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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom review: This nonsense has gone full Sharknado

Enlarge / Hi, old friend.
This review contains minor plot spoilers.

Whatever fans want to call Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth entry in the raptor-loaded film series, at least they won’t mistake it for a carbon copy of its predecessors.

Fallen Kingdom bucks every series convention to emerge as something quite different from Spielberg’s established family-thriller take on the Michael Crichton novels. But the film’s makers seem to have no idea how to pull it off. The resulting film is a sixth-grade sketchbook mash of dino-murder, cartoonish villains, and plot holes big enough for an apatosaurus to fit through. It may very well be the biggest-budget Syfy B-movie of all time.

That pivot could have worked with the right crew leading this snarling trainwreck, but the sequel’s WTF factor and full-throttle action sequences, in spite of their polish and the actors’ best efforts, land like a big triceratops turd.

Melting-island insanity

Fallen Kingdom wastes no time establishing the film’s crux: idiots want to make money off the wrecked remains of the prior film’s park. An opening sequence sets the film’s terror-thriller tone by sending witless corporate goons to retrieve a fossil. This scene’s dark, rainy treatment immediately recalls the original Jurassic Park‘s famous T. rex attack sequence—though it leans way too heavily on that nostalgia as opposed to building tension. You already know about the biggest, baddest dinos, this intro asserts. Let’s get to the blood-curdling screams and the human-devouring stuff already.

After this sequence, a political showdown pits endangered-species advocates against… uh, everybody who thinks the genetic resurrection of dinosaurs was a bad idea. Isla Nubar is falling apart thanks to intense volcanic action, and the Dinosaur Protection Group (yes, that’s its name), led by the previous film’s Claire Deering (Bryce Dallas Howard), fails to convince Congress to save the surviving species. This is apparently thanks to testimony from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who tells Congress that “we altered the course of natural history. This [the dinos’ dying] is a correction.”

As soon as Congress says “no,” Deering gets a convenient phone call from representatives of a private organization who will—cross their hearts, hope to die—evacuate these dinosaurs to a sanctuary island. They just need her help! With her biometric signature, they can unlock crucial access to rescuing these species. Creepy overseer Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) has the financial backing of one of Jurassic Park’s original backers, Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), and that’s all the convincing Deering needs to sign on—and to enlist her dino-training ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to tame the last surviving velociraptor, which has otherwise eluded the “sanctuary” workers.

It’s no spoiler to point out so much dramatic irony, which loudly teases Mills’ bait-and-switch, but Fallen Kingdom is at least decent enough to quickly fast-forward through it. Deering and Grady learn the truth about Mills in record time, but they barely have time to get angry about it—because HOLY CRAP THE ISLAND IS RIPPING IN HALF AND TURNING INTO LAVA. You know, just like every seismologist had warned the world in the film’s opening segment. Funny, that.

Fifteen minutes of melting-island insanity follows, and it cements the film’s CGI modus operandi: combine as many giant, screen-filling ideas as possible, with more emphasis on visual noise than compelling framing. You’ve seen this dinosaur combination of puppetry and CGI (mostly CGI) before—but have you ever seen all of Jurassic World’s species running toward the camera simultaneously? While trees fall, lava flows, and fires blaze?

What do you get when you cross a T-Rex with a raptor?

That probably sounds fine to someone looking for a stupid summer dinosaur movie, but one really effective Fallen Kingdom scene illustrates how boring the rest of the film is. Deering and Grady, with two of their DPG allies, eventually sneak off the island via Mills’ escape frigate, and while hiding in one crate, they attempt to save a dying dinosaur. It needs a blood transfusion, and the only blood donor on board is a tranquilized T-Rex in a neighboring crate.

The resulting scene is everything missing in the rest of Fallen Kingdom: organic camaraderie between two characters; sublimely framed camera shots that emphasize danger; sound and visual cues that bounce back and forth between fear and comedy; and delightful “how’s this going to end?” surprises.

Try a different warehouse

The rest of the film is predictable bedlam, with every scene feeling like a rehash of prior films’ special effects—only with more familiar stuff on screen at once. The worst example is Fallen Kingdom‘s “scariest” dinosaur, a new genetic abomination called the Indoraptor. What do you get when you cross a T-Rex with a raptor? The answer is a raptor with a bigger head. That’s it. At this point, they might as well make crazy combinations like a raptordactyl, or an trice-rex, or, heck, all of the silly creatures from Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

Worse, every major calamity begins with a moronic McGuffin or an equally obnoxious lapse in logic. If you can’t stand films that constantly elicit reactions such as “of course those are bad guys,” “why did you leave that door unlocked,” or “how many times are you idiots going to assume that the sale and distribution of live dinosaurs is a good idea,” abandon all hope for Fallen Kingdom. One major plot point hinges on the film’s evil corporation operating a dinosaur-harvesting operation in the good guy’s basement, with its sole door protected by a single PIN code.

You could get all of Jurassic World’s remaining dinos for a fraction of what Oculus cost.

This is an operation that has dozens of massive trucks and staffers coming in and out on a regular basis, running like clockwork for years, but we’re in stupid-movie territory here. We have to wait for Lockwood’s granddaughter to stumble upon a suspicious conversation to uncover the whole scheme. No room in the dino-black-market budget for a different warehouse address, dudes?

And if you’re looking for a Crichton-caliber rumination on the consequences of man playing god—meaning, shades of gray with good guys and bad guys sharing a walk along the responsibility spectrum—look elsewhere. The best you’ll get is one speech in which Mills is cornered about his evil plot and tries to implicate Deering and Grady. The result isn’t a shades-of-gray spread of evildoers’ responsibility. It’s a textbook example of abusive gaslighting.

Don’t even get me started on the scene in which the world’s last remaining dinosaurs are auctioned off to a gallery’s row of cartoonish criminal bosses, including stoic members of the Yakuza, mega-mustached Vegas tycoons, and steely-eyed Eastern European mobsters. The scene drips with stereotypical evil, particularly its use of the creepiest fluorescent lighting imaginable, and it’s made doubly hilarious by the average selling price of each dinosaur: roughly $15 million. You could get all of Jurassic World’s remaining dinos for a fraction of what Oculus cost.

(Worse, this scene does not end with every single villain being eaten in hilarious fashion. How could the most B-movie Jurassic film ever made waste this particular dark-comedy opportunity?)

Needed more baby raptors

A snippet of the evildoers' auction scene as described in this review.
Enlarge / A snippet of the evildoers’ auction scene as described in this review.

Jeff Goldblum’s speech about mankind’s responsibilities in a genetic-engineering era is perhaps most telling about this film’s “serious” elements, because it’s a two-part speech. The first half plays near the film’s opening to quickly explain its political debate, and the second half plays at the end to loudly hint at a sequel. It looks like Goldblum showed up for a single hour of filming, read his speech aloud, and booked a flight the heck out of there.

As a result, he’s easily the smartest guy in the whole production: he recalls the best bits of Dr. Ian Malcolm, delivers a solid speech, and gets out of Dodge to cash his check while everyone else drowns in dino-splosions. Otherwise, there’s barely a script to speak of, which means Pratt and Howard spend most of the film pretending to look terrified by the white noise of explosions and terror all around them—and Pratt does flash his incredible charisma while training a baby raptor in a brief flashback, at least.

The actors get out relatively unscathed (though be ready for abominable lines such as, “It was all a lie! Bastards!”). The same can’t be said for director J.A. Bayona and writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. It’s not just that they took this series all the way into the Sharknado toilet. It’s that they didn’t even cash in on the B-movie cheese and exploitative goodness that might redeem such a pivot. The result is one of the most forgettable action films in recent memory. You’re better off seeing Dwayne Johnson’s Rampage at a dollar theater.

ARS T

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