2/10 The unabashed joy of watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is like watching a bitter rival trip over his own shoelaces. You’re laughing at the movie, not with it, but you’re laughing hard, and isn’t that the point?
Several years after the disaster that closed Jurassic World, a catastrophic volcanic eruption is imminent on Isla Nublar. Animal rights activists, partially led by former park employees such as Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), urge the government to save at least a few of the dinosaurs that now roam the island freely, to no avail. Their prayers are answered by Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a billionaire connected to the original park’s founder, who underwrites a rescue operation dependent on the park’s old tracing system, which only Dearing has access to. There’s also another catch — the deal is conditional on bringing in the raptor, Blue, who is too smart to be hunted and can only be brought in by her old handler, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
So, the cinematic concept expressed in the trailers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — however poorly — was neat. It’s a slasher film with dinosaurs, a concept very much rooted in the original Jurassic Park, and the slasher scenes are spectacular. Director J.A. Bayona delights in playing with the lighting. Lots of slasher movies spend scenes cutting back and forth between the villain and the protagonist as one stalks the other, what Bayona does differently is he sets up situations where most of the screen is poorly lit, then adds in flashes of light to create the same effect in a single shot. It’s much more tense, he’s also got a lot of great Nosferatu shadow work going on.
If the movie could shut up for a few more moments and get to those slasher scenes, that’d be great, because everything else is laughably bad. Make no mistake — I had a great time watching it, but this movie is seriously dumb.
The biggest issue is the plot, which is a problem for several different reasons. There’s too much of it, what’s there is longer than it needs to be and it gets in the way of the slasher scenes that are all the director seems to care about. On top of that, it doesn’t make sense from a character perspective, from a logistical perspective or from a philosophical perspective.
Nothing the bad guys do makes any sense. The goal is to sell dinosaurs for profit to other countries’ weapons developers. To do that, they’re going to recruit Dearing to help them track and collect these 12 species from Isla Nublar, including that one particular raptor who’s so impossible to catch they need to recruit Grady as well, before the volcano erupts and they all die, and then they’re going to bring them to their dinosaur mansion to auction them off.
Absolutely none of this is necessary. Genetic mastermind Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), who designed all of the dinosaurs going back to the original movie, is already hanging out at the dinosaur mansion, which is already full of dinosaurs that they’ve got in cages ready to sell. He says they need Blue because she’s displayed more obedience than other raptors, and they need to find out why so they can make other dinosaurs match that behavior.
So, we’re meant to believe two things here — one, that this world-renowned geneticist doesn’t back up his hard drives, where Blue’s entire DNA sequence should be ready and waiting for him, and two, that he’s never heard of Ivan Pavlov.
The movie can’t even decide what is needed to harvest DNA scene to scene. The movie opens with an expedition to harvest the skeleton of the previous movie’s indominous rex for its DNA — which, again, should already be in Wu’s hard drive — indicating that all he needs to work with is bone, but then he needs several dinosaurs’ entire living bodies to work with after that. Later, he insists on harvesting Blue’s blood, which won’t work because she needed a blood transplant from another predator, and I guess he can’t take, like, a scale or a tooth or something? DNA is everywhere, in every cell. You’re making this a lot more complicated than it is.
The kicker is the starting bid for these dinosaurs, the smallest of which would certainly cost more than $100 million to produce from design to material, at $1 million. It’s straight out of a satire, literally.
Even more than the plodding sequential reveals of this very simple and very dumb villany, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom spends an enormous amount of time working through the ethical elements of its scenarios — do these creatures, which will certainly die if they stay on Isla Nublar, have a right to life? It’s an interesting question. They’re artificial life forms, genetically modified clones designed by Wu. They all went extinct millions of years ago in the course of nature, and they all will again if nothing is done.
Do these creatures, which were not made by nature and had previously been rejected by her, deserve outside intervention? Should man, who has inadvertently extinguished millions of species already, interfere with nature again to preserve something she has deemed unworthy to live on? Fallen Kingdom raises all variations of these questions, but answers none of them. It seems like just an excuse to trot out a legacy character in Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who’s thoughts on the topic extend as far as “dinosaur bad.”
Opening a week after the hotly anticipated Incredibles 2, it and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom combined to be just the second ever pair of movies to both open at $100 million or more on back-to-back weekends — the previous instance was Shrek the Third and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which opened back-to-back all the way back in May 2007. With no Transformers movie in sight and Marvel only offering its Ant-Man sequel, which has already been knocked to no. 2, it looks like these two sequels will go on to be the big hits of the summer. That’s not a complete shame — they’re both highly anticipated if flawed films, and while there are other much stronger films out there like Tag and The First Purge, nothing is being particularly ignored.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.