Sunday, June 24, 2018

Dino-Sore - Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom, Reviewed

(One Night, Three Reviews! Part 2)

My review of the previous Jurassic World movie was very similar to that of other people I spoke to about it: not original, but hey, how about those dinosaurs, right?!?

So when first trailer for Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom came out, I expressed some skepticism about the premise, but my family assured me (in no uncertain terms) that we would indeed be seeing this movie on the big screen because: dinosaurs.

When Glory finished up her first year of high school exams on Thursday and asked for a sleepover that night, I was only too happy to agree, but then realized that would take the cool, dark basement out of play for the evening. With no World Cup games until the morning, heading to an air-conditioned theatre seemed like a great idea, and there were still seats available for the 7:00 showing.

In the original JP2, Pete Postlethwaite leads a safari of dino hunters back to Isla Nublar to bag some prehistoric beasts and put them on a boat to the mainland so they can be displayed in a new park in San Diego. In this sequel, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard join up with a bunch of dino hunters on Isla Nublar trying to extract as many species as they can before a volcano tears the island apart, and put them on a boat to another island where they can live in a type of preserve, so, yeah, completely different.

Until it isn't. The dino hunters are in fact greedy mercenaries (gasp!) who are not interested in species preservation, but only want to get rich peddling dinos off at auction! This forces our heroes (plus a vet and IT guy from central casting) to make their own way off the island and try to set things right.

Thankfully there are lots of dinosaurs to distract us from how derivative this plot is and director J.A. Bayona puts his indie-horror pedigree to good use here, amping up the tension in a number of suspenseful set-pieces. Sadly, he is not as deft as Spielberg in how he stages it, making the lack of blood from the inevitable dinosaur casualties a distraction. (On a side note: given how much I enjoyed Logan, am I the only one who could really get behind an R-rated Jurassic Park movie? Yeah, I didn't think so! Too bad it'll never happen...)

The B-story involves the silent partner of park founder John Hammond, Benjamin Lockwood (the ever-awesome James Cromwell) and his granddaughter Maisie, who inevitably join Pratt's 'raptor-wrangler' and Howard's dino-lobbyist in peril. Dr. Henry Wu also returns, and with the new 2018 model Indo-raptor, which blends all the worst characteristics of the Indominus Rex with the series' terrifying velociraptors (and whose clawed hands appear to have thumbs, but more on that in a bit). Almost everyone else you meet over the course of the story is a reprehensible excuse for a human being, and everyone else comes and goes without ever feeling like they mattered much.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you say: plenty of humans, but what about the other dinosaurs? Well, they are there, for what it's worth, but they are becoming all to familiar. The timing of the beloved T. Rex in grabbing other dinosaurs just in time to get bipedal mammals off the menu before taking a bow roar and then marching off rather than eating their prey, is so well-pronounced as to become suspect. Likewise the stampeding dinosaurs which largely avoid knocking over or trampling our heroes, but who gleefully stomp bad guys, regardless of the level of involvement in torturing them. A pachycephalosaurus gets co-opted into a jailbreak that feels so contrived I was waiting for Chris Pratt to give it a pack of cigarettes or put money on its commissary account.

25 years ago in this franchise, you got to  learn a lot of cutting edge dinosaur theory while experiencing the same sense of wonder as someone visiting the park. When the lap bars dropped onto our heroes then, you felt you were coming along on an amusement park ride. The Fallen Kingdom is the cheap, travelling-carnival ghost-train version of that same experience. Yeah, it's still fun, but not as much.

Kudos to the filmmakers for leaning into this notion about the genetically-engineered genie getting out of the bottle though. The studio clearly has an idea about where they want to take this beloved, quarter-century-old franchise, and that in order to get there, it is not only time to reset the pieces, but maybe flip the board and start over.

Back before they rebooted the property, one of the pitches for Jurassic Park 4 was to feature dinosaur-human hybrids. No, honestly! Looking at the thumbish-claw-hand of the Indoraptor and the still hidden agenda of Dr. Wu hinted at in the previous film, I wonder if they might be building to something similar at some point later on down the line. Maybe this whole trilogy is going to serve as a sort of Lazenby sorbet, cleansing our palates for a trilogy where truly anything goes? It might lack the scientific and naturalist credence of the original films, but the marketing and toy potential is almost unlimited.

In the meantime, though, if you want to scratch that dino itch on a hot summer evening, there aren't a whole lot of other options at the moment, and they look as good as they did last time around. Just be prepared to do a bit more eye-rolling and reinforcement of your suspension of disbelief than you did with Spielberg at the wheel.

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