It’s impossible for me to review any new “Jurassic Park” movie objectively. I’m on the record, several times over, as being an unapologetic fan of the entire franchise. Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original was the definitive film of my childhood, so I always tend to look at its sequels through petrified amber-colored glasses.
By all the standard measures, the previous “Jurassic Park” sequels — 1997’s “The Lost World,” 2001’s “Jurassic Park III,” and 2015’s “Jurassic World” — don’t even belong in the same conversation as the original. They just aren’t very good movies, but I can still enjoy aspects of each so long as I disregard the abundance of broken and flawed narrative.
The new film, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” probably isn’t any worse than those sequels. Visually, it’s likely the second-best directed sequel after Spielberg’s own “Lost World,” as director J.A. Bayona manages to conjure a number of beautifully-rendered images and action setpieces.
But from a basic script level, “Fallen Kingdom” more resembles a child’s fan fiction than a big budget feature film. Every character is either completely lifeless or too overtly evil, and every decision made by them exists outside the laws of basic human behavior. The last hour of “Fallen Kingdom,” even with its competent visual aesthetic, shatters the most ironclad suspension of belief.
“Fallen Kingdom’s” script, co-written by Derek Connolly and “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow, even goes out of its way to make the logic of 2015’s “World” adventure even dumber. It turns out that former amusement park locale Isla Nublar has an active volcano which will destroy all remaining life on the island. Leaders and experts (including Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm for about 30 seconds) debate whether or not they should save the dinosaurs from another extinction level event.
They shouldn’t, of course, but then we wouldn’t have another movie in which more humans get devoured by genetically manufactured beasts.
Anyway, corporate yes-woman-turned-animal activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) convinces former raptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt) to join her on a dinosaur rescue mission funded by a shady corporate interests. For about an hour, “Fallen Kingdom” operates as a speedier version of “The Lost World.” Laziness aside, this setting at least provides the expected showcase of dinosaur carnage most would expect from a “Jurassic” sequel.
The movie then moves to the mainland (in ways the marketing spoils to an unreasonable degree), and some really bizarre things happen.
As someone who defends/apologizes for the absurd dinosaur vs. dinosaur rumble that closes out “Jurassic World,” I can appreciate the attempt to take the franchise somewhere big and silly. At the very least, it’s a different direction for a series that too often resorts to “playing the hits.”
Unfortunately the movie has little awareness of its own inherent goofiness, treating the various terrible decisions and lapses in logic as realistic narrative progression. Bayona, shackled to a script concept that hinders his visual approach, resorts to recreating iconic imagery from the original “Jurassic Park” as a shortcut for building tension. Some of it looks good, but the threat never feels real.
The cast gets nothing to do. As problematic as their relationship was in “Jurassic World,” at least that movie’s version of Owen and Claire provided stock characteristics for Pratt and Howard to interpret. Here, alongside a half-dozen thinly realized new characters, they get nothing except stilted exposition and reaction shots.
An attempt is made in “Fallen Kingdom” to depict the dinosaurs as something more than just monsters, which hasn’t factored into the franchise since Spielberg left the director’s chair. That mostly means added backstory for the uber-smart Velociraptor named Blue, who is treated more like a rambunctious pet than a vicious killing machine. Robert Muldoon would be so disappointed in such a callous retcon.
Perhaps “Fallen Kingdom” can be enjoyed as a silly, inconsequential monster movie. Bayona does manage a few fun scenes, including a terrific, rain-soaked opener, the over-marketed “volcano chase” and a claustrophobic venture into a T-Rex cage. But from a storytelling standpoint, it’s finally the “Jurassic” sequel I can’t defend. The second half is the jump-the-mosasaurus scenario that finally broke this devoted fan. But hey, we’ll see where I’m at in a couple years when the next one comes out.
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‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ arrives in North Idaho
Sometimes it’s near impossible for me to follow what happens in the world and not be a little depressed by the worst aspects of society and human behavior. I only mention this because for two hours in a movie theater last week, I was filled with warmth and genuine hope for the future.
I was watching “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the new documentary about public television icon Fred Rogers. I grew up with “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and for whatever reason it always managed to calm my anxious and worried little brain. The documentary, which highlights Rogers’ career and provides some excellent behind-the-scenes stories of his life, managed to break through my especially pessimistic worldview.
It’s a well-made documentary too, from the director of the Oscar-winning “20 Feet from Stardom,” and it resparks a cultural perspective that seems to be missing in the current discussion of how to best raise and comfort our children.
It was an emotional viewing experience for me, but tougher and more mentally stable folks will likely find entertainment and value from it as well. It opens in Coeur d’Alene today. It will make about 1 percent of the box office of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” and that’s about as depressing as anything else in the world.
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Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org