*SPOILERS, I GUESS
(IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE TRAILERS)*
I’ve long nurtured a theory about the Jurassic movie series, which is the secret ingredient to a really good “Jurassic Park” film isn’t the dinosaurs, it’s the park. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” confirms the theory by breaking the deadlock 3 to 2. The dinosaurs are the ‘wow!’ factor in all of the films, of course, but it’s the setting of a theme park gone awry that gives it a thrilling, subversive edge, something Alfred Hitchcock was all too aware of with his repeatedly thwarted attempts to film a murder mystery at Disneyland.
When the dinosaurs of Isla Nublar (we’re really going to keep on ignoring Isla Sorna then?) are threatened by the sudden revivification of the previously extinct volcano (that island has really bad luck when it comes to bringing extinct things back to life), Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) travels to the island to head up a rescue operation, roping in Owen (Chris Pratt) at the behest of Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who works on behalf of Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s former (silent) business partner. But Mills has plans of his own and there’s more than dinosaur secrets lurking in the Lockwood Estate.
When we finally went back to Isla Nublar in 2015’s “Jurassic World”, I was caught completely by surprise by how emotional it was as the camera swooped through those gates and John Williams’ music swelled to fill the senses. This time around, there was nothing. Despite its deliberately kinetic set pieces, there’s something about “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” that feels inert in those early island-set scenes, no mean feat given there’s a volcano erupting. It’s hard to overstate just how much the trailers and marketing have spoiled this movie. From its (largely predictable) twists to its big action sequences, there’s little but the connective tissue left to explore when you sit down and watch the movie, and that tissue is pretty flimsy.
Jeff Goldblum’s inclusion in the film is nothing more than a sop, a cheap and vaguely patronising gesture towards the fans which serves no narrative purpose. He interacts with nobody of note and his two or three scenes could be excised from the film without impacting it at all, the very definition of ‘deleted scenes’. Not only that but by the end of the movie our favourite chaos mathematician is seemingly unable to grasp the simple biological arithmetic that the fable of Noah’s Ark relies so heavily upon.
It cuts right to the heart of the movie’s main problem, which is it keeps trying to create stakes that simply don’t stack up. The consequences of the dinosaurs escaping into the wild seem vastly overstated given there are very few animals who aren’t solo. There’s nothing about the creation of the Indoraptor (a hybrid of velociraptor and the Indominus Rex (which was part velociraptor in the first place although the movie seems to have forgotten this was a pretty big plot point of “Jurassic World”)) that feels fresh or logical and every time a character ominously mentions the vague menace of ‘genetic power being unleashed’ without ever clarifying what that actualyl means it just sounds sillier, and never moreso than when the usually excellent Toby Jones awkwardly hams it up as an amoral, awfully-accented auctioneer to the greedy and the grotesque.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in this movie. Pratt and Howard still have great chemistry and some of the action beats on the island (pyroclastic plausibility notwithstanding) are genuinely great, with a surprisingly potent emotional homage to “The Land Before Time” thrown in for good measure. Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda bring a fun, sparky sidekick vibe to the mix and even the mandatory kid, Isabella Sermon (Lockwood’s granddaughter) is pretty solid. Once the action moves back to the mainland, it slips chaotically into a weird kind of “Scooby-Doo” haunted house pastiche which actually works much better than the half-hearted retreading of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” that the movie takes most of its ideas from and allows a young Stygimoloch to almost steal the whole film.
Ultimately the weakest entry so far in the franchise, “Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom” stands as a timely, cautionary example to those who railed against “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” of what happens when a beloved franchise, recently revived by a perfectly judged cocktail of nostalgia and newness, fails to then take bold new risks to keep things fresh and unpredictable.