Art: Kevin K.
Now 25 years on from the original Jurassic Park, we may be closer than ever to cloning dinosaurs, but don’t worry: the JP film series is still finding ways to test what we’ll possibly believe. And never more so than with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a franchise entry that strains credibility far beyond the image of Jimmy Buffet rescuing margaritas from Pterosaurs. It’s a follow-up that, like The Last Jedi, isn’t as beholden in aping a formula as its predecessor but is still the original sequel’s child, a loose Lost World reboot that again brings back Jeff Goldblum and some familiar beats but never reaches anywhere near Jurassic Park‘s magic. In a summer when a purple-skinned alien just put on a magic glove to wipe out half the universe, it may somehow be the most absurd blockbuster of the season, too.
The film sees Jurassic World stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt return to do contention-as-flirting far less convincingly than so many times before. Since high-heeling it (her character is introduced in a shot of her feet in flats this time) out of the perpetually-troubled park, Howard’s Claire Dearing has become a lead dinosaur rights advocate. It seems the already hurricane-plagued Isla Nublar is looking like an even worse real estate investment: with its once-dormant volcano on the verge of a massive eruption, there’s now debate as to whether the dinosaurs there should be rescued or left to incinerate in burning lava—despite the obvious danger of the scenario creating a Bowser. Dearing wants to save them, but others, like the familiar Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum stammering through what couldn’t have been more than a half-hour shoot), argue that they should be left to again go extinct.
While the government decides against intervention, Jurassic Park engineer John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), and his assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), come to Dearing with their own idea to evacuate the dinosaurs and place them on another island, where they can live in peace. Naturally, they need Pratt’s Owen Grady, our “Beer for My Dinos” meets Crocodile Dundee hero, to help retrieve Blue, the cyan-tinged Velociraptor he trained from its birth. After some pseudo-romantic bickering and a bit of Beck’s product placement, he’s in—along with a would-be paleo-vet hipster (Daniella Pineda) and a milquetoast comic relief/hacker (Justice Smith).
Though it amounts to spoiling what could generously be called a first-act “twist,” it’s impossible to discuss the rest of this increasingly absurd film without revealing something that both the trailer and common sense already basically confirm (especially after an angry mercenary group provides the mission’s backup): this isn’t the simple extraction it seems! It’s something much more nefarious, convoluted, and utterly stupid.
Behind Lockwood’s back, Mills has quietly been planning to actually bring the animals back to Lockwood’s mansion-cum-subterranean-lab for a vexing, multistage plan. Firstly, Blue will be used as a mother to foster trainable traits in a new Raptor-Indominus Rex hybrid specifically designed for warfare. Never mind that this latest creature has already inexplicably been bred to kill anything with a laser bead on it. And never mind that the beam used to highlight this ability is the laser sight of a gun, which could already just be used to shoot someone instead of sending a 20-foot-long dinosaur after them. And never mind that we live in an age where drones can remotely wipe out individuals or entire villages. And never mind how dangerously close this scenario is veering toward the 1988 cartoon Dino-Riders. A giant, largely-feral dinosaur is clearly the next logical step in homicide.
The next step in this plan is to sell the evacuated dinosaurs—as well as this deadly new creation—to the highest bidder. As Toby Jones, the affluent auctioneer(?) recruited to head up this part of the plan, points out, this part of the scheme wouldn’t be worth it for just tens of millions of dollars. But as Mills posits—and is later justified when their dino-auction’s numbers reflect in his glasses, his eyes widening behind them—this is worth more than tens of millions of dollars. Yes, selling literally the only handful of dinosaurs left in existence could be worth more than A HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS. Never mind that scope of the dinosaur rescue operation certainly cost at least that much. And never mind that Mills already had the technology to breed more of these dinosaurs instead of doing that insane operation. And never mind that even just selling the research that led to dinosaur cloning would be worth billions on its own. And never mind that this very film is estimated to be making more than the auction in its opening weekend alone. Selling living dinosaurs to not even governments but just some generic Russian gangsters for a low nine figures is definitely the best way to make some cash.
Yet a hilariously outdated idea of what constitutes a lot of money to a modern business isn’t Fallen Kingdom‘s only accidental cribbing from Austin Powers. The film just as much dives into that ’60s spy camp of needlessly leaving our heroes locked up, unsupervised, when it’s repeatedly been stated that they’re just going to be killed anyway. Because, if it wasn’t clear, this Jurassic entry also features such cartoonish villainy that, yes, captives are taken and their murder insisted upon by a heartless military leader (Silence of the Lambs and Monk‘s Ted Levine, somehow following Vincent D’Onofrio’s career trajectory of serial killer film to eccentric crime procedural to Jurassic antagonist).
For as positively inane as it is, though, it’s also often entertaining enough. Even through playing his least enjoyable blockbuster lead, Pratt still projects enough charisma to carry through his many tiresome scenes of clicking and whistling at bipedal lizards. Similarly, the new supporting cast is generally very strong, with Jones turning in a scenery-chewing performance (ridiculous toupée, fake teeth and all) surprisingly welcome amid the rest of this brainless bullshit. While director J. A. Bayona (A Monster Calls, The Impossible) lacks the wonder Steven Spielberg brought to his Jurassic entries—and even the knock-off Spielbergian quality Joe Johnston brought the forgettable Jurassic Park III—he stages some engaging if not exactly original action set pieces. (Jurassic Park‘s iconic kitchen scene gets a couple obvious nods, and the Tyrannosaurus must certainly have run out of her sneak-up-and-save-the-day-then-majestically-roar special move after how many times it’s hammered here.) Ultimately, though, no one involved ends up having an answer to the point Goldblum makes so early in the film: these things never should have been resurrected, and it’s time to let them die.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director: J. A. Bayona
Studio: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 128 minutes
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine