To paraphrase a great cinematic antihero and chaotician: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. That’s the prevailing attitude towards the latest iteration of the massive money-making Jurassic World franchise, which like its rebooted predecessor, is filled with any number of missteps, contrivances, and stupidities. The most egregious problem with Fallen Kingdom however is its the sheer lack of fun and joy.
Apparently the decision was made to make this film somewhat darker and more intimate, but that move also apparently means that the audience is subject to emotional manipulation, a lot of melodramatic dinosaur death, and a complete and utter removal of anything the least bit adventurous and exhilarating. And sure, perhaps J.A. Bayona, taking over directing duties from Colin Trevorrow (though he is a co-writer with Derek Connolly), wants to make his mark on this series, but absolving it of any majesty and beauty that comes with watching dinosaurs on the big screen is an unforgivable mistake.
A few years after the events of Jurassic World, where the dinosaurs broke free and terrorized tourists (who would have thoughts?), the island is now under threat of elimination by an active volcano, and an ethical question is raised: do we save the dinos or let them die?
Of course the smart thing to do, and one championed by returning hero and aforementioned Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is to let nature correct itself. But that wouldn’t be a fun movie – or at least wouldn’t have the potential to be one. So Claire (Dallas Bryce Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) are sanctioned by a wealthy entrepreneur and trustee of the legacy founding father of John Hammond (a Hammond partner is introduced here, played by James Cromwell), to go to the island and help locate some species and help get them to a new sanctuary island. Claire is given appropriate wear this time.
Along the ride are two millennials: a paleo veterinarian who is definitely gay but the filmmakers wouldn’t let that revelation make it to the final cut – cowards – and a systems analysts who is regularly scared of everything. A trip to the island is cut short, sort of, due to the volcano but more so because Bayona decides that the second half of a Jurassic film shouldn’t take place on an island or in a jungle, but within a mansion on a vast estate in California.
Yes, there is a massive lab and holding facility beneath an old house, and a sort of mini-Jurassic park takes place. Because what’s more fun than dumb waiters, spiral staircases, and glass ceilings when running from dinosaurs?
There are indeed some brief thrilling moments on the island – which make the return to the mainland all the more disheartening – but even those are subject to some utterly unnecessary melancholy that’s both forced and unearned. As the volcano blows, we watch scores of dinosaurs running in terror, committing suicide by jumping off a cliff or simply being engulfed by flames: in one frivolous moment, we witness, ever so slowly, as a Brachiosaur says goodbye.
You know what no one ever asked for in their dinosaur adventure movies? Dinosaurs wailing as they are burned, drowned, asphyxiated, and shot. Oh, and just to ensure that we know a hunter is a bad dude, he enjoys pulling teeth of dinosaurs for some dumb reason. I’m also not here for dinosaur blood transfusions or surgery – it doesn’t make for as compelling drama as one might think.
The manipulation of the audience is taken to a further step, because just as in the previous film, we’ve a new, genetically modified carnivore that is repeatedly described as a killing machine, and in doing so, the filmmakers are telling us we must root against it. That this scientifically created dinosaur is somehow different than others, and so its death is warranted. Some humans are evil, and some dinosaurs are too I guess?
There are more silly moves, like a strange subplot that involves a precocious granddaughter who doesn’t like the dinosaurs captured, and the return of everyone’s favourite raptor Blue, who is pretty quickly in need of a vet; I’m not sure why he doesn’t run the other way when Claire and Owen arrive, because they are always bringing trouble. In the quest to appear cunning or different, Fallen Kingdom is an uncomfortable, joyless slog, with far less dinosaur action than is required and nary a human that is worth caring about. The brilliant Jurassic Park was about hubris and the survival, a fight against nature: this is a just a convoluted money grab, with a lot of dead dinosaurs.