Director: J.A. Bayona
12A | 2h 8min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | 6 June 2018 (UK)
Like the very genetically engineered dinosaurs that populate the plots, the Jurassic Park series refuses to bow to extinction, returning with a follow-up to 2015’s smash-hit, franchise-restarter Jurassic World. Colin Trevorrow has bowed out of direction duties in favour of J.A Bayona (The Impossible), but Jurassic World’s main duo of Raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and former Park Director Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are back for another session of gawping at CGI creations off-screen left, and running away from pursuing monsters towards camera. Sadly, although this film’s tag line is “Life Finds a Way”, what definitely got lost along the way was a decent screenplay (writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly), let alone any sense of the majesty and wonder of the original 1993 Spielberg movie. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is so riddled with logic gaps, dumb character decisions and simple confusion about how we should view the entire conceit, that the actual genetic recreation of dinosaurs from 65 million years ago starts looking believable in comparison.
The film opens some four years since theme park and luxury resort Jurassic World was destroyed by the dinosaurs breaking out of containment (again). Given the amount of time that has passed, it actually seems, finally, corporate humanity has accepted that opening a theme park based on genetically-recreated dinosaurs might not be a good idea. And in case we were still in any doubt, we see a short scene in the film’s opening minutes where Jurassic Park survivor, chaotician, and legendary ladies’ man Dr Ian Malcolm (original star Jeff Goldblum) addresses a US Senate Committee who are debating whether or not to evacuate some of the dinosaurs to spare them from an impending volcano that is erupting on the island. Malcolm’s advice: Do not go back to the island. Do not try to rescue these dinosaurs. Bringing any of them back to the US, or putting them anywhere ‘secure’, is a bad idea. It sounds cruel, but one of the problems Jurassic World never conquers is the confusion it displays over whether we should align with Malcolm’s idea or not. Frankly at this point, with the last movie seeing a death toll reach hundreds, it feels hard to argue with the guy, not least when he describes the terrible implications of genetic engineering in terms that seem to link it to the instability of the Trump era.
Yet accepting Malcolm’s arguments would mean, of course, ending the franchise. Thus Owen and Claire, who barely survived the last movie, end up looking both reckless and of questionable intelligence by being won over in about five minutes into going back to the island as part of a covert corporate campaign run by JP founder John Hammond’s former partner Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his slimy executive Eli Mills (Rafe Spall with villain haircut) to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from the extinction-level event and bring them to a new sanctuary. Owen is driven to find Blue, his lead raptor who's still missing in the wild, and Claire has grown a respect for these creatures she now makes her mission, even if they nearly killed her about a dozen times. That this mission doesn’t have the approval of either the US or Costa Rican governments (the Costa Ricans, who presumably have jurisdiction over Isla Nublar given it was only leased by Hammond, are never even mentioned) and therefore might land them in jail, doesn’t come up. Nor do they ever guess it might be a corporate double-cross, which, of course, it is. How a huge number of quite large dinosaurs could be shipped around the world with no one noticing is not explained either, although admittedly at this point in the franchise it is hard to say which company or persons really owns these animals and where the line between corporate and government authority ends and begins.
Necessary plot moves made, we are whisked back to Isla Nublar, which now sits abandoned by humans while the surviving dinosaurs fend for themselves in the jungles. The island's dormant volcano is already roaring to life, which creates a ticking clock. But already by now my interest in this film was flagging, with the rehashed prodding-annoyed dynamics between Claire and Owen offering nothing fresh and new characters Zia and Franklin feeling rote and underwritten (they are, of course, the useful medic and hacker types). I found myself watching these characters crawl through the ruins of the old Jurassic Park/World and thinking about how this serves as an unintentional metaphor for how Fallen Kingdom is treading over the bones of better iterations of this franchise. Though Bayona occasionally slows the film down to let the characters marvel at a huge dinosaur passing through, the thrill and majesty of seeing Spielberg use modern CGI to recreate extinct animals is a hard trick to repeat (Spielberg’s film really did land at the right time, showcasing the technological hurdles that had fallen thanks to digital, as much as the animals themselves). Given cloned dinosaurs have been a reality in this world now for years, it is difficult to believe anyone WOULD be gawping any more anyway. And when the action moves off the island towards a confrontation that could see the dinosaurs escape into the populated world (something the franchise has always held, as in the Alien series, as a final barrier that must be kept up) we are back dealing with mutated dinosaurs as the main threat again, which begs the question if these are even dinosaurs anymore? And why, in a world of cruise missiles and satellites, would non-bulletproof and intellectually-inferior mutant dinosaurs be in any way a worthwhile military-focused project?
Bayona no doubt hoped seeing the dinosaurs in an incongruous setting (charging through the corridors and glass roof of a rural mansion) would refresh the franchise’s standard playbook of run-and-hide, but the oomph of last act near-escapes is constantly being undercut by the lazy screenplay, one that sees supposedly experienced military figures actually climb into cages of dinosaurs that they have been told are lethal, and even resorts to the cheap trick of passing off the most egregious bad decisions - the really dumb ones that have to be made in order to get the franchise to the next instalment - onto younger and more naive characters. How the kingdom of Jurassic Park has fallen.