Fallen Kingdom is the darkest and most daring Jurassic movie. It’s also the dumbest.
“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” This is what Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing asks in the fifth entry in the world-famous Jurassic Park franchise, whose international allure she sums up in her following sentence. “You don’t really believe it, it’s like a miracle.” It’s a line that’s clearly meant to evoke the first movie, which, while not the first exposure (even in movie form) most audiences had to the creatures, was more or less the beginning of dinosaurs as a modern cultural phenomenon. And that’s sort of the problem with their representation onscreen; outside the odd animated children’s film, it’s been monopolized by a single franchise that seems to be increasingly unsure of what to do with them. To be fair, I’ve personally never been too critical about the results: the first film is my favorite of all time, I find the second a thrilling experience, I will watch the mostly-ridiculous third one if it’s on television, and I found myself surprised by how much I liked the fourth film. But Fallen Kingdom may have been my breaking point. Its flourishes of creativity, horror, and ingenuity are drowned out by a plot that’s confusing, cruel, and often boring.
The film opens by explaining to us how the island from the first World film (and also the first Park film) is currently facing destruction thanks to a volcano that is due to erupt, threatening the only dinosaurs left on the planet with a second extinction. Throughout all the twists, turns, and revelations from then on, we are never given an explanation for why a theme park was built on an island with an erupting volcano, or what happened to the fabled “Site B” from the second and third movies. Claire Dearing, the infamously high-heeled manager of the park from the last movie, is heading up a crusade to rescue the dinos that, at first, seems doomed, thanks to a testimony from Ian Malcolm himself (played in a welcome, but overhyped, cameo by Jeff Goldblum) before Congress, until she receives a helping hand from a Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the conveniently-forgotten business partner of Jurassic Park founder John Hammond.
He and his assistant, Mills (Rafe Spall) believe that these animals should survive as well, and are in the process of mounting an expedition to the island to capture and relocate as many as they can. Missing from their manifest, however, is the world’s last living Velociraptor, Blue. Catching her will be tricky, and will require an expert in Raptor taming; and the only living person with that skill on their resume is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
Suffice to say the actual rescue doesn’t fill up a whole lot of the runtime. Once it’s over, we’re treated to a surprisingly large chunk of the film where the animals and movie stars we’ve come to see are locked in cages, and frequently mistreated. Your eight-year-old viewing buddy (whether that’s a literal eight-year-old or just the part of your brain that watches movies like an eight-year-old) probably won’t have that much fun with that. It’s bafflingly depressing, but, with the exception of a fun scene involving Pratt stuck in a cage with the Rex, it’s also boring. Keep in mind; while this is happening, the movie insists on cutting back and forth from the island to the Lockwood Estate, where Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon) tries to uncover something sinister involving Mills. Her connection to the main plot isn’t superfluous, but it is pretty ridiculous.
There’s a larger variety of dinosaurs than any previous movie, but they’re lacking the realism of the earlier movies, the oldest of which, it bears mentioning, just celebrated its 25th anniversary. I don’t just mean CGI-wise. In Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs were unpredictable, the T-Rex would do something frightening one moment, like trash your car and eat your lawyer, and apparently benevolent the next, like save you from raptors or eat your lawyer. It was an animal, doing what it wanted. In Fallen Kingdom, the dinos are seemingly split into the good and the bad. The good ones will help the main characters even if they have no prior relationship with them (Blue gets a pass here, her relationship with Owen is already established). The bad dinos, on the other hand, possess such an insatiable hatred for man, they will take any opportunity possible to chase any human they see, regardless of how hungry they are or how perilous their current situation is. Apparently, an actively exploding island will not deter a Carnotaurus from trying to eat Owen and Claire, nor will it stop the T-Rex from rescuing them and roaring cinematically.
Dinosaurs are amazing creatures, I understand wanting to save them, just like I understand wanting to make movies about them, but like it or not, one franchise has cornered the market on thrillers involving the creatures. This is problematic because, as it turns out, making Jurassic Park movies isn’t easy, making a franchise even less so, (hence why a reboot became necessary), so an attempt to move the plot away from the island makes sense. Give JA Bayona some credit; he’s trying to do something genuinely new with the series, and the genre: a haunted house movie, where a young girl finds out that instead of ghosts, she has dinosaurs haunting her home. Rather than simply grill up a bigger, badder dino, (the answer the last two movies came up with), he instead, for the movie’s B-plot involving Maisie at the Lockwood Estate, simply shrinks the setting. Bayona is a lover of shadows and of arcane monsters hidden in the dark; he’s the perfect fit for a Jurassic Park movie striving to be something more. Unfortunately, the movie the director wants to tell is being forced into a larger plot that has to involve an exploding island and a T-Rex. Chris Pratt is seldom unlikeable, and this movie is no different. His will-they-won’t-they-kiss relationship with Claire works, even though it’s not as interesting as his will-they-won’t-they-kill-each-other with Blue.
Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom dares to be different from the rest of the pack, and that’s not a bad thing. You can’t build a longer series off of just one location, and the bankrollers behind this movie knew that. Fallen Kingdom knows that it has to evolve or perish, and, in the same way as the last movie, it’s winking at the audience in the process; forcing us to ask ourselves if that evolution is worth whatever gets left behind. It’s a clever question to ask, but Universal may not like the answer it gets.