Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth entry in the seemingly unstoppable Jurassic Park franchise, couldn’t resemble one of its own dinosaurs more if it tried. It’s visually impressive, and the fact that it even exists is a wonder in and of itself, but it’s also slow, ponderous, and has a brain the size of a walnut. It’s a movie that uses CGI dinosaurs to sell a story about humans that seem more artificial than any CGI. But hey, look at that awesome T. Rex!
It’s been three years since Jurassic World (the in-universe theme park) came crashing down and the dinosaurs took over the now-abandoned Isla Nublar. However, the island’s volcano has become active again, threatening to erupt and cause the dinosaurs to go extinct for a second time. Despite the fact that she spent the last movie desperately trying not to get killed by them, former park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) feels the need to save the creatures, and helps spearhead an expedition to rescue them alongside former dinosaur trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). It turns out, however, that the expedition’s backers have more sinister plans in mind for the terrible lizards than just dumping them on a sanctuary: they plan on making a 2-hour-plus movie about it.
Just kidding. In actuality, the real purpose of the mission quickly becomes obvious to anyone who’s seen a movie in the last 30 years. It’s a half-baked statement on capitalism and animal rights that makes about as much sense in the context of the movie as it does outside of it. In fact, a great deal of this film simply doesn’t. Make. Sense. In a glorified cameo at the beginning of the film, Dr. Ian Malcolm (a highly embarrassed Jeff Goldblum) makes the argument that we should let the dinosaurs perish because they never should have been brought back in the first place. It’s basically nature correcting humanity’s mistakes.
And people, we need to start listening to Jeff Goldblum. We could have avoided all of this.
There is a level of obligation and tedium that runs through Jurassic World: The Dinos Strike Back that is impossible to ignore. The runaway success of its 2015 predecessor all but ensured that a sequel was coming, but that seems to literally be the only reason this movie exists. There is no story, no character development, and no real message beyond “Hey! Dinosaurs!” And even then, the dinosaurs themselves are basically featured extras in their own movie. There’s so much time spent on the “intrigues” between the human characters that the film almost completely forgets about its reason for being in the first place. The fact that the film’s poster focuses squarely on Claire and Owen while relegating the dinosaurs to fuzzy focus in the background says it all.
To be fair, Jurassic World: Attack of the Clones does do a few things better this time around than its predecessor did. At least the gender politics here aren’t nearly so primitive; Claire even wears sensible footwear for most of the film’s runtime. The textures of the CGI dinosaurs look a bit more realistic in close-ups, even if the actual CGI work hasn’t improved significantly. There’s only one annoying child character instead of two. Michael Giacchino’s moslty-exciting score largely avoids mimicking John Williams’ score for the original 1993 film, only aping his Jurassic Park theme for irony. (There’s also some very well-done choral work on the soundtrack, as well.)
And that’s about it. Although to be fair, there isn’t a whole lot worse about Jurassic World: Days of Jurassic Past. A little worse, maybe, but not a whole lot. Director J. A. Bayona takes over for Colin Trevorrow (who’s still listed as a writer), and while Bayona’s a competent filmmaker, he lacks Trevorrow’s ambition for spectacle. Not that Trevorrow often realized that ambition to its full potential, but at least he tried. There is a tired simplicity to most of Bayona’s action pieces. In some ways it’s a bit refreshing because it makes the scenes easier to follow, but by the same token, they lack dynamism and verve. An extended scene where an escaped dinosaur stalks the main characters is set without any music at all, and instead of drawing focus to the characters’ predicament and adding tension, it just highlights how much of a failed attempt it is at recreating the famous raptor chase from the 1993 original.
Bayona, in general, tends to treat the dinosaurs (and sometimes his humans) as if they were Looney Toons. Several moments of human/dinosaur interaction that should be tense and nervous are played instead for laughs. It severely undercuts the menace and supposed majesty the creatures are supposed to have. Jurassic World, for all its faults, at least managed to get across the inherent danger of humans interacting with gigantic carnivores that could bisect them in one bite. (Why are we supposed to be saving them from extinction again?)
For all the focus that’s pulled away from the dinosaurs, you’d hope that at least the human cast of the film could help inject some life into the film. And you’d be wrong. The best of the cast is, probably without surprise, Chris Pratt. He’s his effortlessly charming self, and he manages to make the weak jokes in the flat script work, but he can only do so much on his own. His primary scene partner, Bryce Dallas Howard, is as empty-headed and lifeless as she was in the first film. Their chemistry together resembles a failed science experiment desperately clinging on to life. Pratt has a better rapport with Blue, Owen’s prize raptor from the previous film, and that’s a CGI animal.
The rest of the cast is mostly harmless, almost never impressive. Even ringers like James Cromwell and Toby Jones don’t manage to do anything interesting with the material. If they’re anything like B. D. Wong, reprising his role as the geneticist responsible for all this nonsense in the first place, or the slumming Jeff Goldblum, they probably didn’t bother to care. Wong tries way too hard to look like he’s invested, while Goldblum can’t even be bothered. He’s still a more welcome presence than most, however, even if his cameo amounts to nothing and is little more than a cheap ploy to draw in fans of the original trilogy.
The last act of the film primarily takes place in a mansion that houses a secret lab, and in more ways than one resembles a Resident Evil film. And as much criticism as those movies (often rightfully) take, at least they know how to show the audience a good time. Jurassic World: 2 Fast 2 Jurassic should be slow-clapped for the ridiculous twists its narrative takes over the course of it’s punishingly-long runtime, but it should also be rightly called out for its lack of proper dinosaur action. It spends far too much time building up to the next film in the series and not nearly enough time giving us fun and excitement in the present. It was perhaps too much to ask that a film about extinct creatures show any sign of true evolution.
FBOTU Score: 4 out of 10 / C-