REVIEW – ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

It was always going to be impossible to top the groundbreaking and landmark piece of cinema that was 1993’s Jurassic Park. It was and still is a flawless example of blockbuster filmmaking. Three years ago, there was a concerted effort to revive this seemingly dead franchise with the nostalgic but lazy Jurassic World. It did what most reboots do, in rehashing familiar set-pieces and shying away from breaking the mould. It earned $1.6 billion at the worldwide box-office. The cash cow was alive again, meaning a sequel was all but assured.

While Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom initially reworks many elements of The Lost World, the horribly disappointing 1997 Jurassic Park sequel, it moves in an entirely different direction about a quarter of the way through its exhausting 2-hour running time. And it’s not a particularly enjoyable direction. Yes, you may hear some admire its deviation from expectation, but there’s really nothing to applaud here. It’s a nonsensical mess that will likely leave you feeling extremely frustrated and terribly underwhelmed.

Three years and millions of dollars in lawsuits after chaos broke out on Isla Nublar, the doomed Jurassic World theme park sits abandoned and dilapidated, with its dinosaur inhabitants now roaming freely around the island. But the once-dormant volcano which dominates the island is now burgeoning to life and ready to erupt, threatening to extinct the last remaining dinosaurs all over again. Is it a bit of a stretch to believe a multi-billion dollar tourist resort was built right next to a volcano, even one thought to be dormant? Perhaps. Then again, this is the very real threat facing the people of Hawaii and Guatemala right now. Yes, this movie arrives with unfortunate timing.

Back in the U.S., there’s furious debate on whether the helpless dinosaurs should be rescued or left to fade into extinction for the second time in history. The final decision falls to a congressional committee, who, on the advice of Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, in nothing more than a cameo, despite his heavy involvement in the film’s marketing), determine the dinosaurs should be left to die, as a way of eliminating the mistake that was their creation in the first place.

Despite her nightmarish experience with the dinosaurs during her time as Jurassic World operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now a die-hard dinosaur activist. Why the change of heart for a group of animals who almost slaughtered her, her boyfriend, and her two young nephews? Who knows. Unemployment desperation, perhaps? For whatever reason, she’s created the Dinosaur Protection Group who are determined to find a way to save the doomed creatures. Again, there is no explanation as to why she’s suddenly the human crusader for dinosaur rights. Not one line of dialogue. Nothing. But I’m getting ahead of myself on picking apart this film’s numerous plot holes.

After the disappointing decision by the committee, Claire is contacted by billionaire philanthropist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who we soon learn was Jurassic Park creator John Hammond’s former science/business partner. Having a hand in their creation, Lockwood is desperate to ignore the government’s ruling and find a way to see the dinosaurs saved. Amazingly, he’s discovered (and purchased, I’m assuming) a nearby island perfectly suitable for relocation of the dinosaurs, where they can live happily ever after and free of volcanos and tourists. But Lockwood needs to find the rogue dinosaurs first, and only Claire’s fingerprints can unlock the park’s old tracking system to locate them. Oh, yes. That’s how they bring her into this sequel.

But Claire’s talents (I don’t really know what else to call her fingerprints) aren’t quite enough for this daring mission. Lockwood is especially keen to locate and save Blue, the elusive last surviving and uber-intelligent velociraptor. Naturally, this means they’ll also need Blue’s beloved trainer Owen Grady (an underused Chris Pratt), who has run off somewhere to build a cabin (yep) after his relationship with Claire fizzled. After convincing Owen to join Claire, her Dinosaur Protection Group buddies Franklin (Justice Smith) and Zia (Daniella Pineda), and a whole host of Lockwood lackeys, the operation is on. Little do they all realise Lockwood’s nefarious and ambitious associate Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) has other plans in mind for the dinosaurs.

We’ve seen this entire scenario before. The narrative of The Lost World was this same basic setup. Swarms of dinosaurs were roaming free on an island. Someone from the original film was brought back to that island as the expert guide. And then a one-dimensional cartoonish villain has dastardly plans for the dinosaurs once they’re off the island. However, this is merely Act One in a strange three-act storyline. As wildly entertaining as this opening quarter of the film may be, it’s entirely repetitive of similar tropes from this franchise. It’s fun and silly, with plenty of ridiculous action pieces, but we’ve done this schtick before and it already feels old.

One of the few things this film gets right is leaving the damn island behind, even if the way we say goodbye to Isla Nublar is rather devastating. The haunting image of a lone brontosaurus, howling as she’s left stranded on the burning island, is downright upsetting. But this change of locale is entirely necessary. We didn’t need another “people chased around by dinosaurs on an island” film. We’ve had four of them now. Unfortunately, what we’re given in its place is somehow even worse. The second act feels more like something from a silly spy film, overloaded with odious villains taking part in an auction which feels like a bizarre dinosaur version of Hostel. And the conclusion plays like a house of horrors that’s unfortunately rather laughable. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is three movies rolled into one, and none of them are crafted with any discernable talent.

There’s not a shred of character development for our two leads. Owen’s bravado and swagger are entirely toned down, and Pratt isn’t given much more to do than plod from point A to point B, as the narrative jumps from one bombastic set piece to the next. There’s no cohesion in these adventures, leaving us with a screenplay which feels more like two people smashing random ideas together and hoping they stick. Claire may not be the heartless corporate opportunist she was in the original, but Howard does nothing more than widen her eyes and scream every now and then. And the less said about the subplot involving the pair and Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) the better. There’s a big, useless revelation with this new character, which is so out-of-left-field, it caused the woman next to me to exclaim, “Are you f–king kidding me?”

The narrative is filled with idiotic character decisions which, even in a monster movie, make little to no sense. While trying to hide from one of the film’s new dinosaur nasties, Maisie makes her bed the bizarre hiding place of choice to elude the beast’s gaze. It creates the wonderful visual you’ve seen in the trailer, as the dinosaur creeps slowly up the covers towards the frightened child. But it’s just utter nonsense to think even a child would make this ridiculous choice of survival tactic against a menacing predator that isn’t likely to be fooled by a few sheets over someone’s head.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom desperately attempts to create some suspense and tension in the house of horrors final act. There’s plenty of dinosaur stalking around the Lockwood estate’s claustrophobic halls and rooms. But, again, we’ve seen it all before from this franchise, and, at times, some of this film’s big moments appear like lazy shot-for-shot reworkings of classic moments you loved from Jurassic Park. That being said, director J.A. Bayona shows his flair for visuals with numerous glorious uses of shadows and flashes of light to create some truly creepy moments. But they are so few and far between, and many of his best sequences frustratingly finish just as they’re getting started.

With awful dialogue and poorly-written characters, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is its own worst enemy. Seemingly existing only to create some mind-blowing visuals and literally nothing more, there’s an argument to be made this is popcorn cinema that doesn’t require any thinking. But that’s a terrible excuse for a piece of cinema in 2018. Blockbusters can still be intelligent and interesting with a cracking screenplay and wonderful characters to match the entertaining set-pieces. That’s precisely what Jurassic Park represented. If it could be achieved 25 years ago, it can be achieved again today.

What begins as a film with something interesting to say, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom spirals into the pitfalls of the lamest of action films where you simply stop caring because the film has stopped caring too. This was the plague that beset the Transformers franchise, and it’s sadly occurring here now too. Jurassic World is the new Transformers. It’s mindless action, and nothing more. It’s an endless array of explosions and catastrophe, and nothing more (there is one sequence which genuinely looks like it was directed by Michael Bay). Useless characters and nonsensical plot points. Awful writing and plot-hole ridden narratives. This is as frustrating as summer blockbusters get.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a vacuous excuse for a film. It’s nothing more than a grab for cash, given box-office dollars are all but assured on name-value alone. It doesn’t have to try particularly hard because it knows the audience is already lining up. It falls back on that notion too heavily. They know they don’t have to try because you’re coming to see it anyway. And, at the end of the day, this sequel is really just a setup for another sequel. Oh, yes. This one ends with an opening for a third film, already locked in for 2021. And may god have mercy on us all.

★★☆☆☆
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Isabella Sermon, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Belen Atienza
Cinematography: Oscar Faura
Production Design: Andy Nicholson
Music: Michael Giacchino
Editor: Bernat Vilaplana
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: 21st June 2018 (Australia)

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