The frustration of a blockbuster that doesn’t consider its audience’s intelligence
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
I’ve never thought more about Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” theory than I have during director J.A. Bayona’s JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM.
We’ve always had to swallow numerous failings and foibles of this franchise’s ‘heroes,’ but the new film pushes audience tolerance over the edge. This sequel to the widely (and unfairly) maligned JURASSIC WORLD takes what goodwill we had, douses it in kerosene, lights a match, and laughs as the flames burn higher and higher. It gets off on the wrong foot and limps all the way to the finish line.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) somehow managed to dodge jail time and financial liablity for her part in the prior park catastrophe. She’s even been hired at a non-profit organization that – and here’s where it gets infuriating – protects dinosaurs’ rights. In what world is this woman, who saw death and carnage surround her and who was herself chased by these rampaging creatures, still pro-dino?! This character should be making some sort of restitution (financially, or by shunning society entirely) in order to seek redemption for what she did, sacrificing innocent lives with her starry-eyed pipe dream. At this point, having witnessed science’s damaging role in this affair, she should be a staunch advocate to eliminate the species. But then there would be no movie – at least not with her.
There’s more in the set-up if that wasn’t enough throw you.
The dinosaurs that still roam the abandoned amusement park are set to, once again, go extinct thanks to an volcano on the island. Since the government wisely (and logically) chooses to let nature take its course, private wealthy sponsor Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who’s learned nothing from past events, contacts Claire to help him transport the remaining beasts to safety on a remote island. Mind you, his business partner John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) perished at the hands of their monstrous creation (at least in the novel) – yet he still wants to put lives in danger so that dangerous scientific abominations can roam freely.
Claire then sways ex-beau/dino behavioral expert Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to accompany her and her team – dino expert Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and tech guy Franklin Wells (Justice Smith) – back to Isla Nublar. Once there, they realize they aren’t a part of a humane rescue mission, but rather a nefarious scheme (which comes as a shock to no one besides the characters). At this point, the audience is primarily invested in seeing these people not survive their stupidity.
Though the story spun by screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED) is not up to snuff, the film is well-paced and holds a few potent emotional moments, especially those involving the animals – the one collective the filmmakers do right by. Bayona, cinematographer Oscar Faura, and the entire visual effects team make sure the picture is aesthetically pleasing. Gripping sequences – like those that take place at the auction, or in young Maisie Lockwood’s (Isabella Sermon) bedroom – successfully work in all of their B-movie glory. These are also the scenes where composer Michael Giacchino’s score, and editor Bernat Vilaplana’s snappy cuts, function at their best when married to Bayona’s imagery.
After the much-lauded death of Trevorrow’s original, indie-minded THE BOOK OF HENRY, some audiences might be primed for a subversive statement on the state of modern blockbuster franchises and the Frankenstein-like nature of their creators. However, that thirst will remain unquenched. And, despite the narrative being retrofitted for such sentiments (like the fourth film was able to execute), there’s very little subtext here. Opening on government hearings discussing the moral and ethical ramifications of “man playing God” only pays lip service – and the opportunity to have Dr. Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) prophetic words bookend the film. But what do those words matter when none of the characters, or their creators, can be bothered to remember them from one movie to the next?
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM opens on June 22.