Director: J.A. Boyana
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, BD Wong, Isabella Sermon, Justice Smith, Ted Levine, Daniella PIneda
I saw the original Jurassic World at a very particular moment in my life. I was working as a CNA in Georgia, and the weekend of the movie’s release, I went to visit my sister in Atlanta. I was pretty bummed out because I knew that a resident I took care of was going to die soon, and that he probably wasn’t going to be there when I got back to work. So when I sat there in that darkened theater three years ago, everything about the movie just hit me right. It was exactly what I needed, and to this day, the movie fills me with the same joy, excitement, and awe that it did when I first saw it.
In contrast, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom lost me about five minutes in, with the reintroduction of the character Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). In the first movie, she was Jurassic World’s operations manager who was so focused on her job that she barely made any time for her family. This time out, she’s a dinosaur rights-activist who has created the Dinosaur Protection Group as a way of saving the remaining dinosaurs from the Isla Nublar island before a now active volcano erupts and wipes them all out.
As someone who saw the destruction and chaos in the previous movie, and whose own family was put in danger by the creatures she’s now trying to save, you might assume that a few thoughts would enter her mind, like: Maybe these dinosaurs need to be extinct, or maybe it was a mistake bringing them back in the first place, or it’s probably not a good idea at all for people to go back to Isla Nublar, especially when there’s a volcano about to erupt. But Claire and the other characters in this movie are so concerned for the safety and well-being of these creatures (who, let’s be honest, wouldn’t hesitate to eat them alive) that they wind up doing things that may save the dinosaurs, but also puts them and the rest of the world at risk.
In other words, the heroes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom are (like the villains of the piece) as dumb as a bag of hammers. It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for anyone on screen when they’re constantly making decisions that will have you shaking your head in disbelief. The only one who seems to have any sense at all is velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who at first doesn’t seem at all concerned that a volcano is about to render the dinosaurs extinct again, an attitude the movie seems to view in a negative way (for some reason).
The plot concocted by screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly is a colossal miscalculation. Claire is called to the estate of Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s former partner, and is approached by Lockwood’s right hand man Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) with a mission: Join a group of soldiers, led by the obviously evil Ken Wheatly (Ted Levine), to safely transfer the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar to a much safer neighboring island. Of course, nothing it what it seems. The soldiers are actually mercenaries who are tasked with not taking the dinosaurs to another island, but rather to the Lockwood estate where they’re to be auctioned off to a bunch of mean rich people.
This is all thanks to Mills, who’s been entrusted with Lockwood’s fortune and making it last after Lockwood dies. He’s created a very modern and high-tech laboratory in the basement of Lockwood’s estate (which features a convenient supply of toxic gas for no reason other than it comes into play in the plot later) and is conducting experiments down there with mad scientist Henry Wu (BD Wong) that even Lockwood (for some unexplained reason) doesn’t know about. Also thrown into the mix is Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who’s harboring a secret that is beyond absurd, and who exists just so the film can put a child in peril.
Director J.A. Boyana tries to bring a tone to the proceedings that is far different from anything in the previous Jurassic movies. In terms of tone and visual look, this is a very dark film, with scenes that wouldn’t be too out of place in a horror movie, and much of them taking place in underlit interiors during dark and stormy nights. The film’s opening scene showed some promise with this approach (it is, hands down, the best scene in the movie), but soon the movie suffers greatly from it. There’s no joy or wonder or excitement or sense of adventure here. This is just a dark and dour and dreary film in which dumb people are constantly running from CGI monsters, and are occasionally eaten.
A lot of the time, the characters have no one but themselves to blame for the sticky situations they find themselves in. One character gets trapped in a cage with a very scary new breed of dinosaur called the Endoraptor, and that’s because said character voluntarily got into the cage with the beast just to pull out its teeth (don't even ask). There is actually a moment where our heroes have to decide whether or not to release the dinosaurs into America as a way of saving them, giving very little thought to the millions of people who would be endangered if they did (the outcome of this scene had me wanting to punch a hole through the screen).
Each new decision made by the screenwriters keeps getting worse as the movie plods on. Mills’ motivation to weaponize the dinosaurs is a direct rip-off of the first film (and many other movies, if we’re being honest). The velociraptor Blue returns, but he’s more of a crutch for the screenwriters every time they write themselves into a corner, showing up to save our heroes whenever hope seems lost. Yes, Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm returns, but his appearance is just a cameo to bookend the movie. Instead, the movie gives more screen time to Claire’s two very annoying assistants, paleo-veterinarian Dr. Zee (Daniella Pineda) and the scared-of-everything computer hacker Franklin (Justice Smith). They’re supposed to be the comic relief, but they are anything but funny.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is such a depressing experience that if Hollywood decides to release a third film, I would have no desire to see it. Not even the presence of the always charming Chris Pratt would draw me to it, even though he’s easily the best thing about this movie. Yes, the special-effects are really good here (there’s one memorable but very heavy-handed shot of a dinosaur being swallowed up by a pyroclastic cloud), but so what? They were really good in the other movies as well. Although it has its haters, I will continue to embrace the original Jurassic World as a terrific popcorn movie until the day I die. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, however, is one of the very worst movies of 2018.
Final Grade: * (out of ****)
Rated PG-13 for monster violence, some gore, disturbing images, profanity
What did you think of this movie? :D
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