Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
A B-movie that falls victim to the requirements of a blockbuster
The biggest question raised by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (dir. J.A. Bayona) is, what kind of a movie is this? The script plays like a science fiction B-movie from the 50s with its plot about super volcanoes and meddlesome scientists, but its $100 million plus budget and A-listers like Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jeff Goldblum, inexplicably reprising his role as Dr Ian Malcolm, slot it into blockbuster territory. It’s also a continuation of the Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park franchise, as a sequel to Jurassic World (2015), which felt decidedly like a fan-service-y reboot. The sequel to that reboot, with its constant homages to the series, overplayed fascination with dinosaurs by the main characters and perfectly staged introductions of a roaring T-Rex, is some sort of weird blockbuster-cum-fan-fiction extended universe thing. It’s a mess, some bits are fun, but ultimately, what the hell is it?
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fan fiction, nor is there with a pulpy science fiction plot that throws plausibility to the wind and has characters constructing fully functional genetic super raptors in short time frames. Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom doesn’t work because of its studio and producer-based requirements as a franchise blockbuster that needs to maximise its profits. There’s so much riding on the success of a movie that costs hundreds of millions of dollars that you never get the sense anyone, not even the incorrigibly laid-back Chris Pratt, whose already paper-thin character is reduced to a quip-spouting android, can relax. As a result, you in the audience can’t either.
Screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow use an ecological debate to kick off the action. Isla Nublar, home to the park’s innumerable female species of dinosaurs, is about to be torched by the imminent explosion of a volcano, killing all the dinosaurs. A courtroom sequence gives Jeff Goldblum the chance to do a very watered-down Ian Malcolm, in which he recommends we leave the dinosaurs and let nature take its course.
Nobody takes Malcolm’s sound advice, and so Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) rounds up Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because a raptor he raised named Blue is on the island. There’s also a tough paleo-veterinarian named Zia (Daniella Pineda) and a outdoors-averse hacker named Franklin (Justice Smith) who chopper into the island with a group of surly military guys.
All this seems to set up character arcs and relationships to forge over the course of the film. Owen is fed up with Franklin after he complains about the heat and overuses his bug spray, while Zia and Claire bond over their mutual love of dinosaurs. They’ll get split up, travel the island amid the carnage and bond with each other, the way Sam Neill’s child-phobic Grant does with the kids he looks after.
Except, none of that happens. The setup allows for some tightly staged set pieces that demonstrate Bayona showing his flair for stylistic action, like when Claire and Franklin are stuck in the travelling orb thing that guests used to explore Isla Nublar, underwater while the window cracks. There’s also a tense scene that admittedly lasts too long with a dying Blue needing a blood transfusion from another dinosaur, where Zia shows off her character’s expertise, but the relationships never forge or develop or become anything. The whole movie is just people who don’t know each other racing against a time limit together. There’s a point towards the end where the characters reunite and Owen yells out to Franklin, ‘You okay?’ Franklin says, ‘Yeah, you?’ and the whole thing is treated like a joke—this is pretty much all these characters have said to each other.
So when the ensemble bonding story is tossed away, a twist reveals the real science fiction-y stuff, which has fun with its relentless stupidity and its age-old villainous portrayals of a money-mad capitalist and an exploited scientist. This is all crammed in so tightly at the end, and the movie still has so much more sequel-baiting to do that, again, it feels like this whole story was one of the scripts cobbled together to make Fallen Kingdom into a cohesive, too-long movie.
There is some fun to be had with this movie. It’s also unfair to compare this to Jurassic Park (1993), when the already established Spielberg was in control of his project and wasn’t pressured to hark back to a previous franchise or set up new instalments, but it’s terribly sad to see how the blockbuster family action film has devolved. Bayona as a director is a hired gun and the screenplay seems hacked out over a couple of days amid countless other projects taking up the writers’ time and focus. What fun there is to be had is fleeting, and the interesting ideas are footnotes. Let’s wait and see if anything’s different on the third rebooted go around.