Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

JUNE 22, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

One of the movie sites posted an article the other day about the thing that made Jurassic Park so memorable while its sequels all failed to even come close to measuring up: there was no sense of wonder anymore, no reveal to behold. John Hammond didn't tell Alan and Ellie that he had genetically recreated dinosaurs on his island - he let them (and, in turn, us in the audience) discover them with their own two eyes. They can never again make us believe dinosaurs were back like they did in that one glorious scene in the first film, as Alan looks over a landscape straight out of a kid's jigsaw puzzle, with several (herbivorous) dino species walking around and doing their thing. As with the other sequels, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has characters seeing the creatures for the first time and giving it the classic Spielbergian "People looking in awe" shot, but it's not as meaningful to us anymore - we need more than that to win us over with the followups, because these creatures are just as familiar to us as any other animal at this point.

Less familiar is the feeling of walking out of a Jurassic Park sequel and being satisfied, but I'm happy to report that Fallen Kingdom clears the very low bar set by its predecessor, improving on it in most ways and more or less hitting the same territory as Lost World in my book (I have come to discover peoples' rankings of this series vary wildly, so I should just quickly clarify that Lost World is the only sequel I kind of liked, with Jurassic World coming behind it, and I don't like much about JP3 at all). If I gave a shit about its two main characters (Chris Pratt's Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire, both returning from the first JW) I might elevate it as the unquestionable best sequel, but neither of them are even as interesting as Vince Vaughn's character there, let alone Jeff Goldblum's Malcolm, which handicaps its ability to really pop for me. Malcolm, by the way, returns for his first appearance since that film, though if you've seen trailers you've pretty much seen his entire role as he only appears in two quick scenes (actually the same scene split, I think? Unless he came back to the same room to tell the same people that they're wrong again) delivering a monologue from his chair. Any random asshole from InGen (or whatever they're called now) has about as much screentime, so if he is your main draw to see this I would advise just playing the new video game.

The new characters aren't much better, though I will say that the film as a whole at least has more of a focus this time, and - as long as you buy that they'd return to the island at all - the story and its characters at least make sense from scene to scene. Nothing in this movie is as stupid as in the first film when Claire suddenly remembers that the dinos have trackers *after* they thought the Indominous Rex had escaped from its pen and inadvertently let it out (runnerup dumb moment: the trackers can zap the dinos into submission if they get out of line, but no one bothers to use that fail-safe once they all start eating the guests), and that helps immensely - I never once rolled my eyes or got angry at decisions the movie was making. I mean it's got its fair share of unbelievable moments (Pratt outruns a volcano eruption!) but I got the idea that Colin Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly were putting more effort into the screenplay this time instead of just jumping around at random to whatever else they thought might look cool.

I did check my watch a few times though; this sucker is LONG (128 minutes, just shy of Lost World's record as longest entry) and I was really starting to feel it during the film's second half, which if you've seen the trailers by now you are probably aware takes place in a big mansion as opposed to the island. This is probably the biggest logic stretch in the movie; unless he was simply a big Resident Evil fan I don't know why the human villain wouldn't just set up a normal lab elsewhere instead of using the one in the basement levels in the mansion where his (non villain) boss lived, but if he did there'd be no other way to get a little kid in there (the boss' granddaughter), so I guess we have to just roll with it or else they would have to, for once, attempt to make one of these movies without a goddamn kid to keep saving. This sequence features more human villains than monsters and far too much time spent on a scene where yet another evil jerk auctions off a few of the dinos they grabbed off the island in the first half, so while it also has some of the best scary moments, it could have really used some tightening.

Speaking of the human baddies (another thing these movies can't seem to get away from, though hilariously the only exception is JP3 which is my least favorite, so maybe they're on to something), the movie hilariously casts Ted Levine as the commando guy in charge of the rescue mission, who tells Chris Pratt that he's got his back and is happy to let him lead the way instead of treating him as some underqualified punk. But it's Ted Levine, so of course he's gonna turn out to be an asshole, and thankfully the movie doesn't waste much more time trying to get us to think otherwise. The same can't be said for the other "surprise" traitor to the cause, as they let him look like a good guy for a half hour or so even though we KNOW he's bad news because he's so nice when introduced. Just once I'd like to see these types of characters introduced as villains to us before they con our heroes, so that we can squirm a bit during those scenes, rather than attempt to trick us - is literally anyone in the audience going to be surprised when the guy starts doing dastardly things? BD Wong's Dr. Wu shows up again too, though in a fairly limited capacity and not really doing anything outright evil, still just trying to make new dinosaurs and getting frustrated whenever he's questioned. Add in Toby Jones as the prickly company man running the auction and all the random goons who work for all of the above and you have a movie with far more human villains than a dinosaur movie should require.

Then again there are more dinos than usual, too. The first film had some more in the background and on displays and such, but ultimately focused on five types: not counting the Triceratops that never moved, we got T Rex, Raptor, Gallimimus, Brontosaurus, and Dilophasaurus. Here there are at least twice that many playing an active role in the proceedings, and they're well balanced - each one gets a kill and/or iconic kind of moment. The obligatory new one is the Indomiraptor, which is a raptor mixed with the Indominous Rex (which itself was made from raptor in the first place, but whatever), taking the size and basic appearance of the former. That's the one you see with the big ass claw hand terrorizing the little girl in the billboards and trailers, and he's a pretty good addition to the mix even if he's pretty much just another raptor. Our lone actual raptor this time is Blue, the one from Jurassic World that Owen trained and will usually not try to kill him when it has a chance. Thankfully it's not a full on "hero" - Owen and the others still have to be super cautious around it and the slightest distraction puts it back in "I'm just gonna kill everything" mode, but it's kind of fun to see the basic building blocks of a buddy movie between a guy and a dinosaur.

The bigger dinos don't get as much screentime, for obvious reasons since the second half takes place in a mansion and thus a T Rex or Brontosaurus couldn't exactly be wandering around. So we see them mainly during the first half's island scenes, including the occasional skirmish between beats while the humans just try to stay out of the way (alas, just like Goldblum, that giant sharkasaurus is barely seen outside of what the trailer showed us). There's a rather sad moment where the humans, having escaped the island and its volcano, watch as a howling brontosaurus (brachiosaurus? I can't tell these things apart) reaches the shore and finds itself with nowhere to run as it's consumed by lava - and if you assume it's the one that sneezed on Lex in the first film, it's an even bigger bummer. Accidental stomping aside, there are a number of these animals that pose no threat to humans, and this entry more than the others really tries to hammer home the idea that it is rather incredible to think about co-existing with them. It's just the raptors and T Rex types that make it an impossible situation, and the movie has a number of moments where it's just their "big dumb animal" ways that get people in trouble. For example, there's a bit where Toby Jones races into an elevator and gets the door shut just in time, and as the dino turns around to find other prey, he whacks the door open button with his tail, so he looks just as surprised as Jones when the door reopens and he gets another shot at eating him. I loved that little bit - it's a cause and effect of its size and being in an environment it was never meant to be in, not an intentional decision of intelligence, and it's the sort of thing we'd have to take into consideration even with an otherwise harmless Albertadromeus (the smallest herbivore species, from what I understand).

Another thing that this movie adds to the mix that was lacking from the previous one: actual direction! JA Bayona gives us a number of terrific visual moments: the aforementioned brontosaurus being consumed by lava is a knockout, as is the first appearance of the big shark (its only real appearance that wasn't spoiled in the ads). He finds ways to pull off smaller moments that will catch your eye as well; my favorite being a closeup of a child's horse toy with the silhouette of a similar shaped dinosaur on the wall behind it (I'm not doing it justice with my clumsy description, but when you see the movie you'll know what I mean). There's also a lengthy single take where Claire and one of the new characters (a tech nerd whose name escapes me) are trapped underwater in a Gyrosphere, showing their desperate attempts to find a way out before they drown - as dinosaurs drown all around them after escaping from the volcano (speaking of which, where the hell was this volcano in the other movies?). The back half of the movie is basically a home invasion film with dinosaurs, so it's got moments that recall the kitchen sequence in the first film, and Bayona knocks this stuff out of the park - it's just a shame nobody had me caring as much as I did about Lex, Tim, Alan, etc. There's a moment where I thought Pratt might actually get killed, but I wasn't really that concerned - it'd be more of a "Well that was ballsy" kind of moment as opposed to one that would genuinely make me sad. But if they killed Sam Neill off in one of these I might actually cry.

Ultimately, the best thing about the movie is that it makes an effort to have its own identity, as opposed to leaning so much on nostalgia like the last one (it even occasionally ribs that one a bit; when Claire is reintroduced, it's with a shot of her feet - NOT in heels this time). It barely even uses the iconic John Williams theme, and we are spared too much of that "hey look it's that mangled thing from the other movie" kind of nonsense that permeated the last movie. On a very basic level the movie is similar to Lost World (heroes go to the island for a rescue mission, deal with a lot of human assholes, then a dino escapes to the mainland), but the lengthy mansion section, larger real world connection (Peter Jason shows up as a senator tasked with deciding whether or not the animals should be spared; Claire works for a Greenpeace-y kind of organization trying to make sure they are preserved, rich assholes from around the world want to buy them for their own individual reasons), and one other plot point I won't spoil here set it apart from that film in ways Jurassic World never managed with regards to the original Jurassic Park. Hopefully, if their next one apes Jurassic Park III, they retain that film's one big strength (it's short) and embrace some of the more unusual ideas that they've been toying with in these newer entries. At this point, having a T Rex suddenly show up to inadvertently save our heroes' lives is kind of a boring moment, but if they stick with the things that weren't already perfected in the others, there's no reason this series can't finally live up to its potential. At least this is a good start in getting us there.

What say you?

P.S. Unless you actually want to read the credits, there's no reason to stick around for the post-credits scene. The end of the film proper (meaning, before the credits) has a number of shots of dinosaurs in various spots, and the post-credits scene is nothing more than another such shot, albeit with a more specific background than the others offer.

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