What can I say about “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” that will shock you?
The dinosaurs are scarier: Of course they are. The brouhaha over Bryce Dallas Howard’s high heels is cheekily referenced the second she arrives on-screen: Of course it is. The cycle of human greed that insists on breeding, monetizing and militarizing prehistoric beasts is infinite: Well, of course it is, goddammit.
Five movies in, the wonder that Steven Spielberg captured 25 years ago in “Jurassic Park” has faded from the franchise’s DNA. In 2018, the magic of the CGI he perfected to bring an ill triceratops and an intimidating T-rex to the big screen is mundane, just as it was when “Jurassic World” resuscitated the series to plodding results in 2015. Every blockbuster cribs from Spielberg’s technology, even if fewer and fewer capture his spirit.
Which is to say that “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” in all its expensive stupidity, has little new to offer. And yet, dear reader, I do have something that might shock you ― something I can’t even say about “Jurassic Park,” a near-perfect slice of American ingenuity: I cried watching it.
Yes, I shed a few stray tears during an oddly affecting sequence in a movie about dinosaurs outwitting human imbeciles. Let me explain.
The setting is Isla Nublar, the Costa Rica-adjacent island that now houses the fallen Margaritaville sign and other remains of Jurassic World (once the site of Jurassic Park). Three years later, the destruction has turned former operations manager Claire Dearing (Howard) into a warmhearted activist determined to protect the remaining dinosaurs from a government indifferent to their security. Putting her trust in a cagey assistant (Rafe Spall) who works for Jurassic Park architect John Hammond’s onetime business partner (James Cromwell), Claire recruits two colleagues (an antsy computer whiz played by Justice Smith and a mordant “paleo-veterinarian” played by Daniella Pineda) and ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, even more olive-skinned and blockbuster-ripped this time around) to save the dinosaurs from an erupting volcano.
Things don’t go according to plan, because the plan was undercooked to begin with. (Every plan in this movie is undercooked. It’s a 128-minute testament to how much dumber Hollywood has gotten since Spielberg’s wise, measured characters first entered the park’s gates.) Claire and Owen make a chaotic getaway to avoid the encroaching lava, boarding a cargo ship where the dinosaurs have been loaded in cages. But as the freighter sails away to whatever horrors await on the mainland, the camera pans to the crumbling island. Standing on a dock, bleating its lonely heart out, is a beautiful brontosaurus, somehow grasping its own hopelessness.
“Please, don’t go,” its somber eyes plead. As we inch farther and farther from land, smoke and flames envelop the creature, announcing its imminent death. Michael Giacchino’s score swells.
Did I mention I cried? Your kids might, too.
You see, in an effort to double down on humans’ rapacious ways, “Fallen Kingdom” inflicts far more terror upon the dinosaurs than any of its predecessors. Claire and Owen are en route to try to protect the reptiles from an estate that, in short, wants to auction them off at about $10 million a pop. (That seems cheap, right? A T-rex skull once went for $1.8 million. Imagine how much a live baryonyx would cost!) If you can avoid getting sidetracked by the braindead plotting ― beat for beat, it is a feat of lunacy ― you might find yourself aghast at just how distressing the film is. Its central conceit, which ponders whether life-threatening clones deserve the same rights that PETA champions, proves trenchant by the time the dinos are being paraded around for the next highest bidder via an electric pulley. Naturally, thunderstorms abound.
In all this brutal nonsense ― and I include that lone brontosaurus, as I am still bitter about the tears this “Kingdom” made me sacrifice ― something wild emerges: fun. Not the LOL kind, nor the so-bad-it’s-good kind. We’re talking about the why-the-hell-not? kind. The unabashed let’s-do-this-whole-damn-thing kind. The summer kind.
With “Jurassic World,” director Colin Trevorrow fought mercilessly to recapture Spielberg’s sense of awe. He failed. But, here, maestro J.A. Bayona (“The Orphanage,” “A Monster Calls”) ― working from a script credited to Trevorrow and Derek Connolly ― doesn’t even try. Bless him for that. Bayona lets the stupidity of the movie’s second half unfurl without any half-baked attempts to make this more than a gratuitous June tentpole. The existential questions are beside the point (despite an appearance from Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, who has decided Jurassic Park was a very bad thing indeed); the Bond-style villains are dastardly in all the obvious ways; the emotional core is fleeting at best, even when it comes to stranded brontosauruses. (I’m still crying, dammit!) Ultimately, Bayona’s technical craftsmanship runs circles around Trevorrow’s, so much so that even a bizarrely unnecessary (and unnecessarily bizarre) plot twist involving a human clone seems worthier than what we got from “Jurassic World.”
And so, if nothing else, “Fallen Kingdom” knows not to try to offer more than it is capable of. As someone who frequently rails against the pinheaded blockbusters that crowd multiplexes today, I should scream to the heavens (or the hells) about this being yet another dimwitted commodity. And sure, it’s time for the “Jurassic” world to be laid to rest, even though this installment tees up yet another story. (What happens when dinos invade suburbia? Stay tuned!) But something inside me ― something that has perhaps resigned itself to the reality of Hollywood’s ever-recycled franchises and lifeless CGI spectacles (just kidding, I’ll keep bitching) ― appreciated that this movie doesn’t attempt to eat its cake. It knows how to stage an electrifying set piece and then get out of its own way.
Come on in for the thrill ride, accept the illogical proceedings’ trashiness, and you might find yourself haunted by the evocative mansion that houses the film’s culminating peril. After all, Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, sweat neatly affixed across their faces, make for fine tour guides, effectively mirroring the tempo of Bayona’s pacing. The scraps somehow align in this ridiculous affair, even if, for one bittersweet moment, you just might shed a tear for what once was.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” opens June 22.