July 09, 2018

Fall from Grace: 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom'

By Tim Hruszkewycz *

I have a major confession: I’m obsessed with the original “Jurassic Park.” The way people quote “Star Wars” is the way I quote “Jurassic Park”. I watch that movie annually. I’m really going to burn some bridges here, but I think it might be the best blockbuster film ever made. It is not my favorite movie, but it is up there. Every time they announce another sequel, part of me starts hoping against hope that it will be among the great films of the franchise.

I’m also going to say that “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is not a great sequel to “Jurassic Park.” It’s actually a pretty bad movie.

There is this new era of teasing movie trailers now. Days before the actual trailer for “Fallen Kingdom” came out, director J.A. Bayona and Universal released one-to-two second clips showing off the movie. And the clips didn’t look great. Then the full trailer came out and I was still disappointed. But then they did something that made me lose my mind. The trailer featured Jeff Goldblum returning as his character, Dr. Ian Malcolm.

This is a moment where I should gain a degree of self-awareness. I have to step out of myself and make my peace with the fact that I am easily manipulated. I’m sure I’m not the only one who got excited to see Jeff Goldblum in the trailer. He’s become a national treasure, especially in the wake of “Thor: Ragnarok”. Seeing Goldblum as Malcolm forced me to ignore the fact that the rest of the trailer looked, frankly, kind of dumb.

And I should always trust my instincts. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is an epically dumb film. The problem with “Jurassic Park” sequels is that there must always be truly unbelievably dumb reasons to get the characters from the previous films back on that island. There must be someone who is phenomenally dumb to ignore warning after warning about a place where everything could kill them in a hot second.

 In “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”, my least favorite entry in the franchise due to its toyetic nature, Ian Malcolm’s girlfriend decides to photograph dinosaurs, clearly ignoring the oodles of warnings from her boyfriend.

Sam Neill’s Alan Grant is tricked onto the island in Part III. Also, a kid is stuck on the island due to –true to my initial thesis –doing something beyond stupid.

The first “Jurassic World” entry at least skipped over all the birthing-pain dumb stuff and jumped into the successful theme park part of the timeline. We never really get to see the initial dumb conversations that get people onto this island.

“Fallen Kingdom” keeps the legacy of stupidity to get Claire and Owen back on the island. The dinosaurs, which we all kind of agreed would go extinct on this island, are now at risk of going extinct due to the eruption of a volcano. This brings us to the fundamental problematic idea that looms over the rest of this film. The key moral argument is whether America, with all of its resources, should save these animals from a destructive volcano or allow them to become extinct again.
My big question involves how these animals existed in the first place. Isn’t the point of “Jurassic Park” / “Jurassic World” that all the animals are clones? Claire’s altruistic rescue mission is only to save one example of eleven species before the island explodes. She’s not saving all of the animals in the park. Why don’t they just clone some more? Is Henry Wu the only person who knows how to do that? That seems implausible.

One of the things that made the first “Jurassic Park” amazing is that it is first a corporate thriller that just happens to have dinosaurs. The action in the movie is great, but the worldbuilding that went into that movie is just spectacular. It is this world of corporate espionage that leads to a “Towering Inferno” style disaster. It is very fun, but oddly feels grounded.

The Spielberg original teases the idea of a corporation that is more concerned with the application of dinosaurs beyond entertainment, but it leaves that premise well enough alone. Only in the sequels does the evil inGen corporation drive the plot.

I don’t think people really care about people trying to militarize dinosaurs. That narrative has been told time and again and it doesn’t really work. I enjoyed the first “Jurassic World”, but some of the weaker moments involve Vincent D’Onofrio’s military contractor. Unfortunately, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is mostly about characters like that. That part seems weak and forced.

I will say that I didn’t hate the movie, however.

If I consider “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” to be the low point in the series, “Fallen Kingdom” is at least watchable. The bummer part of the movie is that “Jurassic Park” is such a smart movie. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a very silly popcorn movie. Watching “Fallen Kingdom” as a silly popcorn movie is just a huge disappointment.

The action is great. It is beautifully shot. I’ll even go farther than that. It has this very cool aesthetic that we really haven’t seen in the franchise, which is great in terms of something new. It’s just that the movie actually copied something from my childhood that I didn’t expect, and it wasn’t “Jurassic Park.”

I was a big fan of survivor horror games in my teens. I loved “Resident Evil”. Capcom, the people who made “Resident Evil”, also made a “Resident Evil” clone called “Dino Crisis.” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a mix between “Dino Crisis” and the first “Resident Evil” game. The protagonists are on the run from dinosaurs in a complicated mansion that has a secret in the basement. That’s a fun adventure movie that really needs its audience to shut its collective brain off.

I wish I could wax poetic about the morality of the movie. Bayona seems to want to start a discussion about the morality of cloning, but he really says nothing of value. There isn’t enough there to really analyze the intrinsic meaning of life, beyond the superficial attitudes presented within. Bayona wants to say something heavy, but everyone I talked to about it simply acknowledged that it ultimately didn’t matter in the picture. There are some digs on Donald Trump. Some of them are subtle; some aren’t. But even these commentaries are ultimately vapid.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” doesn’t have an entertainment problem. It just has a problem a depth problem. This Kingdom has fallen flat.

On one of my Catholic movie groups, someone described “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” as one of the worst sequels ever made. That’s not true. It’s not even true within the franchise. It actually might be the third best in the series. But these movies have the potential to be deep and engaging. “Fallen Kingdom” is a big step backwards.

I’m reminded of a line from “Fallen Kingdom,” where Claire asks in voiceover, “Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” I do. I remember seeing “Jurassic Park” in the theater and I was mesmerized. But Speilberg’s classic didn’t let me simply treat the film as spectacle. He took Michael Crichton’s novel and molded it into the best version of that tale. It was polished and perfect. But the franchise hasn’t learned from its own message. We have all seen dinosaurs at this point. When the spectacle is gone, we are left staring at the film’s foundations.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” presents John Hammond’s Flea Circus. And “Fallen Kingdom’s” fleas aren’t that impressive.

Tim Hruszkewycz is a high school English and film teacher at Villa Madonna Academy in Villa Hills, KY. He also co-hosts the Literally Anything podcast at literallyanything.net and blogs about film

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.