Yesterday my sister, brother, and I hit the local movie theater for a viewing of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. We’re relatively new fans – Jurassic World 1 (2015) was a first for us – but having since enjoyed the rest of the franchise, we were excited for the next installment of prehistoric monsters chasing after the indestructible Chris Pratt. After enduring 20 minutes of inanity – er, previews – we sat up in our seats with zeal, watching a very tiny, obviously illegal submarine descend the watery coast of Isla Nublar.
|Submarine? Skeletons? Count me in!|
This tremendous opener was, alas, the beginning of a tremendous letdown. Let me break it down into some coherent chunks of thought.
But First, Science
The movie begins with glimpses of the “Fallen Kingdom”: Isla Nublar in decay after the disastrous failure of its Jurassic World theme park. Cut to a shot of a well-dressed Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) with some actually sound advice – Let it goooo, Let it gooo – which not everyone, including Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), is ready to do. Actually, Claire is now head of a conservation effort to get the surviving dinosaurs off the island, before the active volcano destroys everything. She is assisted by two new characters: Zia, a passionate paleo-veterinarian, and Franklin, the (properly terrified) IT guy.
|Claire, rockin’ a ponytail, and the new guy, Franklin|
Claire’s 180-degree change of heart (this was the woman who shrugged off the “assets” in the first film) can be seen as a sort of redemption attempt, though some, including former researcher Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), share Dr. Malcolm’s opinion. Unbeknownst to either of them, sinister forces are working behind the scenes to sabotage the whole operation. What starts out as a rescue mission becomes a survival story – for dinos and humans – with our feisty quartet pitted against evil businessmen looking to make millions. Money, money, money.
Anyone watching a Jurassic movie must suspend disbelief. However, and as much as we love the dinosaurs, are we really to believe Claire’s conservation efforts are worthwhile? The plan which she agrees to involves moving 11 species to another island, where they’ll be allowed to live free. However, it is unclear how big this new island is, and whether enough of each species will be transported for them to actually be preserved – “for the children.” In fact, if you’ve ever researched the amount of space required for mere lions to roam comfortably, as well as maintain enough numbers to avoid inbreeding, you’ll start to question this scheme.
All that said, let us assume those details have been ironed out off-screen. After all, they decided not to listen to the mathematician this time…
Dinos (and Chris Pratt) Just Get Cooler and Cooler
Those looking to get their monster-movie fix will not be disappointed in that department. Fallen Kingdom features not only our old favorites – “Blue” the velociraptor and the mosasaurus lurking under the sea – but a new hybrid creature, concocted by none other than Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) himself.
|Owen’s strength is knowing when to fight, but also when to hide|
Without giving too much away, I found the new dinosaur to be appropriately scary (even chilling), and that is saying a lot, considering this plotline is a rehash from Jurassic World 1. (Much of the movie – from plot to characters – repeats former Jurassic elements, something reviewers have been quick to point out.) Couple this unnatural creature with the natural disaster on Isla Nublar, and you have some pretty awesome scenes throughout the film, where the CGI becomes standalone art in itself.
I mentioned Blue is back, and that is where Owen comes back in. It’s not hard to see why the gruff, outdoorsy, Coca-Cola-sipping Owen has a soft spot for Blue. The raptor is like a favorite dog, raised from puppy to full-grown bloodhound. In true animal-character style, Blue has her own important part to play in the unfolding drama.
What’s with Those Russians and Cowboys?
While the Jurassic movie series has always borne its share of social commentary, this is perhaps (and I’m going solely by memory) the first installment which goes a step further, into political territory. Personally, I sit down to a dinosaur movie to escape politics, but from the beginning, Fallen Kingdom refuses to allow me escape.
We very soon see a “BBC” clip about Isla Nublar, where the news ticker text reports that the current U. S. president doubts the existence of the Jurassic World dinosaurs (after they have injured hundreds of visitors). We can debate whether he would actually disbelieve this, but it’s obviously a jab at Trump. One of the villains uses Trump’s “nasty woman” quote in reference to Zia, the (awkwardly stereotyped) feminist character. The apparently Republican U. S. Congress is also posed as an initial antagonist, because they, like Dr. Malcolm, find it pragmatic to allow nature to take its course.
|Dr. Malcolm speaking to the U.S. Senate|
It gets even better after the setting switches from the Fallen Kingdom to – an old manor house. Yes, Jurassic World 2 features the haunted house trope. To be fair, it is effective, especially from the eyes of the little girl Maisie (Isabella Sermon). What is she to think when she sees that sinister-looking Russian gentleman walk up the drive? And…those cowboys!
The appeal of owning a dinosaur is international, but according to the screenwriters, we have to be especially careful of Russians, plus ranchers from the Southwest. Out of all the diverse people who are interested in these powerful creatures, the camera lingers on those two groups – the former with their glowering stares, and the latter with their bright white hats and shiny bolo ties. (Convince me I’m reading too much into it. I would like to think it’s just me.)
“Genetic power has now been unleashed…”
The ending surprised me…not in a good way. In spite of opportunities to tie up loose ends, the screenwriters chose to leave a lot of things open. I hear they are planning a third film, to be released in 2021.
Can anything save what I fear is a fallen franchise? Possibly, though if Jurassic World 2 is any indication, I won’t get my hopes up. Apart from a weak plot and a heavy-handed political bent, Fallen Kingdom disappointed where it could have excelled, in its characters (more cliches), plot (mostly rehash), and vision (lack thereof). At best, it is a visual treat, while the story leaves you feeling a bit sickly afterwards.
Is Fallen Kingdom horrible? No. It’s just mediocre, the kind of thing you save for a long plane ride. Collectively, my siblings and I settled on 2.5 out of 5 stars.