If this recent wave of nostalgia-heavy content had its first peak, it was certainly in 2015 with ‘Jurassic World’. Its manufactured sense of nostalgia and wonder resulted in record-breaking box office success, and even with its flaws, there was a charm and a strong sense of fun that made it an entertaining adventure film. The inevitable follow-up is now upon us with ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, and with J. A. Bayona now behind the camera, the talented director of ‘A Monster Calls’, ‘The Impossible’ and ‘The Orphanage’, there was some hope this would be an even stronger addition to the often-faltering franchise. The easy comfort of nostalgia can be a terrible thing though, and more often than not, lead away from originality and straight to mediocrity.
With Isla Nublar about to be destroyed in a volcanic eruption, the fate of the surviving dinosaurs of Jurassic World hangs in the balance. Determined to save them, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) takes up an invitation from a rich billionaire to return to the island and help move them to a safer location. To make sure they save Blue, the last remaining velociraptor, she convinces Owen (Chris Pratt) to come along too. However, when they arrive, they realise that what should have been a conservation effort is nothing more than an attempt to remove the dinosaurs from the island and profit from them on the mainland.
If you’re thinking this all sounds strangely familiar, you’d be right - it’s basically the narrative of the first Jurassic Park sequel ‘The Lost World’ (1997). In fact, the irony of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is that, for a franchise now built on the idea of hybrid dinosaurs, this film itself is nothing more than a derivative hybrid of all the best bits of the other films, making it easily the worst in the Jurassic franchise. Starting with an almost non-sensical script from Derek Connolly and ‘Jurassic World’ director Colin Trevorrow, the laziness of this reboot now becomes apparent without the novelty of the last film to mask it. The film peddles its nostalgia, wonder and awe, but none of it feels necessary to the story or in any way sincere, and the derivativeness of the narrative to ‘The Lost World’, down to almost identical characters not only calls into question the intentions of the team behind this new film, but the intelligence of the characters within the film itself (because bringing dinosaurs to the mainland worked so well last time). Characters make the same mistakes as they have before, even mistakes they made in the previous film, and are still surprised by the consequences. There’s an attempt to build on the dangers of genetic engineering, but the manner in which they do so is so unconscionably dumb that you wonder how anyone thought audiences were going to buy it.
There’s such a strong sense of sticking to what’s safest with ‘Fallen Kingdom’, recycling successful ideas in order not to rock the boat, to the point where you could have one hell of a drinking game with this film (majestic shot of a brachiosaurus? Check. Hero shot of a T-Rex saving the day? Check.) What’s even worse is that ideas, motifs and images from the previous films are repeated and replicated without any attempt to riff on them, and each successive nod to the original feels less like a nice nod and more like lazy fan servicing (a kid trying to close a cupboard while a velociraptor runs at them? Seriously, again??). It also betrays a refusal to accept that looking in wonder at dinosaurs isn’t enough anymore, and no amount of monologues about “do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” are going to bring that wonder back. You’re bored with the dinosaurs in the film almost instantly because this film offers absolutely nothing new to say about them - in fact, ‘Fallen Kingdom’ firmly establishes that this is a franchise stuck in reverse. The manner in which the first film presented the dinosaurs as animals as opposed to heroes or villains is gone, so now we either have dinosaurs humanised or turned into bland monsters. It feels kitsch, silly and downright dumb, no matter how many doe-eyed looks Chris Pratt makes at that bloody velociraptor with the stupid name.
There’s also little positive to say its craft. Bayona has done such beautiful work in the past, but is stifled here under the layers of mediocrity in the material. He never finds his way with the narrative, making it often hard to follow. The film looks fine, but any moments of visual flair felt unearned and insincere. Even Michael Giacchino’s score feels like a mess of ideas that never mesh together, neither with the film nor the franchise as a whole. The performances never stand out, Howard and Pratt slapping aimlessly at their wafer-thin character arcs to give them some movement, and the only new cast members with any spark, Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith, entirely short-changed. The other supporting cast, including Ted Levine, James Cromwell and Rafe Spall, are basically playing characters from ‘The Lost World’ with different names and identical costumes, and for all the hoo-ha made about Jeff Goldblum being in the film, he ends up being a redundant cameo where his name isn’t even mentioned.
There’s such a strong sense of sticking to what’s safest with ‘Fallen Kingdom’, recycling successful ideas in order not to rock the boat...
In the original ‘Jurassic Park’, Ian Malcolm describes Hammond as having “stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you wanna sell it.” This is a pretty apt description for everything wrong with ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’. The idea of this reboot was a manufactured commodity now becomes abundantly clear, and the result is a bloated Frankenstein’s monster, devoid of originality, sincerity or wonder, and fuelled by lazy fan servicing that demonstrates no understanding of why we were fans in the first place. Worst of all, it’s just another boring and often incredibly dumb blockbuster that leaves you wondering how you could get those hours back. The damn thing isn’t even fun, it’s just kinda stupid.
I mean, I saw a dinosaur smile in this film. Smile. If that isn’t reason enough to shut this ride down for good, I don’t know what is.