OnScreen Review: "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

We have a special fascination with dinosaurs. Maybe because their skeletons remained preserved for us to discover them and learn about them. Maybe it is because they were at the top of the food chain on this planet before we were around and we now reside in the spot they once occupied. Maybe because dinosaurs are just cool when you first learn about them as a kid. Whatever the reason, a bestselling book named Jurassic Park was became a blockbuster movie in the 90s. It spawned two sequels that were decidedly less impressive than the original. Three years ago, this franchise, once thought to be extinct, was brought back to life in a hugely successful blockbuster, Jurassic World. Given how Hollywood works, there was no way there wouldn’t be a sequel. And given how, apparently, this franchise works, there was no way that this sequel would not come close to matching the success of its predecessor. And so now we must deal with the dino dropping that is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

I enjoyed Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, but I would never put the Jurassic Park franchise up near the top of the list of the great Hollywood franchises. Dinosaurs have appeal, but there is a limited range in how much story you can tell with them. Eventually, you’re just repeating the same notes, deliberately or not. And you can only up the stakes so far, and have people do the same stupid things over and over again before it slides closer to the level of horror movie camp. The film opens with a mercenary crew on the island attempting to acquire a tooth or the Indominus Rex from the last movie, and one of them is left in the pouring rain and actually says, “I’m feeling a little exposed out here.” This gives a pretty clear indication of where the movie is going: for the very obvious, the not-so-subtle, and the broadest of the broad.

Sequels have to elevate the stakes, and this time around, they’ve decided to make a dinosaur movie that is also a disaster movie, a movie about animal rights, and a movie about evil corporate greed, and bioethics. In other words, it’s a tonal mess. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprise their roles of Owen and Claire, respectively. For what it’s worth, these two are not what is wrong with this movie. In fact, they’re the only characters in the movie that aren’t one dimensional. They’re roped into returning to the island to save the dinosaurs by Benjamin Lockwood, a retconned partner of John Hammond played by James Cromwell. He has a granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), and his organization is run by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). The island’s once dormant volcano has become active and threatens all species on the island.

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This pending natural disaster is where the film decides to put the moral lesson of the film: Do the dinosaurs deserve to be saved or should they become extinct once again. This leads to Jeff Goldblum returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm to testify before Congress. Making a Jurassic World movie about animals rights is a tough tightrope to walk, and the fact that the film sends a mixed message about it doesn’t do it any favors. This is also a part of the problem with these sequels. Jurassic Park worked great as a singular movie. The further you tease it out with more and more sequels, and bring it more and more into the “real” world and try to make it relevant and topical, the more problematic and unbelievable it becomes.

The movie became increasingly annoying to me with every passing minute. The characters helping Owen and Claire, were painfully unfunny, especially Justice Smith’s Franklin Webb, whose fish-out-of-water “comic relief” wore thin really fast. When it turns out that the rescue mission was actually all a ruse, Rafe Spall’s character turns so quickly I half expected him to spontaneously sprout a moustache to begin twirling. Normally, I would not give away major plot twists like this, but the previews give it all away anyway. The real purpose of the mission is to retrieve the dinosaurs for a black market auction to various wealthy types, foreign governments, and other shady bidders.

This leads to the reveal of the big, new, baddie dinosaur in the form of the formidable… terrifying… Indoraptor, a genetic combination of the Indominus Rex and a raptor. Of course, we all know how badly that is going to go. Things build to the inevitable showdown between the Indoraptor and Blue, the raptor from the last film that Owen has a bond with. And very little of it is actually interesting, engaging, or memorable.

As my annoyance with the film grew, I actually became actively angry at the movie a few times, the film elicited more shaking of my head and groans than any other reactions I was supposed to have. In fact, my favorite part of watching the film was during a callback to the “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear” shot from Jurassic Park. It’s a shot that was clearly put in there for a laugh and there was dead silence in the theater. In one way I didn’t give the movie enough credit while watching it. There is a very obvious subplot going on with the little girl, Maisie, that I expected the film to tie back to Laura Dern’s Ellie Statler. Thankfully, they don’t go there, but where they do go is fairly worn out territory in movies now. It would have been provocative if it had been in The Lost World or Jurassic Park III, but it’s just familiar territory now.

It’s a little difficult for me to place my finger on why I had the reaction to the film that I had. Some will like it, of course. I’m sure for some people that don’t like it, it will just be forgettable and not worthy of the scorn I felt for it after leaving the theater. My gut reaction in a phone call with someone was to say that it wasn’t a normal two-syllable “sucked” but that it was a three-syllable “suuu-uck-ed.” I called it the Amazing Spider-Man 2 of the franchise. There will certainly be worse movies that will be seen in 2018 (heck, Gotti was playing just a few screens down). And there may be some who think this review is overly harsh, like the Johnny Depp/Pirate of the Caribbean fans out there who refuse to accept that their sequels are trash. But I walked out strongly negative toward the movie. It’s shocking for me, too, because J.A. Bayona is a director whose previous works (The Orphanage, The Impossible, and A Monster Calls) I have liked (A Monster Calls wrecked me).

I think part of why I disliked Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom so much is that it is just competent enough to be an outright disaster and will make just enough money to have the studio greenlight a sixth or seventh installment. Given the ending of the film, which sets up further sequels, ending the story here seems dumb, but going further down this road seems even dumber. Congratulations, you’ve made two movies worth seeing about dinosaurs in 25 years. I’m not sure who at the studio thought that this was the way to move forward with this franchise, but I’m ready for an extinction-level event for these movies.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars