At one point in the meandering, misbegotten mound of dino feces that is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, park employee-turned-activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) waxes nostalgic as she asks raptor trainer-turned-carpenter Owen (Chris Pratt) if he remembers what it was like to first set eyes on a real, living dinosaur. It’s one of director J.A. Bayona’s numerous forays into suddenly sentimental territory, but the question manages to concisely capture the past and present predicaments of this long-running series.
As a franchise, Jurassic Park has always been primarily committed to achieving a sense of awe. Executing an historic breakthrough in dinosaur special effects with the combination of large-scale animatronics and time-crunching CGI ensured that Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster met its goal. The only issue was figuring what could be done for an inevitable encore. It’s a problem the series has struggled to solve for a couple decades now. So, while Claire may be talking about her own in-movie reality and history when she asks Owen about miraculous memories, she’s clearly addressing our relationship with these movies.
Remember the first Jurassic Park? It was pretty good and certainly a special visual treat for anyone familiar with the state of dinosaur effects prior to 1993, but all these years later, what can we make of the umpteenth sequel? Awe is in short supply now and all the new filmmakers can come up with is a rose-coloured reminder that the past was really cool.
The present, as depicted here, kind of stinks, though. Three years after the disastrous events of Jurassic World, a once-dormant volcano on the island of Isla Nublar has now been upgraded to active, which has begun a global debate on whether or not the living dinosaurs trapped there should be rescued. Claire is desperate to save the creatures, so when an opportunity arises in the form of a secret mission funded by billionaire and original park co-founder Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), she jumps at the chance and takes Owen and a couple of her activist employees with her.
This is just one of many, many ideas that have been cobbled together to create some semblance of a story in Fallen Kingdom. What follows must have been the result of a drunken brainstorming session that involved picking a dozen or so options out of a hat and deciding to incorporate all of them at once. Things just keep happening in this movie and it’s astonishing that no one thought to pause for a moment and consider how nonsensical this whole enterprise has become.
It all basically amounts to exploring how easily one can find themselves facing a genetically modified dinosaur on the rainy rooftop of a sprawling mansion if enough humans all make several stunningly stupid decisions around the same time. Sure, the Frankenstein influence on the original story has long made this franchise a playful examination of human folly, but this is now way beyond a few dreamers trying to naively play God and the handful of bad apples that aim to greedily capitalize on the scientific breakthrough.
Fallen Kingdom requires morons to toss their remaining brain cells on the fire in some sacrificial effort to forward the plot a mere inch. The failure of one cardboard pawn to robotically fulfill their duty could grind everything to a halt, which would translate here to no more dino fun. That’s not happening on Bayona’s watch, so prepare yourself for the blandness of a T-Rex blood transfusion that's a total time-waster and a conveniently clocked volcanic eruption that manages to cover the entire dinosaur-infested island in lava without injecting a single drop of adrenaline into the mix.
There’s a weightlessness and pointlessness to all of Bayona’s set pieces, which are far more reminiscent of the action in Colin Trevorrow’s direct predecessor than the more memorable moments Spielberg concocted for his two entries. Fallen Kingdom looks slightly prettier and more picturesque than the previous Jurassic World, but there remains a distinct lack of excitement and energy when the characters are struggling to escape mortal doom. Bayona fails to execute a single convincing scare, robbing the audience of any opportunity to marvel at the majesty of these prehistoric monsters.
Part of the problem here is the mess that Bayona inherited when he took the directing gig. The previous pic left the story possibilities in shambles and the characters carried over from that instalment remain terribly dull and obnoxious. Pratt’s version of alpha male cool is more drowsy than dreamy and Howard’s sudden switch from corporate ice queen to watery-eyed grassroots heroine requires a lofty suspension of disbelief that not even this silly series can justify.
David Koepp’s script for the first Jurassic Park had many weak points as well, being overly episodic and relying too clunkily on bad decision-making to facilitate suspense, but with the aid of Crichton’s source material and some clever casting, that movie at least featured some fresh, engaging characters to invest our interest in. Fallen Kingdom represents a far cry from the days of Sam Neill’s lovable curmudgeon Alan and Laura Dern’s fiercely courageous Ellie.
Casting the casting problems aside, one of the biggest holes remains the one blasting out of the theatre’s surround sound system. It’s been more than 20 years since John Williams last composed a score for a Jurassic movie and Fallen Kingdom uses only a tiny smattering of his iconic theme, instead filling the rest of the silence with a bland set of tracks by Michael Giacchino, who is capable of so much better than this dreck. Williams’ score is one of the most important elements in the first movie, an aural accomplishment that elevates the pulpy onscreen material, but the post-Williams sequels have settled for uninspired imitations.
A lack of inspiration can be found everywhere in Fallen Kingdom, which spends its entire running time in search of some reason to exist. Dinosaurs besieged by a natural disaster? Sure, why not. A dino auction featuring Toby Jones wearing a ridiculous pair of dentures? Yeah, what the hell. An eerie twist that manages to have zero bearing on the plot? That’ll get everyone talking! None of this matters or resonates or even intrigues. It’s all just there to fill some space.
This franchise wasn’t exactly a creative force from the start and it hasn’t been anything close to clever in literally decades, so calling the latest entry insipid and asinine feels a bit redundant. But it’s starting to seem like the entire purpose of each subsequent entry in this series is to outdo its predecessor in terms of sheer stupidity. The sense of awe that these movies were once built on has now evaporated entirely, replaced by the overwhelming impression that this would all be more enjoyable if the dinosaurs just ate each and every human already.
25 years later, the franchise has been lobotomized, cannibalized, minimized. It was always most memorable as a technical triumph that originally hit such a high peak due to a dream team of artists like Spielberg, a master of cinematic thrills, Stan Winston, one of the definitive figures in a whole era of effects wizardry, and Williams, a clear legend. The foundation was never there to support a fourth or fifth movie and now we find ourselves here, at the edge of nothingness, staring into the abyss, ready to welcome the gaping jaws of a digital dinosaur that stubbornly refuses to die.