The original Jurassic Park is, inarguably, a classic. It’s one of the most beloved, pop-culture-influencing films of all time, serving as a pioneer in special effects and in modern monster-movie storytelling. The reason its legacy has endured so long, other than the fact that it’s simply a great film, is because it instantly ingrained itself in the minds of everyone at the time who saw it. Nothing like it had really been done before. It was Godzilla meets Gorillas in the Mist: A movie about enormous, man-eating creatures, but filtered through a primarily philosophical lens. Jurassic Park had some incredibly complex themes, for an action movie. For every scene with a raptor chasing kids through a hallway, there was another with two characters discussing the ethical implications of the Park’s star attractions. For every T-Rex, a moral debate. It was an incredibly deep and intelligent film, which tried very hard to make the audience see it’s monsters as living creatures, and its humans as blinded by their own hubris. All of this was presented and packaged in such a way that it didn’t feel heavy-handed and preachy. On the contrary, it was awe-inspiring. Magical, even. The first glimpse the audience gets of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park is one of the most memorable moments in in film history: Cresting the hill, hearing the score swell, seeing the beasts appear, and finally having the wonderful Richard Attenborough deliver the now-legendary “Welcome to Jurassic Park!”
The resulting sequels tried their best to reach these same heights, but ultimately just ended up drifting more and more into solely-action-movie territory. Jurassic World, while not exactly being a perfect movie, made a step in the right direction towards returning the franchise to its philosophical roots. It explored the commercialization and commodification of nature itself, by having a successful, fully-operational park being ultimately bogged down by product placement and tourist traps. Jurassic Park became just another theme park, just like the franchise had become just another action franchise. It was a particularly clever bit of meta-commentary, tacked on to a story that delved further into the “don’t play God” message of the original. Jurassic World finally brought hybridization and complete genetic customization into the fray, in an attempt to update the commentary that Jurassic Park had made about genetic engineering twenty years previously. And although by the end of its runtime World basically just became a dinosaur vs dinosaur slugfest, the message still seemed at least somewhat clear.
The Fallen Kingdom, on the other hand, seems to be confused as to what exactly it’s trying to say, if anything at all. This is because of one simple little detail: This is a really dumb movie. Seriously, I think this entire movie was just written as an excuse to use two different set-pieces, with the rest hastily written in afterwards. The film is split into two distinct parts, which almost feel like two different movies jammed together. The first half, which features pretty prominently in the trailers, takes place on Isla Nublar, during a rescue mission to save the island’s inhabitants from an impending volcanic eruption (why they can’t just clone all the dinosaurs again, instead of going through the effort of individually saving each one is beyond me). This portion of the film is actually fairly well done, displaying a decent amount of clever, fun dinosaur action, as well as disaster-movie environmental destruction. The second half, however, shifts gears dramatically, and becomes what is essentially a dinosaur home invasion film, with scenes from a crappy spy thriller mixed in for god measure.
The biggest issue here is that both halves of the movies seem to say different things about the film’s central theme. The portion of the film dealing with the Isla Nublar rescue hammer home the idea that the dinosaurs are miraculous creatures that should be protected. However, the latter half completely abandons this, and instead focuses on how dangerous they are, and how they should be allowed to die. By the end of the film, it’s back to saving them again, for an incredibly idiotic reason that I won’t spoil here. There’s no real conclusion as to which angle we’re supposed to be seeing from, leaving the film as a strange hodge-podge of ideas that seem to only exist fleetingly and when convenient to the plot.
And that isn’t to say that this is the film’s only problem. While Jurassic World tried to shake up the Park formula, The Fallen Kingdom instead, for the most part, seems to be actively trying to recall it. Nearly every action scene is a direct callback to a previous moment in the franchise, with none of them being nearly clever enough to be considered an “homage.” The most glaring of these details is the film’s reuse of the “hybrid dinosaur” idea. Instead of the Inominus Rex, which was genuinely intimidating and fearsome at times, to the Indorapter, which is essentially the exact same thing, only smaller and more ridiculous. Sure, the I-Rex could camouflage itself, but the Indorapter is, I kid you not, laser-guided. It’s mind-numbingly stupid. The opening scene is straight out of Jurassic Park, as well as the Indorapter chase during the film’s climax, down to the shot of the hybrid creature opening a door. Why show us this? We already got the “opening door” reveal in the original, so it comes as absolutely no surprise to the audience. The same goes for the random moments where the T-Rex, completely silently, shows up to save the protagonists from other various carnivores, before walking off for no apparent reason. We also get a child with no parental supervision and a troubled home life, a nerdy, hacker character, a corrupt businessman, a kindly, optimistic, yet ultimately naïve benefactor, and an overly-macho hunter-type who gets killed because he underestimated a dinosaur. Basically, it runs through a checklist of most of the major moments and characters from all points in the franchise, leaving little new material.
The characters in Jurassic World received quite a bit of criticism, rightfully so, and The Fallen Kingdom seems to have learned nothing from those mistakes. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s characters apparently had a relationship off-screen that gets casually mentioned, and they end up back together at the end of the film with just as little actual development as the previous installment. Howard’s character is also suddenly a passionate dinosaur-rights activist, simply because, seemingly, the plot needed it that way. Pratt’s relationship with his raptor buddy, Blue, is also almost entirely re-written, going from Jurassic World’s “I’m her alpha but she’s still dangerous” approach to one that’s essentially “I raised her from a baby and we love each other,” making the relationship far less nuanced.
And that’s just the main characters. The supporting cast may as well not even been in the movie. There’s two side characters who do essentially nothing of value the entire film, at least that couldn’t have been done by one of the existing cast members. Their roles could have been combined into one character, or simply erased altogether, and it would’ve made no difference. I constantly found myself completely forgetting they were in the film until they inexplicably appeared again for another pointless scene. The mandatory child actress is fine, but again, her role is really underutilized. Her sole purpose seems to be “get in danger, scream a lot, get rescued.” There is a fairly large twist with her character, which, again, I won’t spoil, but is a huge “What the hell?” moment that is more or less then swept under the rug and never explored. The rest of the characters are basically just cartoon caricatures of architypes we’ve already seen in the franchise. As a final tidbit about the cast, I hope none of you were hoping for a substantial amount of Jeff Goldblum screentime, because he’s in it for about a minute and a half. Basically, his lines from the trailer is all he actually has in the movie.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, the villain, like the plot, is so dumb. I won’t spoil who he is, although you’ll probably see him coming a mile away, but his plan is the most nonsensical thing I think I’ve seen in a mainstream blockbuster film in a long time. He’s cartoonishly evil for no real reason, and has no actual motivations, at least as far as we’re given. Seriously, it’s a mess.
The worst part of the film’s terrible plot is the fact that the climax is almost beat-for-beat the exact same as the previous film’s: The new hybrid dinosaur chasing Pratt, Howard, and a child, until Blue the raptor arrives suddenly and conveniently to save the day, nod approvingly to Pratt, and head off into the sunset. It offers absolutely nothing new, and as a result, falls flat.
But even taking all of this into account, I still find myself intrigued by some parts of this film, particularly the ending. The franchise is apparently being set up to go into a drastically new direction in future films, one that, while completely violating the Jurassic Park formula, may actually make for some exciting new stories. Some fascinating new twists to the underlying genetic themes of the franchise are added (while being completely wasted here, unfortunately), as well as some fairly substantial shake-ups to the status quo. Unfortunately, all this set-up does is highlight what a waste the rest of The Fallen Kingdom was in comparison. So by all means, go see it. It’s got some fun moments, and Chris Pratt fighting dinosaurs is pretty much always going to be entertaining. Just don’t expect anything even remotely on par with the original, Park or World.