‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ Brings the Gang Back. Sigh.
Posted June 20, 2018 5:15 p.m. EDT
The posters for “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” promise that “The Park Is Gone.” Perhaps that’s meant to be foreboding, but it mostly sounds like an end to fun. The “Fallen Kingdom” part is also frankly a little obscure. The mistake, however, might be to suppose that these words mean anything at all. Sense is a thing this movie doesn’t have much interest in making.
Which is far from the worst that can be said about it. When the first “Jurassic Park” movie (based on a novel by Michael Crichton) opened in 1993, it was both a parable and an example of extravagant human ambition. One well-intentioned, misguided visionary (Richard Attenborough) used genetic engineering to revive of long-extinct species. Another (Steven Spielberg) used special effects to the same end. The results were a little ridiculous, but also scary, thrilling and intermittently thought-provoking.
That was hubris. This is business. The reawakening of the slumbering franchise in 2015 gave birth to “Jurassic World,” one of the highest-grossing terrible movies of all time, a lumbering walk in the rebooted park that squandered the charisma of the big lizards and the charm of the human cast in a witless farrago of blockbuster self-importance. “Fallen Kingdom,” directed by J.A. Bayona, is in most respects a dumber, less ambitious movie than its immediate predecessor, and also, for just that reason, a little bit more fun. Some of its high jinks have a hokey, silly, old-fashioned mad-scientist feeling to them, especially when the dinosaurs are chasing people or vice versa. Which is reasonably often.
Bayona and the screenwriters, Colin Trevorrow (who directed “Jurassic World”) and Derek Connolly (who was a co-writer of it), try to atone for the sexism that was one of the most remarked-upon features of the last installment. This time, Bryce Dallas Howard is outfitted with practical footwear. There is a “nasty woman” joke and a visual gag at the expense of President Donald Trump’s hair. None of this should be mistaken for topicality. The semi-interesting ethical questions that have hovered around Jurassic Park since the beginning — what are the limits of human tampering with nature? What obligations do we owe to imaginary creatures? — have been stretched to almost invisible thinness. The park is gone! It’s time to go into the house.
Because the filmmakers decided that the best thing to do with the rampaging digital dinosaurs was to bring them indoors. The tropical island off the coast of whatever is emptied out so that the giant proto-birds could be moved to a mansion in Northern California. Supposedly the creatures are there to be protected from a cruel re-extinction policy, but actually they are pawns in a diabolical scheme to breed super-weapons that can be auctioned off to a gathering of international bad guys.
And it would have worked, if not for you meddling kids! To be precise, there is one meddling kid, named Maisie (Isabella Sermon). She is the granddaughter of the estate’s owner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who was involved in the development of the original park. The other non-lizard residents include Maisie’s governess, Iris (Geraldine Chaplin), and Lockwood’s assistant, Eli (Rafe Spall), who totally seems like a nice guy.
Claire Dearing (Howard), who has become a dinosaur-rights activist, reunites with the swashbuckling animal-behavior specialist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to do the necessary wrangling. They are joined by Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) — younger, nerdier adventurers clipped from the newly updated 2018 edition of the Big Book of Action-Movie Clichés.
I don’t mind those, necessarily. There are moments when “Fallen Kingdom” operates in breezy awareness of its own ridiculousness, embracing its second-rate, secondhand status as a way for people with no other plans to grab some air-conditioning. But in the current entertainment ecosystem, the good-faith B movie is not so much an endangered species as a genetic impossibility. To survive, you need either aggressive, frantically winking self-consciousness, end-of-the-world portentousness, or both. “Fallen Kingdom” has neither. It makes a few gestures toward “Planet of the Apes"-style apocalypticism, attempts a bit of tongue-in-cheeky humor and phones in the rest.
The cast more or less does the same. Pratt’s affable, teddy-bear machismo grows staler with each movie. Howard’s character has been given a cliché-book upgrade to generic Strong Female Character. Apart from Toby Jones, the villains lack diabolical flair. The dinosaurs show more personality.
But not as much as they used to. Their ability to elicit wonder, terror and empathetic recognition — the whole point of this franchise, after all — has declined even as the capacities of computer-generated imagery have expanded. Now I think I understand. The kingdom has fallen. The park is gone. Welcome to the petting zoo.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is rated PG-13 for saurian snacking. Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes.