Earlier this week, I sat down and rewatched my favorite film of all-time, “Jurassic Park.” The classic 1993 film, directed by the iconic Steven Spielberg, is often regarded as a landmark blockbuster. The film held the title as the highest grossing domestic film in US History until it was passed in 1998 by “Titanic.” As I watched, I was quickly reminded of the amazing things that made me fall in love with movies, dinosaurs, and wearing all black. To follow up the original film is impossible. Yet “Jurassic World,” which released in 2015, is likely the 2nd best entry in the franchise. That made the sequel, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” from director J.A. Bayona, an obvious film to anticipate this summer. I rushed to the theater to watch the latest adventure on an island off the coast of Costa Rica.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” follows the continued adventures of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). A volcano is erupting on Isla Nublar, and the natural disaster will cause the dinosaurs on the island to perish. Claire is recruited by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) and Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to lead a team on the island to save the dinosaurs. She brings Owen along to save Blue, his velociraptor he trained since hatching. They are joined by Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) on a mission to save the dinosaurs. They also meet a young girl, Maise Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) as they travel the globe. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and we’re brought on an adventure of corporate espionage and questions about genetic power.
From the moment the lights went down and the film began, I can only describe my feelings as frustration and disappointment. The absurdity of this film far outpaces any of the unbelievable moments in the previous iteration. Even worse, the film has no real humor at any point, making it a fairly joyless ride. Despite some interesting visual shots strew across the film, the CGI monstrosities present throughout are abhorrent. There are scenes in this film where a T-Rex holds onto a helicopter by the ladder, a pachycephalosaurus breaking through a concrete wall (because I guess it hates whistling?), and velociraptor action hero escaping an explosion.
All these scenes are real, and all are just some of the ways in the film does not live up to its considerable promise. It is chalked full of callbacks to the original, yet it does not understand what made the original scenes so good. The film relies on chemistry between two actors who simply don’t have it, despite the fact that each is fine in their respective role. The young adults in this film are terrible, with Smith, in particular, standing out as the most one-note and terribly annoying character in the franchise. It’s not Smith’s fault, but instead a failure of the screenplay to realize that “geeks” have changed in the past fifty years. George McFly has more personality than his character, and somehow is a more accurate representation of a geek in the modern age. Then, there are the villains. My god are they awful. They might as well be mustache-twirling from the moment they arrive on set. The dinosaurs are ultimately a let-down, with many not living up to their promise. Finally, the directors knowingly place a fan-favorite creature at the center of this film, and then decide to shoot that dinosaur in the stomach so that it is out of commission for the majority of the film. Why would you do this?
This may be the definition of a “turn-off-your-brain movie. Those movies definitely exist (see “Fast and the Furious“). Yet even in those films, there is usually a basic adherence to the logic and structure of the world in which they exist. This film has none of that, seeming to include important obstacles at will. For example, it remarked upon early in the film that Blue won’t let anyone rescue her because she will be able to smell them “a mile” away. The dialogue and narrative of the film force us to take this literally. Yet when the Indoraptor, a creature that is the genetic hybrid of a Velociraptor and T-Rex (which had a sense of smell similiar to vultures), can not find it’s prey based on smell alone. What the hell? If you can’t follow your own rules, that you yourself wrote, then what are we doing?
It wouldn’t be possible to talk about this film without the terrible craftwork throughout. The film just looks dark, even in scenes where the characters are in broad daylight. There are grays throughout, which makes sense at times, but others do not. The actual design of the dinosaurs is strong, especially the Indoraptor, only to fall short on the CGI work. The movement away from puppets and animatronics has hurt no franchise more than “Jurassic Park,” as the shine and luster of the creatures is greatly lessened here. Instead, we’re left with a nightmarish mashup of dinosaurs that will make your skin crawl.
Last but certainly not least, the script is awful. It is cringe-worthy throughout. The dialogue is not just cheesy but also serves to openly tell the audience character ideas as they pop into their head, except for in a pivotal scene in the climax of the film, where the characters appear to have telepathy. Pratt makes his material funny, but no one else in this film has the comedic skill to elevate their material. The film is full of dull jokes and dumb one-liners. Henry Wu (BD Wong) returns and has some of the worst dialogue they possibly could have imagined for this character. The screenplay ends with the franchise in an interesting spot, but the journey to that moment is so unfulfilling, you’ll wonder if its even worth it.
Despite all of this, there are some moments that are fun. Almost all of these scenes revolve around the Indoraptor, which will make repeat viewings much easier to watch when you can skip the first half of the film. Bayona seemed to have cool ideas on how to shoot this dino, including using shadow work to hide the dino. It is creepy in ways other dinosaurs are not, making the Indoraptor the big winner for this film. However, it’s still not used to it’s fullest potential. Films like “Hereditary” or “A Quiet Place” utilize sound in innovative ways, and the potential was there for the Indoraptor to be used similarly. With Bayona’s history, you would hope he’d have cashed in, yet instead, we leave potential on the floor from a movie that really needs this extra level of creativity.
Overall, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” suffers greatly from terrible direction and an awful script. The actors do what they can, but there’s little they can fix here. Bayona, a director I greatly admire, was under the gun here. Clearly he was not given much control in the editing room, and even if he was, “Jurassic World 2” feels like it was taken over by a studio. There’s not much here to like, and in a film that features dinosaurs, this feels like it should be really hard to do. With Colin Trevorrow returning to the franchise as a director for JP 6, after writing JP 5, fans like myself should be very afraid.