‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ Roars Into Campy Anarchy
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” works like a checklist. It marks off every ingredient from all other “Jurassic Park” movies. You get your widescreen island shots, evil businessmen practicing bad science, the tiny band lost in the jungle, the mad hunter, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex that always pops in at just the right time. It can be somewhat entertaining, especially when it spirals into campy chaos, stomping around like an expensive version of those 1980s guilty pleasures like “Planet of the Dinosaurs.” But the sense of wonder is long gone, the dinosaurs are merely roaring tools and the humans unevolved.
As you can imagine it’s been a few years since the disastrous events at the theme park island featured in 2015’s “Jurassic World.” Now a cataclysmic volcanic eruption threatens to wipe out the dinosaurs left roaming the territory, prompting fierce global debates over whether they have the same rights as any other creatures. Former park worker Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) now works for a group promoting dino rights. She is called in by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who represents the interests of wealthy California tycoon Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Lockwood seeks to covertly rescue the dinosaurs from the island and bring them to a habitat he himself has put together to protect them. Lockwood wants Claire to re-team with former park dino trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to travel to the island and round up the dinosaurs with a special capture team. Owen and Claire were together at the end of the last movie, but apparently broke up after she refused to follow his rough, traveling ways. Now they reunite and head back to Jurassic World, Owen is driven by a need to reunite with “Blue,” the velociraptor he raised and became quite close to. Of course when they get there they realize much of what they were told was a ruse. Mills is seeking to capture specific dinosaurs for other, nefarious purposes, such as creating hybrids to make militarized dinosaurs. You know, the usual.
“Fallen Kingdom” completes the transition of the “Jurassic Park” franchise from adventure epics to mere, loud monster movies. Director J.A. Bayona has a slick visual style where he knows how to use a camera. His best action scene is an uncut shot where Claire and Franklin (Justice Smith), a computer wiz who tags along on the expedition, fly off inside a roving ball into the sea after a volcano erupts, with dinosaurs and debris falling all around them as they sink underwater, waiting for Owen to rescue them. That moment had a scope missing for much of the movie. The screenplay by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow never makes an effort at attempting anything new with the idea. Maybe they can’t because this is a big, expensive franchise machine. Mystery, awe and real terror are missing because it’s all on autopilot. The opening scene is one calculated rush where even the iconic T-Rex of the series simply pops out her head, munches on a victim and off we go. The dinosaurs become, ironically enough, carnival theme park props. “Fallen Kingdom” feels very much like a ride you have sat in multiple times. You’re kind of entertained, but you know what to expect at every turn. When the dinosaurs escape from their cages and rampage through Lockwood’s mansion, when Pratt and company find themselves running through a field among a herd of dinos, and when they are about to be munched only to have the T-Rex emerge and eat the other carnivore, it’s all just “Jurassic Park: Greatest Hits.” Even the old trick of creating a new, super dino is revived here. An odd trick indeed, considering if you read any decent book on paleontology, you would know it’s almost impossible to run out of new dinosaurs to use.
The characters are also reduced to mere repeats of every other character to wander around Jurassic movie land. Franklin is the brainy guy who can hack into the park’s system, Zia (Daniella Pineda), is the dino veterinarian who is needed to shout at the bad guys when they don’t know how to treat the prehistoric creatures, and there’s Ken (Ted Levine), the deranged hunter leading the island exhibition, so cruel he likes to pluck out Stegosaurus teeth to keep as mementos. He is a direct descendent of every other jerk in safari gear a “Jurassic Park” movie requires. One disappointing return is Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm. He simply appears at the beginning and end, giving testimony before a government committee on the dinosaur situation. He just delivers his usual Chaos Theory routine, but there’s a nice sense of nostalgia in seeing him back, too bad he doesn’t do anything else. Rafe Spall is just there to walk around in a suit, trying to sell weaponized dinosaurs to a greedy little buyer played by Toby Jones. You can already guess the fate these two will meet once their captives run out of their cages.
It would be unfair to say none of “Fallen Kingdom” is entertaining. There are a few decent moments. Pratt and Howard attempting to get blood from a sleeping T-Rex has some humor and suspense, there is an odd but somewhat sad moment where Dallas sheds tears as her boat moves away from the island and a giant dinosaur moans amid a coming cascade of lava. Nearly every attempt by the dinosaurs to be scary falls flat, but there is a final, epic shot where Blue and a super raptor crash through a glass ceiling in slow motion with Frankenstein lightning in the background. These moments were at least full of campy allure.
If you are a “Jurassic Park” fanatic who could care less about where the plot goes (and here it goes all the way to suburban Los Angeles it seems), then you may bask in more rampaging, terrible lizards. But for everyone else, we are still waiting for the next stage in evolution for this franchise.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” releases June 22 in theaters nationwide.