Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is stupid from the get-go. The characters are stupid, the filmmakers make stupid choices, and everyone is stupid about the one thing the movie should be smart about—money—since that’s the only reason it exists: to take our money.
Here’s a minor, stupid example.
Apparently the place where the dinosaurs live, which is apparently called Isla Nublar, has an active volcano that’s about to blow. Bye-bye, dinos.
Some people, though, including former high-heeled PR flak Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), are working overtime to save them. We see her walking into her warehouse office wearing sensible shoes and carrying Starbucks-y coffee, and talking to the kids working the phones: a T-Rex-phobic tech geek named Franklin (Justice Smith of “The Get Down”); and a tough-as-nails, I-guess-she’s-got-a-medical-degree young woman named Zia (Daniella Pineda). They’re the new kids on the block.
Meanwhile, an old kid from the lab, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), unseen in the Jurassic movies since 1997, is testifying before a Senate subcommittee and says this: “We altered the course of natural history. This is a correction.” I.e., We shouldn’t have brought them back; it’s probably best to let the dinos die.
That’s not a bad dichotomy. Two likeable characters on opposite sides of an issue. I’m with Malcolm but I see Claire’s side, too.
Except when Malcolm says the above line about “a correction,” the head of the subcommittee, Sen. Sherwood (Peter Jason*), says this: “Are you suggesting the Almighty is taking matters into his own hands?”
Wait, what? Wow, that’s some leap. The worst part: I don’t know whose leap it is: Sherwood’s, for bringing God into the equation, or the filmmakers’—screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) and director J.A. Bayona (“El Orfanato”)—who I guess want to condemn Bible-thumping pols. Either way, it’s unnecessary. Let’s say Sherwood is a Libertarian who doesn’t think it’s the government’s place to save owls, whales or dinosaurs. Malcolm has just given him an out. “Hey, this leading scientist says nope.” Instead, before the news cameras, and thus Claire watching TV—and displaying the first of her 50 shades of dumbfounded reaction shots—Sherwood says, “This is an act of God.” I’m sick of powerful Bible thumpers more than you can imagine, but even I thought this was gratuitous.
(* The reason Jason looked familiar to me was because he played the redneck bartender dealing with Eddie Murphy’s Reggie Hammond in “48 Hrs.” Great scene. I saw it many times while ushering at the Boulevard Theater in South Minneapolis. And now Hoss is a senator? Way of the world.)
Again that’s just a minor stupid thing from the first five minutes. It gets worse.
10 million dollars
Private industry gets involved—in the form of wheelchair-bound rich bastard Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of beloved dino creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Lockwood’s assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), contacts Claire, and gets her to contact her ex, handsome raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who is the only one who can get close to “Blue,” the supersmart raptor he helped raise. (Was all of this in the first movie? I forget.) Lockwood and Mills say they want to save the dinos but that’s obviously a lie. It’s a “Jurassic” movie. Someone has to have a stupid scheme that blows up in their face. Munching will ensue.
Oh, and there’s a little girl, Maise (Isabella Sermon), playing her own game of hide-and-seek in Lockwood’s mansion. It’s Lockwood’s granddaughter. He’s raising her because her mother died in a car accident. But looks are exchanged, a telltale photo is hidden. What could it possibly be—other than the obvious: that she, too, is a clone, probably of the mother. And ... it’s that. The reveal comes two-thirds of the way through and presented as if it were news.
Everything’s telegraphed. When Claire, Grady, et al., land on Isla Nublar, they’re greeted by a sunglasses-wearing, paramilitary dude, Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), whom we know we can’t trust—and not just because Levine played Buffalo Bob in “The Silence of the Lambs.” The camera just holds on him in a certain way. He says things like, “We’ve got your back, brother,” patting Grady on the shoulder, and Grady looks at his shoulder as if it's infected. But even Wheatley’s betrayal is stupid. They need Grady to bring back Blue and they need Blue alive, right? So when does Wheatley reveal his duplicity? Back at the ship? Nah. Immediately. He shoots Blue with a tranq, and Grady with a tranq*, but allows Blue to attack one of his men. In the struggle, Blue gets shot. Now the target is bleeding to death**.
(* I did like Wheatley blowing a puff of air at a tranqued Grady, who, no longer able to stand, collapses. A serious dick move.)
(** BTW: Why do they need Blue alive? Don’t they just need the DNA—as with the dead Indominus Rex retrieved in the cold open? Or do they need Blue to help train the next gen? But—again—aren’t the new Indoraptors super well-trained already?)
So what’s the nefarious scheme? The least imaginative one possible. Rather than send the dinos to their own island, as Lockwood intended, Mills transports them to Lockwood’s estate, puts them in cages in the basement, and plans to sell them on the black market. When Lockwood finds out, he demands that Mills turn himself in. Instead, Mills kills Lockwood. The lickspittle turns.
Here’s another detail that’s so unnecessarily stupid I can’t stand it. Mills needs a black market connection or auctioneer or something, so he meets with Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones, doing a bad American accent), who’s supposedly “the best.” Gunnar actually flies to the Lockwood estate in Northern Cal for the meet. But as soon as he gets there, he acts as if he can’t do it. Not for moral reasons. Because he doesn’t think it’s worth his time. He acts as if selling dinosaurs is small potatoes.
By the idiot logic of the movie, he’s almost right. Once the auction begins, before a creepy collection of international war profiteers and Big Pharma, the first dinosaur, an ankylosaurus, is sold for ... wait for it ... $10 million! Gunnar and Mills are actually happy to get such a huge amount, but I immediately flashed on Dr. Evil’s outdated ransom demand: one million dollars. Seriously, don’t Connolly, Trevorrow and Bayona—not to mention Universal—even know the value of their product?
And the idiot hits just keep coming. Mills makes the argument that animals have long been used in war—horses, elephants—and I’m like, “Sure. 100 years ago.” Gunnar introduces the indoraptor as “The perfect weapon for the modern age,” and I’m like, “Wouldn’t one missile take care of it?”
As for our ostensible hero, Grady? After he wakes from his tranq-sleep by a dino’s tongue just as the lava is about to turn him into a burnt hot dog, and he hooks up with Claire and Franklin, and all three make their escape in that plastic ball from the previous movie—riding it over a cliff and into the ocean and swimming onto a nearby beach (cue “From Here to Eternity” homage), then stealing a truck and driving it onto the departing ship just as the island is blowing, but, bummer, back in America, getting captured and tossed into one of Lockwood’s dungeons, after all that, his great idea of escaping from their cell is to taunt the head-butting stygimoloch in the cell next door so it keeps ramming the wall between them and eventually breaks into their cell. I'm like, “That's the plan?” But of course it all works out. Because as the animal charges him, he’s able to leap out of the way at the last second. As we all do with charging animals.
We know how it’s all going to play out, too. The dinos—or at least the indoraptor—will get loose, eat/kill the bad guys, and threaten our heroes. And who will come to their rescue? Blue, of course.
But even within this obvious framework, they keep adding stupid shit. Maise, for example, knows all the nooks and crannies of the mansion—we’ve seen her hiding out in a dumbwaiter, for example. But when the indoraptor is chasing her, guess where she flees? Into her bedroom. No, not the closet. Into her bed. No, not even all the way under the covers. She just pulls a sheet up to her chin and looks around frightened as the indoraptor approaches. I think it’s supposed to be a Spielbergian moment like in “Poltergeist”—what happens when imagined monsters become real—but Spielberg began from that premise—with the kid in bed, trying to sleep. He didn’t have the kid flee into it*.
(*That said, in terms of direction, the bedroom scene, with its monstrous shadows, is the best in the movie. A shame it was constructed out of such stupid sand.)
So after Blue saves the day and kills the indoraptor—but not before the indoraptor kills Gunnar and Wheatley—our heroes are overlooking the dungeonous basement where a gas, I guess, has leaked, and the poor dinos are suffocating. They’re being poisoned. So now we get a callback to that original dilemma: Save the dinos or let them die? Claire is on the precipice of pushing the button to release them into the world; but then she pauses, stops, can’t do it. She can’t introduce dinos into northern California. It will wreak havoc. And ruin property values.
If this were a movie made 20, 30, 50 years ago, that would be the end of it. But it’s 2018, “Jurassic” is worth billions, and Marvel/Disney has already paved the way with its continuing universe movies. Shouldn’t Universal join that club? (It tried, certainly, with its abysmal Dark Universe.) Sure, the dinos could be resurrected for the next movie, but that’s same-old, same-old. They need to continue.
So guess who presses the button that releases them into our world? Maise, of course. Because, as she says, “They’re like me.
Yes, honey, they’re just like you. Except they’re up to 100 feet long, up to 100 metric tons, and have razor-sharp teeth. And they’re not very smart.
Of course, considering how well this movie did ($1.3 billion worldwide), neither are we.
POST-CREDITS SLIDESHOW OF BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD REACTION SHOTS
When the movie began, Patricia said, “Oh, I like Bryce Dallas Howard.”
But as the movie progressed...
And we kept getting dumbfounded reaction shots like these ...
Well, feelings changed. *FIN*