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Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

If 2015's Jurassic World was a soulless attempt to cash in on the nostalgia audiences held for the 1993 original film, then Fallen Kingdom is simply soulless.  It exists only because the last movie made a fortune at the box office.  I know, I know, all sequels exist for that reason.  But you occasionally get one that truly wants to continue the story, or dive deeper into the world. (Last weekend's Incredibles 2 is an example.) This is a far more garden variety sequel that just throws non-stop action up on the screen, while making no attempt to engage the audience.  For all the rampaging dinos and narrow escapes that the film throws at us, the whole experience ends up being as thrilling as cardboard because there is nothing to care about here.

I actually had hope walking in, as this film was directed by J.A. Bayona, an up to now blameless filmmaker who knows his way around a thriller. (His 2007 haunted house movie, The Orphanage, is one of the better examples of the genre in recent memory.) This is his first big budget studio production, and sadly, he has become another casualty of the Hollywood Blockbuster Machine.  There is none of the grace, personality or care that he has shown in his previous films.  Anybody could have made this.  Yes, the movie has been expertly made, but so what if there is nothing here for those in the audience to grab onto?  This is a film that gives us nothing to think about, and nothing to discuss when it's two plus hours are up.  It's a cynical and mechanical device that gives us a lot of special effects, but creates no sense of wonder.  The dinosaurs are like targets in a video game, and the human characters either blunder their way through one close call after another, or in the case of the villains, make one bad decision after another. (One villain actually walks into a cage with a dinosaur for no other reason than he needs to be killed off.) The script reads as if it were written on a bunch of post-it notes, hitting the expected plot points, but not going any deeper than that.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as the lead heroes, Owen and Claire.  I didn't find their characters all that interesting last time, and they're even less so here, as the movie treats them as generic action heroes who cling on ledges, carry big guns and smash through glass, but never have any meaningful dialogue.  They are brought back together by the slimy businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who claims he wants to save the dinosaurs that were left on the island, because a volcano is about to erupt that will wipe them all out.  His nefarious plot is to actually bring the dinosaurs back to the mainland, and use them to create cloned weaponized versions that he can sell to world leaders and billionaires.  They head to the island to track down the surviving dinosaurs, and are aided in their mission by the feisty animal expert Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), whom the movie forgets to give a personality to, and tech guy Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), who stands out as being one of the most obnoxious comic relief sidekicks to ever grace a movie.  He spends a majority of his screen time screaming in a high-pitched tone whenever a dinosaur shows up.  He brings nothing to the experience, other than making you wish something nasty happens to him.

And keeping with tradition with the rest of the series, there is a child in peril shoehorned into the plot.  This time, we get little Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the granddaughter of billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who is behind the whole "save the dinosaurs" mission.  She's a precocious little movie kid who gets to go on a lot of adventures as she explores her grandfather's sprawling mansion, uncovers the villains' secret plot, discovers secret passageways, and makes daring escapes across narrow walkways.  If the screenwriters had shown just a little bit more restraint, they would have just called her character "Nancy Drew", and be done with it.  She's in the movie to appeal to the younger audience.  The film would be no better or worse without her.  The whole script is made up out of plugged-in elements that have been inserted because they worked in the past, or because the writers couldn't think of anything better.  There is nothing organic or natural about the storytelling here.  It's all rehashed, and it makes no effort to hide it.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom even fails on the basic level of providing thrills to the audience.  There is nothing particularly exciting here, and no moment where the audience catches their breath.  The dinosaurs are forced to simply run through the sets, never really interacting all that much with the human actors.  The villains are your typical generic military and businessmen types who have been overcome with greed, and act really stupidly because of it.  Just think of the wonder the very premise of Jurassic Park brings to your mind.  It is a franchise about dinosaurs existing in the same world as modern man.  Any child with an imagination could dream up countless possibilities just by reading that sentence.  And yet, the filmmakers here go out of their way to give us a cynical and brain dead experience that just throws a lot of action and movement up on the screen in order to fool the audience into thinking something is actually happening.  When it's all over, we leave completely unchanged and unfulfilled.

There are movies out there that can make you feel, make you excited, and even thrill you.  Don't let Jurassic World steal your time with an experience that will make you feel nothing.  As popcorn entertainment goes, it's the cinematic equal to dumping all the popcorn out of the cardboard box it came in, and eating the box itself.

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