year-old Maisie (Isabella Sermon), granddaughter of Lockwood. But as much as this movie wants to be Aliens, it's more like Alien Resurrection or Alien: Covenant — an empty, ineffective attempt at pandering that does more damage to the franchise and its mythology than good. And like those disappointing films, Fallen Kingdom has killed off any enthusiasm I had left for this series. Spielberg elevated Michael Crichton's pulpy source material, but Trevorrow (director of The Book of Henry) and Connolly (writer of Monster Trucks) seem content to keep dumbing it down, turning Jurassic Park into a SyFy original movie à la Dinocroc vs. Supergator or Piranhaconda.
Here's the most frustrating thing: I like J.A. Bayona. I'm a huge fan of his work, especially his 2007 film The Orphanage, which remains one of the most poignant and unnerving ghost stories ever committed to celluloid. Likewise, I'm a fan of his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Óscar Faura (Rec 2). Despite disliking Jurassic World, I thought this follow-up had a chance with Bayona behind the wheel, but a remarkably weak script nullifies any contributions the Spanish filmmaker and his cinematographer could make. I'm left completely baffled as to why you would hire a strong visual artist like Bayona and waste his talent on such a hollow and unaffecting story.
Universal is already in development on Jurassic World 3, due out in 2021, though it seems like no one at the studio cares about the quality of these movies, only that they make lots of money with minimal effort. Hopefully the next movie's writer can breathe new life into this endangered brand before it goes extinct again. I'll never know, because this movie has — like a bad Transformers sequel, take your pick — turned me off to future installments of the series and that's sad. But not nearly as sad as watching a Brachiosaurus cry out as it is swallowed up by a river of fiery lava. Yeah, that's a thing that happens. Cool. Hey, remember Jurassic Park?
Adam's Rating: 1.5 out of 5
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