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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Hey, we're getting this a full two weeks before the US! Too bad it's such a dud...

As always, I will try my best to avoid spoilers, especially as the trailer actually didn't give very much away, but there is a section in this review that deals lightly with what happens from the beginning of the second act on that you may want to skip until you've seen the film. It is clearly indicated, though, and, fairly vague but proceed with some caution for that paragraph. 

Plot: Two years after the Jurassic World theme park was destroyed by dinosaurs, the island on which it resides, Isla Nublar, faces total annihilation as its volcano roars to deadly life. In a last-ditch effort to save the dinosaurs, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) once again joins forces with former dinosaur-trainer and current ex-boyfriend, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to return to the Island at the behest of the co-creator of the original Jurassic Park and John Hammond's former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who alerts them to the existence of another, uninhabited island where the dinosaurs can thrive; only this time without human interference. Things, inevitably, don't go quite as planned. 

Review: The worst thing I can say about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is that it gave me an inkling about what that particular group of Star Wars fanboys (I was in the other group of Star Wars fanboys who loved it) felt after watching the Last Jedi. I don't hate it as much as the anti-Last-Jedi lobby hated that polarizing (second-to) latest Star Wars film but as Fallen Kingdom played out I progressed from cautious optimism to increasing disappointment to a sense of genuine irritation at just how far the series had fallen since the original film. And that's despite the fact that none of the sequels have been a patch on the classic original and that, at the very least, Jurassic Park III is still objectively worse.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this second instalment in the Jurassic World trilogy is that it's not a bad film - indeed, it has a number of really very good moments sprinkled throughout and plenty of real talent both behind and in front of the camera - so much as it's a tired and dull film that seems to exist only to set up what may well be a very interesting final installment. Worse, the stuff that is good about it only drives home just how much the final product flat-out fails to work as anything but 130 minutes of connective tissue between the first Jurassic World film (which was itself a flawed quasi-remake of Jurassic Park) and the third film in the trilogy.     

Just consider all the good things it has going for it. For a start, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both better served this time around, with the latter losing much of her more troubling characterization from the first film and the former really getting to cut loose and strut his stuff as one of his generation's most endearing leading men. The rest of the cast are a bit more variable but Toby Jones and [spoiler redacted] are suitably slimy baddies, while we get another perfectly decent child-actor in the form of Isabella Sermon as Lockwood's granddaughter, Maisie - and, of course, Cromwell himself is as great as ever as the sickly Lockwood. 

Behind the camera, though, things are even more promising. J.A. Bayona takes up the reins from Colin Trevorrow (who remains on board as co-writer with Derek Connolly, the writer of the previous film) in the director's chair and he should be a perfect fit. From the Orphanage to the Impossible to a Monster Calls, Bayona hasn't yet put a foot wrong and his ability to mix eye-catching visuals with real human drama seems tailor-made for a property started by Steven Spielberg.

And, to be sure, with the considerable talents of his long-time cinematographer, Oscar Faura, at his side, Bayona does deliver some gorgeous, memorable visuals and he does indeed capture the sense of Spielbergian awe that has been lacking in all the Jurassic Park sequels. He also gets a nice performance from young Ms. Sermon as the emotional heart of the film, while doing a solid job directing the action-horror set-pieces; most especially in the film's delightfully traditional cold open.

For all of that, though, Bayona is stuck directing a film with a massively uninspired story that may not be as obvious in its debt to the past as Jurassic World was but still riffs quite heavily on previous films. Some of its dramatic turns are particularly troubling, but [super mild spoilers ahoy for the rest of this paragraph] most especially when you get one-third of the way into the film and you realize that most of the rest of it is probably going to take place within a single building. Talk about a waste of talent! Here we have in J.A. Bayona, a director for whom the descriptor "visionary" can quite liberally be applied, and the script forces him to shoot the bulk of a Jurassic Park film indoors. This entire final third of the film has moments both good and bad (another bloody dinosaur hybrid? Seriously?!) but it's all such a momentum killer after the extremely promising opening. I'm guessing the intent here was in creating tension through a more claustrophobic setting (much like that unforgettable kitchen scene in the original) but mostly it just feels like the film folds in on itself when it should be spreading its wings.

These are critical flaws that grind the film to a halt in a way from which it never recovers. There are some very stupid moments thrown in here as well, and some that feel at least slightly unnecessary but they aren't it's biggest crimes. Nor, for that matter, is the almost total lack of John Williams' theme throughout the film (though Michael Giacchino does an admirable job otherwise) or the gross under-utilization of Jeff Goldblum, who gets about 2 minutes of screentime total, but neither of these exactly help. No, the biggest problem is that is wastes all of its promise and it's really rather good first act on something that feels like hopelessly drawn-out filler. It ends on a high note, sure, but you are still left with the bulk of the film that commits the cardinal sin of big-budget blockbuster extravaganzas: it's all a bit dull. 
And for a Jurassic Park film, nothing is more unforgivable.

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