Monday, June 25, 2018

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ** ½ / *****
Directed by: J.A. Bayona.
Written by: Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly based on characters created by Michael Crichton.
Starring: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Jeff Goldblum (Ian Malcolm), Ted Levine (Kevin Wheatley), James Cromwell (Benjamin Lockwood), Toby Jones (Gunnar Eversol), Rafe Spall (Eli Mills), BD Wong (Dr. Henry Wu), Daniella Pineda (Zia Rodriguez), Geraldine Chaplin (Iris), Justice Smith (Franklin), Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood).
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is both a better film than the first Jurassic World movie – more stylishly directed and less needlessly cruel, and yet somehow more disappointing. There is no doubt that J.A. Bayona is a better director than Colin Trevorrow, who has a better handle on action and special effects, and makes a scarier more intense film. Given the screenplay he had to work with, I find it hard to believe that a better film could have been made. And yet, even with those improvements, the film can never get over the hump that every decision every character makes is so incredibly stupid that I was constantly rolling my eyes at the idiocy on display. When the film sticks the action and horror elements – basically when the characters shut up and just try and survive – the film is fun and entertaining in the big, stupid, loud blockbuster way. Whenever someone opens their mouth – with the exception of the great Jeff Goldblum, who only has two scenes where he says the only intelligent things in the movie – that illusion is broken.
The film picks up a few years after the horrific incidents of Jurassic World – when, as everyone predicted, the dinosaurs at the island theme park broke out and caused a ruckus – killing tourists and minor characters (or evil ones) while the main characters make it out alive. Now, it has been discovered that a volcano on the now abandoned island – where on dinosaurs live – is about to erupt, and all those dinosaurs are going to die. Because no one listens to the wisdom of Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm – which is basically, let them die, this is nature’s way of correcting what humans should not have meddled with anyway – a group of people decide to try and rescue the dinosaurs. Bankrolled by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) – the partner of Richard Attenborough’s Hammond – these people are supposed to save the dinosaurs, and transport them to a new island, where they can live out their lives peacefully. They enroll Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing to go to the island – because she can access the computer system – who in turn enlists her now ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) – because the dinosaur they really want is Blue, the raptor he bonded with. To put it mildly, that is not really what happens in the movie – mainly because you can never trust characters by Rafe Spall or Ted Levine. The first half of the film is an action film on the island – the second half is more of a horror film, in a large estate in Northern California – almost a haunted house movie, but with dinosaurs, not ghosts.
The movie did learn some lessons from the first Jurassic World movie. It makes both Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard more likable characters – it allows Pratt to be the goofy charmer which it is becoming increasingly clear is the only thing he can play, and it allows Howard to be less of a heartless corporate  drone who needs to learn her humanity (she learned it I guess). The characters are softer and more likable – and are joined on the likability scale by new cast members Daniella Pineada as a jurassic veterinarian and Justice Smith as Franklin, a computer nerd, as well as the adorable Maisie (Isabella Sermon) – a little girl because this series has determined that each installment needs kids in in peril for some reason. On the other side, it gives us the most clear cut human bad guys ever in Spall and Levin, not to mention Toby Jones, who is just pure slime here. By making these guys so deliberately awful, you at least don’t feel bad when they inevitably die in cruel ways – unlike the needlessly harsh way Claire’s assistant died in Jurassic World, which came out of nowhere, and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The real problem with this movie is that everyone in the film makes one horribly dumb decision after another. To be fair to the film, that has been a feature in every Jurassic Park movie since the first one – where at least you could argue the people don’t understand the consequences of their actions, something no character since then could plausibly argue. The decisions here though are ratcheted up yet another level.
It’s also a case where to be honest, I think the constant franchise needs of Hollywood hurt the individual film. The film is basically one long setup to get to the next film – which we get hints of at the end, because we now know where this is going. The next film will probably be as gloriously dumb as this one – but it may also be more entertaining. This film feels like a warmup for that one – which inevitably will feel like a warmup for whatever comes next. Sometimes, you have to forget the larger world of the franchise, and just make a good film, and go from there.
To be fair, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom delivers what it promises. If you just want to see a bunch of dinosaur action and not have to think for two hours, than I guess the film delivers that. I just think that now that we’re at the fifth film in this franchise, it could set it sites a little higher – and maybe find a way to tell a story without making every character in it an idiot.

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