There are few things we as humans can agree on more than “dinosaurs are awesome”. Sure, the whole feathers on dinosaurs thing took a bit away from there cool factor, but that just led to the discovery that birds may be able to be classified dinosaurs themselves, which is just wonderful. Like any boy growing up, I had a ton of dinosaur toys, knew all the dinosaur facts, read and watched everything I could on them. The first Jurassic Park film I saw in theaters was Jurassic Park III which even as a preteen, I could recognize as an unworthy experience. The first is a great movie that still holds up, the wonder of the dinosaurs made real combined with a fun sci-fi story of mad science gone wrong. The Lost World: Jurassic Park may have returned director Steven Spielberg, but it was instantly forgettable and a disappointing follow up with the third of course sinking beneath even that.
But let’s get this out of the way, I liked Jurassic World. Saying you liked a movie that made $1.6 billion worldwide shouldn’t feel controversial and yet, over the past three years it has gained a reputation for being quite terrible and Colin Trevorrow as the latest iteration of the worst director around (even before, but especially after his by all accounts terrible third movie) who was given a job he didn’t deserve. It started with that ridiculously idiotic controversy over the high heels and continued by getting the The Force Awakens treatment with claims of it being a pure nostalgia and a retread of the first. I instead found it to be a refreshing revival of a decaying franchise that mostly did right by paying tribute to the original, while also building something new and fun (the latter being the most important part of any blockbuster).
Well those complaints have been addressed in that this sequel has now been handed to a director with more and even more acclaimed big budget, vfx heavy experience. J. A. Bayona started his career with the fantastic The Orphanage before moving onto the visually impressive if uneven The Impossible and the also visually impressive A Monster Calls which most people other than me seemed to like. And the film does look great in spots, one suspense sequence in a bedroom making me practically giggle in delight, and good the rest of the time. While I didn’t see the story as wallowing, they also “fixed” that if that was an issue for you as the film moves into new terrain. It borrows generally from The Lost World‘s structure, retreads some overused set pieces that date back to the first film and every film since, and oddly seems to ask us to have nostalgia for a three-year-old film, but the story itself is moving forward away from Isla Nublar.
Isla Nublar, the original island is about to be destroyed by a volcano, causing a second extinction for the dinosaurs. Bryce Dallas Howard, who was last seen running Jurassic World, is now a dino activist working to save them and receives an offer from a man who is now in charge of the estate for John Hammonds ex-partner to do just that and escort them to an island sanctuary. There are zero mentions of Isla Sorna (the island from the second and third movies) unless that is what they were hinting at, but then again, I’m pretty sure this series just agreed to pretend those movies never existed. She is sent to recruit her ex and former raptor trainer Chris Pratt to help and along with an obnoxious computers person (SOP for this series) and unremarkable vet their mission makes up the first part of this movie. The movie transitions later on, becoming more of a suspense thriller and I appreciated the increased focus later on. I just wish they knew what film they wanted to make.
Early on as a character was rolling away from lava and various other similar scenes, I was making a lot of mental comparisons to Volcano. Now, Volcano is completely terrible, but films like it have a place in the world and I’d have no complaints if the film had leaned into it. If it had leaned into the dinos fighting, macho paramilitary types, zero regard for physics, B-movie fun, but it doesn’t. Pratt can be the quipping action star that kind of film needs and there’s plenty of attempts at humor and cool, it’s just so little of it hits and that doesn’t happen here. Any repartee with Howard is stale and forced and they lack any sort of chemistry. The film could be a film discussing the importance of conservation or dangers of cloning and science, but its message is too muddled and often complete nonsense with the scenes that feature them too self-serious compared to the rest of the film. It could be a suspense film, but it takes way too long to get there, and it just drags way too much for most of it. Until the final location, any situation that should be suspenseful lacks the proper build up.
It’s hard to call Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom a disappointment when I expected so little based on the premise, trailer, and early reactions, and yet it still felt like one. I was hoping for at least something to engage me in the film, but that never really came. The series has passed the point where it can simply rely upon showing us dinos (which speaking of, the big new reveal is rather lame) to entertain us. It’s hard not to read the film itself as a meta commentary on the series itself trying to justify its own existence. Except instead of trying to convince us why we would want to keep it alive, Fallen Kingdom just wants to convince us not to kill it, an argument it is ill-equipped to make.