Anyone who’s been reading this blog over the past six months knows there is one thing I hate in cinema more than anything else – cynical Hollywood cash grabs. These are the movies that are thrown together purely to make money, with little to no regard for quality, story, or even basic logic. They’re often franchise sequels no one asked for, and even fewer want, but because they have stars or are part of something we once loved, the studios assume – sadly rightly most of the time – that we’ll pay to see it no matter how terrible it is. It’s a giant middle finger to the movie-going public, and as far as I’m concerned a legal form of robbery.
Which leads us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, an early candidate for the Worst Film of 2018. The two hours I spent watching this paleolithic trainwreck is a textbook example of what happens when we as humans simply refuse to learn from our mistakes, both within the plot of the film, and in the meta sense of the creation of the film itself. Just about every decision in this movie is the wrong one, and instead of creating a thrilling adventure, Universal just crapped out a fossilized turd.
Think about all the things that made the original Jurassic Park fun. You had a compelling cast, where no one was safe. The dinosaurs were a visual marvel. There was an audience surrogate in Dr. Ian Malcolm, played as perfectly as possible by Jeff Goldblum. And most importantly, you had Michael Crichton’s source material to work from, which grounded the sci-fi adventure in at least some semblance of reality and logic. That film came out 25 years ago, and holds up exceptionally well today.
Now look at the sequel, The Lost World. You still had Ian Malcolm, the dinosaurs still looked cool, and there was still a Crichton novel to guide the plot. However, some of the film’s elements were downright silly, which the film (the last in the series helmed by Steven Spielberg) leaned into, earning a few tongue-in-cheek laughs to go along with the still-legitimate scares.
Then it all went to shit. Jurassic Park III was a failure on almost every level. Every element that made the original great and the sequel at least passable fun, was bastardized beyond recognition, to the point that we got got a spinosaurus with a satellite phone in its belly that somehow still rang, some d-bag named Billy carrying around a parachute for the entire film just so he could glide away from some angry pterodactyls, and of course, the jump scare to end all jump scares, a fake-as-shit looking velociraptor yelling, “Alan!” to Sam Neill in his sleep.
We thought that’d be the end of the series until Jurassic World, a reboot that maintained some cheeky silliness, but got back to what made the series so much fun – the survival aspect, the chaotic mess when the best laid plans go awry, and even included an interesting villain or two among the humans to go with the unpredictable new nemesis in the form of the indominus rex. Was it as good as the original? No. I mean, cool or not we still had to have the idiotic moment of Bryce Dallas Howard outrunning a T-rex in heels, for fuck’s sake, but the film still had a lot of small elements to like that made it more than the sum of its parts.
Well, now we have the sequel to the reboot, Fallen Kingdom, which begins three years after the events of the last film. It constantly rehashes all the familiar elements of the franchise, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is played properly.
For example, right from the beginning, we start back at the now closed Jurassic World theme park on Isla Nublar. Never mind the lack of logic in opening the park in the first place, given the previous canon events, but now the park is now closed, what with, you know, all the people dying and the company paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements to survivors. That bit of narrative exposition alone tells you that we shouldn’t even be here, and yet we are, because capitalism.
See, some “boss” wants a DNA sample from the indominus rex, which as you’ll recall was eaten by the giant mosasaurus at the end of the last film. Ergo, any DNA from the indominus must be at the bottom of the mosasaurus’ tank. A submarine crew dives down, finds the mostly intact skeleton (did the mosasaurus poop it out in one go?), and takes a tooth, which they send to the surface.
One of the guys on the diver is worried, but is assured that anything still alive after the park closed should be dead by now. This, of course, makes no sense. As we learn only minutes later, there are still plenty of dinosaurs alive on the island. Also, the mosasaurus is fucking HUGE! You’re telling me nobody thought to dangle some food over the tank or just drop a few lit buoys in the water to determine that it was still down there, very much alive? Remember, this thing can jump/lunge itself pretty far out of the tank. There’s no reason to believe it would have starved in the pen over the proceeding three years. But whatever, there are off-screen deaths to hint at so we can have the surprise reveal. Yup, the mosasaur is alive, eats the submersible, and then jumps out of the water to chomp on some poor schmuck trying to escape via helicopter, who had already survived a T-rex chase to get to said chopper. Aren’t you excited!?
Nope. Also, the mosasaur gets out of its tank because the idiots left the gate open, but don’t worry. Apart from that wave scene you saw in the trailer, it’ll never come up again. God forbid we resolve our story threads.
The bad decisions only get worse from there. We fast forward to a U.S. Senate hearing that looks nothing like a Senate hearing (how hard is it to turn on C-Span to get the look right?), where the debate is on whether or not to put into motion some sort of rescue effort, as Isla Nublar sits on a massive volcano that is set to erupt, which would presumably kill all the dinosaurs on the island. Ian Malcolm speaks to the panel (Jeff Goldblum’s super-hyped return is just this and one other speech at another hearing that bookends the film), stating the patently obvious – that it was playing God to create the dinosaurs in the first place, so we should let nature take its course, and if that means the dinos go extinct again, so be it.
But of course we can’t just leave well enough alone (metaphor for the entire franchise), so there just HAS to be some sort of rescue, the effort of which is headed up by Claire (Howard), who has developed some sort of environmental conscience after her button-pushing capitalist actions in the last film. She’s calling Congressmen and trying to emotionally manipulate them to get support. She literally asks one of them, “Your children have grown up in a world with dinosaurs. Do you want to explain to them why they’re no longer around?” “YES!” I silently scream from the back row.
I’m all for animal rights and saving endangered species, but this is ridiculous. It’s one thing to stop corporate pollution from harming natural habitats. It’s even okay to help out natural predators like lions and sharks, because there are safety measures that can be taken, and again, our interference as humans in this regard is usually used to counter the harmful interference that came before.
But these dinosaurs didn’t occur naturally. They were cloned by John Hammond. They were created for the purpose of a living prehistoric zoo, nothing more. Once they got out of control, the only logical course of action would be to abandon the project and leave them alone. You don’t actively kill them, but you shouldn’t make any concerted effort to save them, either. That’s playing God on top of playing God. If you genetically engineer a giant crocodile that eats people, you don’t go out of your way to walk right into its fucking mouth just because you feel sorry for it. That’s beyond idiotic.
Further, since this film uses so many callbacks, including Ian Malcolm, why not invoke one of his most famous lines? “Life finds a way.” If the dinos can survive the eruption, they will. There’s no need for us to get involved. Really, the producers should have listened to another of Malcolm’s classic lines – “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” – and just cancelled the entire film, but I can only ask so much.
Anyway, aiding Claire in her suddenly eco-friendly endeavor are Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda from The Originals), a self-proclaimed “paleoveterinarian” (my eyes hurt from the rolling), and Franklin Webb (Justice Smith of The Get Down), a scaredy-cat systems analyst who somehow used to work at the park. These two are meant to fill in the will they/won’t they comic relief couple role from the last movie, but whereas Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus were funny and had chemistry, these two are just annoying. There’s a later scene where Zia – a former Marine – mouths off at their mission leader for being condescending, leading him to remark that “she’s such a nasty woman.” Kill me.
Anyway, after the Senate decides to do the right thing by doing nothing, Claire gets a phone call from the palatial estate of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell, not able to decide if he wants to use a British accent or not), the heretofore unknown business partner to the late John Hammond, who created the dinosaur cloning technology together before they had a falling out (of course!). He enlists her help in a new project headed by his hand-picked successor (because he’s dying, you see), Eli Mills (Rafe Paul) to relocate some of the dinosaurs to a new, uninhabited island sanctuary, where they’ll be left alone to live in peace.
Oh, you mean like Isla Sorna, where the second and third movies take place but you’re conveniently not mentioning? The place where John Hammond literally says at the end of the second film that we should leave alone so, again, “life can find a way?” Someplace like that? Seriously, either keep the entire series canon or reset, but you can’t have it both ways. Anyhoo, there are 11 species they can move, but they need help tracking down Blue, the velociraptor who helped fight the indominus in the last movie, who is the last raptor alive on the island (“Derr, I thought anything left on the island would have been long dead by now. That’s what they said at the beginning, derr!”).
As such, Claire needs to recruit Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to help out. Owen refuses, because the idea is stupid, and the dinosaurs should be left to die (Have I mentioned that part yet? I feel like I have, but it’s not sinking in), so Claire manipulates him by emasculating him in a bar and telling him that Blue is alive. Meanwhile, we get to rehash all the relationship drama we didn’t get to (or want to) see in between this movie and the last. Long story short, they dated again, realized they were still incompatible despite surviving dinosaurs, and broke up again.
By the time we finally get to the island, I’m exhausted. But whatever, here we go. Led by mercenary Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), the foursome of Claire, Owen, Zia, and Franklin arrive on Isla Nublar, needing to reboot the island’s security system in order to track Blue. Claire’s handprint is needed to activate it, and Owen’s around because he’s essentially Blue’s mother. She imprinted on him from birth, as evidenced by cheesily edited “home movies” disguised as research logs (with Apple product placement to boot!) where Blue is lovingly attached to Owen (as opposed to the betrayal and grudging respect at best she seemed to show him in the last movie).
Well it doesn’t take too long for shit to go south and for logic to go out the window. Owen and Zia join the mercs, who immediately double-cross them upon finding Blue. She’s shot, and Owen is tranquilized and left to die. Zia saves her own life by asserting her “paleoveterinarian” title, meaning she needs to live if Blue has any chance of survival. Meanwhile, the volcano decides now is the perfect time to blow, resulting in a wasted scene of Owen slowly regaining the use of his limbs as he escapes lava (think of the quaaludes staircase scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, only in reverse, and not funny), and Franklin and Claire escaping from a random predator that’s escaping/hunting them in their bunker. It’s a callback to the bunker scene from the original film with Laura Dern and the raptors, but with Justice Smith screaming like a baby the entire time. Literally every scene he’s in is just a walking example of why he shouldn’t be there. Dakota Fanning screamed less in that horrible War of the Worlds remake a few years back.
Owen reunites with the pair and they run for whatever safety they can find as the mountain explodes. They even find one of the old gyrospheres, because reasons. Along the way they are waylaid by all manner of escaping dinos, including a T-rex and other predators trying to eat them. Do these animals have no survival instinct? They’re running away from lava, for fuck’s sake! Why would you stop for a fight/snack?! Even if there was some logic to it, the proceedings are all a waste of time, as Owen himself explains in a scene that was used in the trailer (along with this chase scene): “If I don’t make it back, I just want you to know, that it’s your fault I’m here. Just kidding, I’ll be fine.” Yeah, he will. There are no stakes to any of this. We know the bad guys will eventually get eaten in some elaborate fashion, but none of the good guys are at risk. Maybe Franklin and Zia could have been, but again, they’re set up for comic relief/weird sexual tension, so you know they’re safe.
Anyway, they stow aboard the ship as it’s leaving just in time to watch the island burn, with a bracchiosaurus moaning from the dock because it didn’t make it. Am I really supposed to feel sorry for it? It really is weird how much the film wants to personify the dinosaurs. Hell, between the videos with Owen and the emergency surgery she goes through on the boat, I honestly believe that Blue the Raptor gets the most emotional development in the entire movie. She fucking cries during her own surgery for God’s sake! A fucking velociraptor fucking CRIES! And we’re supposed to FEEL THINGS WHEN IT DOES! What the hell am I watching?
Back in California, it turns out that Mills is evil. A shady corporate guy? Surely you jest! There was never to be any sanctuary (which Claire probably could have figured out if she, I don’t know, asked any questions about the logistics of this plan AT ALL instead of just leaping in because, yay animals!). Instead he’s working with a slimy auctioneer named Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones) to sell the ultra-rare dinos to the highest bidder. Eversol, for a visual, is a short, stubby, greasy-looking narcissistic capitalist with an orange comb-over that flails about if there’s any breeze in a room.
I mean, come on! I’m all for Trump bashing, but this is just gratuitous, as is his wish fulfillment demise (that spoils nothing, by the way). If you’re going to do political material, make it germane to the plot, or as some grand metaphor. Don’t just have a guy playing a Doonesbury-style caricature just so he can get chomped, and don’t use throwaway “nasty woman” lines for the sake of a possible feminist cheer. It’s just so cheap and lazy.
Anyway, in addition to selling off the dinosaurs, Mills has been working in secret with Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), who in the original was just a random scientist working at the park, before being the chief cloner/capitalist slimeball that created the indominus in the last movie. Last time, despite his poor man’s George Takei routine, he raised a salient point about how the company is responsible for its own monsters, as all he was doing was responding to the demands of his bosses. You wanted more dangerous, more teeth? You got it. It’s an odd bit of moral equivalency, but it made sense to a certain extent. Now? Well, now he’s just doubling down on yet another bad decision by creating the Indo Raptor, a combination of the indominus (via that tooth from the opening scene) and a velociraptor, making it the most deadly creature on the planet, supposedly. Mills plans to mass produce them and sell them as weapons around the world.
Yeah, I seem to recall in the last film how that was a bad idea. The indominus went on a rampage, and Vincent D’Onofrio decided trained raptors could be weaponized. He did not live to regret his decision. So why not combine the two? What could possi-BLYE go wrong? Using the last of his character’s scruples, Wu does caution that they need Blue (or at least, a DNA sample or some blood) in order to implant her sense of empathy into the indo raptor, or else it’ll never obey orders and just be a senseless killing machine. And who wouldn’t want that?
Finally, the third act starts to deliver on some of the promise of the franchise. In what are the only two creative departures from the other films, the dinosaurs are transported to Lockwood’s estate for the auction (with the heroes being captured), and we get the full involvement of Maisie, Lockwood’s granddaughter, played by Isabella Sermon. In a change of pace, for once the annoying kid isn’t taken to the island to get in the way and constantly be at risk. This time, the island is brought to her, and she has a more realistic chance to survive than the others, as she’s on her home turf. Mind you, her tactics make about as much sense as sudden raptor-kicking gymnastics, and she even hides in a dumbwaiter, struggling to shut the door like Lex did with the kitchen cabinet doors in the original, but at least it’s SOMETHING resembling a positive element. I’m grasping at straws here.
The other tiny speck of potential comes in the form of the Lockwood estate itself. The previous films all took place out in the open. There were some closed areas that made for a claustrophobic scene or two, but this time, the entire third act is in the enclosed space of this house. It’s also somewhat neat that the real carnage is held until this final set piece. Sure there are a couple jump scares and cannon fodder deaths in the early going, but really the whole film has set up for this showdown with the indo raptor.
Now, again, the execution is still beyond saving. We have this enclosed environment, but like another bad film from this year, Winchester, there’s no firmly established layout of the house, so there’s no internal logic as to how our heroes get from one room to the other without dying.
Also, the actual indo raptor is, at best, a missed opportunity. For being the ultimate killing machine, it seems more like a massive shrug from the director as to how things work with it. This is an entirely new creation, so you can make up the rules, but once you establish them, stick to them. We first see that it can zero in on a target that’s identified with a laser. Okay, fine. Then, a high-pitched sound will lock it on, so that it will pursue its target until it gets the kill. Also fine. So once it gets loose, does it go for the random rich asshole who was used as a guinea pig at the auction? Of course not. Instead, it decides to just fuck around and play with its food. She gets tranquilized, but she literally winks at the audience to let us know she’s not out. She constantly taps her clawed toe on the ground when it wants us to know she’s around taunting her prey, but otherwise moves silently (continuing the series’ dubious tradition of only caring about the sound of dino foot falls when it’s convenient to the plot). She mercilessly kills no-name goons, but decides to menacingly stalk Maisie and other targets at random, allowing for any number of deus ex machina saves courtesy of Owen, Claire, Blue, or whoever at a given time. Just pick an attack method and stick to it.
I’ve forgiven a lot of weird shit when it comes to these films, because even at its worst, the franchise has still maintained that sense of wonder (and a bit of danger) in having dinosaurs alive and interacting with humans. But this movie squandered 25 years of good will. Even the stuff I won’t spoil towards the end is just one mind-numbingly stupid decision after another, to the point that the film goes out (knowing there’s another sequel in the works – god dammit) with the tossed off assurance that the entire world is now in danger.
If you’ve read this blog before, you also know how much I love The Critic, the mid-90s cartoon show that used movie parodies for laughs and died well before its time. In one episode, the titular critic, Jay Sherman, sleepily reviewed the fake Jurassic Park 2: Revenge of the Raptors. The scene we get is Lex locking a raptor in a closet, with Ian Malcolm telling her that it’ll never work because raptors are too smart. Sure enough, she left the key in the lock, so the raptor jimmies it out, has the key land on a newspaper below the door, and pulls it in, so it can unlock itself.
Once it gets out, John Hammond defiantly states, “You may have us, but you’ll never get off the island!” The raptor then becomes anthropomorphic and speaks with a posh British accent whilst smoking a pipe. “I beg to differ. You see, the other raptors and I have constructed a crude suspension bridge to Venezuela. Once there I shall lie low and assume odd jobs under the name, Mr. Pilkington. But perhaps I’ve said too much…”
You think it’s a joke, but that’s basically what happened in this movie. The dinosaurs came to America (again, sorry San Diego), and for a while are bought by high society. Even Maisie herself escapes from her locked bedroom IN THE EXACT SAME FUCKING FASHION AS THE CARTOON RAPTOR!
This is why I started this blog, to stop movies like this. The parody is now the genuine article, and it has to end. This movie literally made every possible decision wrong, and it’s clear that the studio and the producers just don’t care. Even the dinosaurs, some 25 years on, look even faker than they did in the original. You would figure they’d use the new technology to make them look even more lifelike than the eye-popping original, but that would require effort. This is just money in the bank for them. Meanwhile, our collective intelligence is insulted to the limit, and all we can do is sit there and take it, waiting until we get chomped ourselves, or simply opt out.
Please, please, PLEASE opt out.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What’s your favorite dinosaur? What fake job would you come up with to get to see them in real life? Let me know!