Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

As a kid, I had a movie release in theaters at the absolute perfect time for me: Jurassic Park. At the peak of my dinosaur obsessions, I had a movie release that put the extinct creatures on the silver screen. Now, I know generations past had their own dinosaur films, but I think it’s safe to say that nothing prior to it was like the experience of Steven Spielberg‘s classic. Simultaneously an adventurous blend of wonder, terror, and pure enjoyment with a dash of caution, the film broke records and jolted mainstream cinema in ways that were even observable to a kid like me then. It was followed by two sequels, one directed again by Spielberg I rather enjoyed (The Lost World) and another directed by Joe Johnston that just didn’t do it for me (Jurassic Park III). After that, many presumed that the series was done, until 2015’s Jurassic World surprised everyone. An instant crowdpleaser directed by Colin Trevorrow, it shocked analysts by becoming one of the most successful movies of all-time and rejuvenating the series. At a time when dinosaurs are debated in scientific circles regarding feathers or not, one thing was certain from Hollywood: a sequel was surely on the way.

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So, despite a director swap with J.A. Bayona at the helm, we’re 3 years out since then and back on the island. We’ve got our leads from the last one returning (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard), an action-packed premise, and a fan-favorite character, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) from Jurassic Park as well. What could go wrong? A lot actually. Honestly, I am so conflicted with this movie. Watching preview footage months ago, I immediately respected the director’s desire to go with practical effects as much as possible; Jurassic World, just a few years ago, had way too many scenes that felt “too digital”. I sensed more tangibility this go-round, and that’s a definite step in the right direction. I also got the impression months that this would be a darker, scarier film than the preceding one, and that is all here as well. While all Jurassic movies have featured jump scares and the like, this feels like a much more savage film than the others.

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That’s all good stuff, right? I’m getting what I wanted. I must also clarify that months ago, I saw the first trailer, I, alongside many online, was flummoxed by the weak premise. “You mean after nearly dying on the island because of dinosaurs, our heroes are going back…to save dinosaurs…while it is exploding from a volcano?!?” Yes…yes, they are. Just as the gyrosphere makes a rolling return, I found my eyes rolling throughout this film. I won’t give stuff away, but this is one strange movie. Motivations are sometimes incomprehensible and all over the place, and dialogue for many scenes consists of screams and the word, “RUN!!!” I get it; that all happened before; yet, Jurassic World felt like it was skimming the surface of believability with one foot planted in reality.

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This film jumps the…Mosasaurus on numerous occasions. The original Jurassic Park still works because, at its heart, it isn’t about the dinosaurs. It is a parable about the follies of man, venturing into things that shouldn’t be. Sure, all the films following riff on that to some degree, but that is at its core and paired with charismatic, well-acted characters, it all just works in a way that has never lost its charm (oh, and the DNA guy…he was awesome). Jurassic World, admittedly, didn’t have as much to say, but I would say that its central themes of control work pretty well alongside the thrill of it all, mainly because everything centers around the park. We package and sanatize everything for mass consumption, whether it should be or not, so we get it. Here, without spoiling, the film hurries through anything dealing with the park (which are some of the best things in the movie), and beyond all that, it truly veers into strange territory. Sure, the predatory and aggressive nature of many of the dinosaurs begs the series to go these directions, I suppose, but at the center of Jurassic Park begs the question of doing things simply because we can, but never pondering on if we should. Yes, this film exists, but by the end, I kept wondering if it should at all. There are all the moments of wonder there, just like in the original film way back,  and many moviegoers will be pleased with the action and laughs, but it is all there ambling through a mess.

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Again, here is the struggle. The action and visuals are masterclass. I would expect no less, given Universal Pictures surely expecting comparable levels of box-office returns. As trailers have shown, everything taking place on Isla Nublar is just movie magic, even if the pacing is erratic. I would watch and rewatch the volcano sequences over and over again, and if you see the movie, I’m sure at least those will enthrall you. Michael Giacchino upholds his end of the bargain, I suppose, as his score always effectively punctuates the action and scares on-screen, even as it never gains identity on its own. It evokes that classic hook Jurassic Park musical hook throughout, but always in a garbled, non-harmonic way. I suppose that is the point, but it can’t help but make you think of a more pleasant time and even more pleasant experiences with the franchise.

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Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard give us everything we’d expect, given what we got before from them as Owen and Claire. I lay no fault at their feet for the outcome of it all. Their chemistry naturally continues here, even if the premise forces it. Newcomers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda come in and do adequate, if unnoteworthy, work. I do hope you weren’t expecting to see or hear about Claire’s nephews again, because you won’t here. James Cromwell, a truly great actor, phones it in here as Benjamin Lockwood, a role that really feels cheap and tacked-on to the legacy of the originals. His granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), gives us our obligatory child in the film, but delving too deeply here is spoilery, so I’ll leave that there. Rafe Spall plays Eli Mills, who bankrolls the rescue operation, and Toby Jones plays an associate of his. Ted Levine, who has made a career out of playing truly nutty parts, continues that here, and I’ll leave that there as well.

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Jeff Goldblum features more as narrator than any meaningful on-screen presence, and really, other than getting me in the theater to see it, what is the point of his character’s return without meaningful interaction with our principal cast? I’ll give you one guess. You got it: nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. Of course, Ian Malcolm’s way of speaking and thinking is a great way to tell us all the message of the film, but that’s another problem here. We are told more than we are shown when it comes to the point of it all. There is lots of heavy lifting in setting up the plot but more aggregiously, there is far more in trying to stick the landing with its ending. Jurassic Park ended in a chilling moment of serene quietness with no dialogue and only John Williams‘ now-iconic music, allowing us a moment of contemplation before heading out the door. Here, we get the message flat-out told to us, and while it all strikes timely, it left me thinking more about modern politics and cultural change than anything involving what I actually saw. Dinosaurs have acted as vehicles for the messages of these films, but when we are told the point of what we just saw, it makes it all strike hollow. At least, it did for me.

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Content-wise, the language wasn’t all that extreme, given its PG-13 rating; the violence, though, did feature in more chilling ways than prior entries. I actively heard people of all ages squirm in response to many scenes. Other than a kiss or two, there was no sexual content. With regard to faith, God is dismissed in a comment regarding the Almighty, but I never expected the character to say it to be an advocate for God anyways. Lies and deception feature heavily in the plot. I am reminded by this film (again, as it is stated) that our world is in flux. The pace of change and the things undone that never were prior to our here and now mean we must stay vigilant and alert to the goings-on of the world at large. While I wish the film would have communicated it more through implication, it still is a very resonant message to hinge the film upon. I wrote a Geeks Under Grace Bible Study for this movie, so check this link and feel free to give it a read after watching.

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All-in-all, I knew going in that a third Jurassic World film is to follow. Such is Hollywood, but by this film’s end, I actually felt that it cheapened the prior entry and the trilogy we will be getting, like it or not. Just like Star Wars: The Last Jedi showed more effectively a few months ago, change is coming, and both films actively burn the past to get there. I left the theater here, respecting the technical achievements but shrugging at how shoddy the premise was it all hinged upon. Dinosaurs have had their time, and Jurassic films made the most of it. Maybe we should leave it be.

5.25

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