Rating: 6/10

 

When I left my theater after watching Jurassic World for the first time in 2015, I was really quite pleased with the experience; a fact that I attribute almost entirely to just how solid Jurassic Park was as a film. It was tense, it was fun, it was humorous, it had a shirtless Jeff Goldblum, and the idea of a theme park filled with real dinosaurs remains persistently exciting. Jurassic World, for better or worse, lifted virtually every element that worked for the original in 1993, slapped a fresh coat of CG paint on them, and succeeded in delivering a thoroughly enjoyable film without even a whiff of originality.

Aside from having little to no interest in seeing a sequel to a remake of Jurassic Park (which would more than likely bear a passing resemblance to a remake of The Lost World: Jurassic Park), I found that I just wasn’t particularly interested in where Fallen Kingdom was going to take the story. The problem with Jurassic Park as a franchise lays squarely in the second half of its name. The fun of these films comes from watching charming characters try to stay alive in a vacation destination turned prehistoric hellscape. Once the park component is left behind, the strength of the premise tends to go with it.

This is how we end up with uneven films like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park III, which will be forever enshrined in my list of best movie moments for the scene where a velociraptor calmly whispers “Alan… Alan.” to a sleeping San Neill. It’s also how we end up with crowd-pleasers like Jurassic World laying waste to the global box office. People dig Chris Pratt, and they want to see him tussle with some dinos in an updated park.

This brings me to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I won’t waste your time by saying that the plot recycles elements of The Lost World, or that the whole thing plays far more like an interactive museum commemorating the franchise, because those were pretty much guarantees from the start. I won’t expend any more energy than I have to in saying that the villains are boring, the plot is predictable, or that the majority of tense moments arise purely from characters being conveniently stupid. While all of these elements are very much present and very much a detriment to the film at large, I do realize that this is a summer blockbuster meant for young teenagers and kids, and as such was unlikely to be a particularly challenging or compelling cinematic experience. Also, it’s not as if any of the Jurassic Park films were devoid of gaping, silly plot holes.

All of that withstanding, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom preserves much of the energetic fun of its predecessor while doing something that no other film in the series has yet done: make me wonder what comes next.

Directed by J.A. Bayona, the film follows Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) as they accept a suspiciously generous offer to return to the abandoned site of Jurassic World and rescue the dinosaurs before a massive volcano erupts, re-condemning them to extinction. The duo is still plenty enjoyable, with Chris Pratt doing his Chris Pratt thing, and Howard doing everything she can with the mostly ineffectual character the writers handed her. Along for the ride this time, though, are two thoroughly annoying millennials, the necessity for whose presence on such a dangerous mission is never made clear.

The narrative problem right out of the gate is that the emotional stakes, and in fact the reason that anything happens in this film in the first place, are based on the audience caring passionately that the dinosaurs be saved from their impending doom. I personally found this hard, given that the crux of Jurassic Park is the fear of being eaten up by some angry compsognathus’, or getting the oil-to-the-face treatment like poor Newman. For at least the first third of the film, I was actually pretty confused as to why people weren’t damn thankful that the volcano gods were willing to give them a mulligan on the whole “resurrecting extremely dangerous species and exploiting them for personal/monetary gain” thing.

This eventually gave way to some heavy-handed, but mostly effective comparisons to real-world endangered species, and some extremely heavy-handed, Detroit: Become Humanesque evaluations of all biological life, be it human or otherwise. These ideas aren’t explored in very much depth, which is probably for the better, as the film becomes much more fun when it leans into its own absurdity.

Ever cared to see Chris Pratt dodge-roll through the open maw of an awakening T-Rex? How does the concept of giving a velociraptor a transfusion using tyrannosaurus blood strike your fancy? How many nights have you lain awake dreaming of a room filled with shady multi-national arms dealers cashing in on the hottest craze in weaponry: militarized dinosaurs? What do you think of a genetic hybrid between a T-Rex and a velociraptor that activates in response to laser pointers? Would it excite you to watch Chris Pratt try to outrun a volcano?

It’s all incredibly stupid, and shamelessly, popcorn-munchingly enjoyable. It’s swiss-cheesed to hell and back with answerless questions, baffling decisions, and the pervasive sense that none of it matters. With Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom, this franchise has officially become the ultimate summer spectacle. Bring your kids, watch the pretty colors, and feel the punches when you upgrade to a premium format!

Sarcasm aside, Fallen Kingdom does, if nothing else, promise that the sequel(s) will likely share little in the way of structure with any previous film in the series. It’s difficult to go into exactly why without spoiling the conclusion, but suffice it to say that there has been a fairly significant shift in control. For my own part, I can’t possibly predict whether or not abandoning even the pretext of a park will do the series any favors, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to find out.

Big, dumb, fun, and visually impressive, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is another entirely consumable entry in the long-running franchise. It’s a crowd-pleaser through and through, and if you don’t pay too much attention or think too hard about anything you see, odds are you’ll walk away from the experience mostly satisfied.

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