SPOILERS FOR JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM BELOW
Let’s get one thing straight: Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is one of the greatest films of all time. Full stop. Not one of the greatest of its genre–which it defies time and time again–or of its era, just ever. Its follow-up, 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a problematic sequel that made a major mistake in first removing the dinosaurs off the island and then inexplicably putting them back there (without explanation for how the T.Rex was ushered back onto Isla Sorna after the whole San Diego mess), but still managed to make decent money (over $618 million worldwide on a reported $73 million budget), though it didn’t get anywhere near the original’s quality (92% RT rating vs 52%) or box office muscle (the OG JP made over $1 billion worldwide). Four years later–just like the span between Park and Lost World–came Jurassic Park III, a slight little rescue-mission movie disguised as a sequel, although the movie might as well have nothing to do with the other two (really, only Sam Neill’s return as Alan Grant has any connection, and it’s a shoehorn at best). To date, it’s the worst reviewed (50% RT rating) and lowest grossing movie in the franchise (just $368 million worldwide).
Fourteen years passed before the franchise was revived with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World revived Spielberg’s IP, and the world seemed ready for more dinosaurs, grossing over $1.5 billion worldwide and securing a sequel (well, technically, two sequels) before the first film even completed its theatrical run. Cue J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which attempts to continue the story set forth in Trevorrow’s film by coming in three years later–long enough for the park to have been decimated by nature and the dinosaurs, and for the screenplay to not have to explain where the characters have been all this time. Conveniently, a volcano is about to blow on Isla Nublar, meaning the dinos are in danger, and it’s up to Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is suddenly sympathetic to the dinosaur’s plight, and Owen (Chris Pratt) to save the day, on the dime of the never-before-mentioned former partner of original Dino-Disney John Hammond, although actually the strings are being pulled by his assistant, whose intentions are soon shown to be less than positive (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s pretty obvious the minute he comes on screen).
What follows is a movie that can’t quite figure out what it wants to be. It’s opening section–featuring the “surprise” double cross and the removing of several dinosaur species of the island–feels like an animal rights activism film; the latter section, set in Hammond’s old mansion, now home to Benjamin Lockwood, the former partner, is equal parts haunted house horror show and Wall Street-style “no, greed is actually bad” fable. To call the film multi-minded is a bit of an understatement.
To make matters worse, the film depends on the audience to suspend disbelief to ridiculous levels in order for the movie to make any sense. Yes, I realize I’m talking about a film franchise predicated on the idea that scientists have created dinosaurs out of DNA found in amber-encrusted mosquitos and then decided to make a theme park using the dinosaurs as the main attraction, but in truth, the believability, even for a series of films like this, has lessened with each passing movie. I can buy that Hammond made the first park, thinking he could both play God and control his creation, and that his hubris would not allow him to see his mistake until it was too late; I’m even okay that they built a back-up island for genetic testing, and that people would be compelled to a) see what the ‘natural’ habitat of the dinosaurs would look like and b) try to recreate Hammond’s mistake once. The fact that they didn’t nuke the entire island after they realized the dangers in the creatures continuing to live is mind-boggling to me (and apparently I’m not the only one). JPIII would have been avoided if the aforementioned nuking had taken place, but it’s even more difficult to believe that the Costa Rican government was okay with people still even getting close to the island, let alone not making the air space a No Fly Zone or something.
But the current reboot series ups the ante on the stupid to inconceivable levels. Didn’t the new owners learn anything from Hammond’s mistake? They even had the gall to put the new park ON THE SAME ISLAND literally in walking distance from the original park which should have been a daily reminder of HOW BIG OF A MISTAKE THEY WERE ABOUT TO MAKE AGAIN! You could argue that Jurassic World is once again about hubris (or greed, which is what Trevorrow asserts), but my counter argument is that it’s about a bunch of really stupid people who learn nothing from the past. And then in the sequel, characters seem to be trying to play a game of “I Can Be Dumber Than You,” but not only attempting to bring the dinosaurs off the island and put them in cages under a mansion in Northern California, but also selling them to the highest bidder to what amounts to war criminals. So Eli got rich for about ten minutes before the T.Rex did her trademark flip and crunch, rendering the millions earned useless.
To top it all off, in the final moment, when it seems like Claire, who has been wanting to save these dinosaurs’ lives for the entire movie, has finally realized that dinosaur lives don’t matter all that much compare to the humans they will either consume or crush, there’s yet another twist: Lockwood’s granddaughter isn’t his granddaughter after all, but a clone of his daughter who died in a car crash, and she thinks her being a clone and the dinosaurs being a clone makes them some sort of kindred spirits, so she releases them into the world. Jurassic World indeed, it seems.
Honestly, the set-up for JW3 feels like it might lead to the most satisfying of the three: dinos set loose on the real world where people’s lives are threatened could be fun. But the way they got there feels forced and is predicated upon people making one illogical move after another. For a movie about high level scientific breakthroughs, just how dumb this franchise must stoop to make its new premise even work is difficult to swallow.
Just so it doesn’t seem like I’m a killjoy, please understand that I realize people just like to see dinosaurs in movies (which is partially why I think the third movie might be fun), and that they aren’t dissecting the plot nearly as much as I am. The problem is that the series began with an intelligent, thoughtful and character-driven film that is one of the all-time greats, meaning that it is possible to meld action (which JP has in spades), suspense (ditto) and even a little humor (see: Jeff Goldblum) with smarts. To my mind, I wish that could still be the case. I guess I just want more from my dinosaur movies.