OVERVIEW: Located off the coast of Costa Rica, the Jurassic World luxury resort provides a habitat for an array of genetically engineered dinosaurs, including the vicious and intelligent Indominus rex. When the massive creature escapes, it sets off a chain reaction that causes the other dinos to run amok. Now, it’s up to a former military man and animal expert (Chris Pratt) to use his special skills to save two young brothers and the rest of the tourists from an all-out, prehistoric assault.
For a film series that was born out of reluctance, the success that the Jurassic Park franchise has seen is nothing short of miraculous. Steven Spielberg didn’t want to make the first film. In fact, he was ashamed of it. He saw ‘dinosaurs chasing jeeps’ mostly as an unwanted distraction from his real job: directing Schindler’s List. “It built a tremendous amount of resentment and anger that I had to do this,” he said in a recent interview, reflecting on 1993, the year he created history by releasing these two landmark movies. But now, 25 years and billions of dollars later, we have our most forceful sign that extinction might be the only cure to save the Jurassic Park series.
When a volcano threatens to erupt on Isla Nublar – home of the Jurassic Park – the governments of the world contemplate whether or not to evacuate its majestic residents. When the impending doom is declared to be ‘an act of God’ it is decided that humanity’s best interest lies in letting the dinosaurs die, and in a way, reverse the act of man that resurrected them.
But one seemingly benevolent old man has an idea. He offers our heroes from the first film – Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Owen, played by Chris Pratt, who’s doing his annoying movie star thing again – an opportunity to smuggle 11 species off the island.
Surprise, surprise, the old man – or at least his smug second-in-command – has different plans. He intends to sell the rescued dinosaurs to the highest bidder in an almost farcical auction held at his manor-like home.
Bayona, like any filmmaker who grew up on a healthy diet of Spielberg’s movies, is clearly a fan. In his four features so far, he has hopped genres with the energy of a Velociraptor, but has never made an outright action spectacle. But, regardless of the sandbox he finds himself in — he has made a disaster film and a fantasy drama — he can’t resist returning to his roots: Horror. At least half of Fallen Kingdom – and I was as surprised by this as you’re going to be – is a haunted house picture; claustrophobic, tense and significantly better than the preceding hour or so.
But there’s shocking cruelty on display here, way too much, in my opinion, for a film that will be seen by children. Images of dinosaurs drowning, being engulfed by flames, shot at with guns and tortured with cattle prods, have no place in a kids’ movie.
Fallen Kingdom is perhaps the closest any Jurassic film has come to invoking the underrated horror elements of Spielberg’s original movie, which is strange because dinosaurs are inherently terrifying creatures — and not just the T-Rex, but even the gentle herbivores. But having Bayona in the director’s chair certainly ensures that there is a different tone at work in Fallen Kingdom than its immediate predecessor, director Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World.
Other than Avatar, no film has been as bafflingly successful at the box office as Trevorrow’s aggressively ordinary reboot. It was a film that charted the same route as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but without any of the passion. Nostalgia was its only move, like an awkward uncle on the dance floor who keeps repeating the same steps because he once got whistles for them. Fallen Kingdom feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the previous movie – not once did it play John Williams’ iconic theme in its full glory, and no, the end credits do not count.
But this was to be expected. Trevorrow and his writing partner, Derek Connolly, appear to have taken all of Jurassic World’s criticisms to heart, and with their staggeringly poor script, have shackled whatever novelty Bayona might have brought to the table. You can hear his voice, fighting to break free like so many of the film’s dinosaurs, but no one can recover from that first act.
Almost every scene is written with an escape plan in mind, and every set piece – regardless of whether it is action or horror – has an exit strategy. This is true both literally and thematically, and it’s a cowardly way of writing a story. There are only so many times a movie can get away with a Deux Ex T-Rex, especially when already established characters are robbed of all humanity.
The Jurassic movies (are supposed to) appeal to a very specific, childlike corner of our minds. There’s no getting over that, no matter how many sophisticated plotlines about genetic experimentation they weave into these films. At the end of the day, when the park has closed, they’re only movies about dinosaurs – perhaps the most fascinating creatures a child could ever imagine. It was because of dinosaurs that we learned – however inadvertently – about our irrelevance in the grand scheme of things. Dinosaurs taught us about mortality – if such magnificent, such powerful beings could be destroyed in the snap of a finger, then what chance do we have?
These are ideas that have been explored, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, in each of the Jurassic movies. But not this one. The only time it comes close to tackling these Greek themes is when it chucks Jeff Goldblum at you – who, in an unforgivable turn of events, has little more than two minutes of screen time in the film.
As someone who grew up with these movies, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom represents a new low in this iconic franchise. I’ve never wished for these films to end, but I’m on Goldblum’s side on this one.