There’s a perfect image at the heart of J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that sums up exactly how it feels to watch it. After evacuating some of the dinosaurs from the exploding Isla Nublar (home to most of the previous films) alongside a private military outfit financed by a Rich Guy (James Cromwell, who steps up, given that the US government won’t provide any help), raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who came along to look for his long-lost pet and pupil Blue at the urging of Claire Wearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), watches as a Brontosaurus heads out on to the dock that their boat has just left. The creature, the source of Alan Grant’s astonishment and wonder, whines as it is consumed by fire and smoke and lava, snuffed out alongside the island of its origins as well, by a dark and oppressive grey.
Overall, Fallen Kingdom is roughly on par with its co-writer and producer Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, meaning that it’s ugly, stupid, and runs contrary to everything Steven Spielberg and company set out to do with their first installment, but whereas the first was merely a miserable trip down memory lane, this sets out to eradicate everything that made the series compelling in the first place. It is one big pile of shit.
“But wait!” you might say, “at least J.A Bayona is behind the camera instead of an incompetent hack!” And I’ll admit that’s true, as Bayona has an eye for well-executed carnage — see his work on The Impossible for more about that — and, as his tremendous first film, The Orphanage, proved he can craft a house of horrors on a similar level as the best filmmakers of his generation. But you can’t escape the fact that Trevorrow is all over this. With each passing action sequence, the script boxes the new director in, and forces him to hit shit beat after shit beat until all of his work winds up feeling like it was made exclusively for the trailer reel.
Each of the moments involving the T-Rex, as far as I can recall, aside from a particularly spoiler-chocked second of footage, has been used in a preview. And if you’re looking for more, most everything else has been spoiled as well, and what remains is so painfully boring that it’s hard to remember, even with notes a day later, what happened. But if watching Pratt dodge CGI dinosaurs like Natalie Portman did assembly line robots in Attack of the Clones gets you hot and bothered, boy, have they got a movie for you.
There’s no wit about the sequences intended to stir and thrill, as each and every one is a pale imitation of a better scene from one of the earlier films. I suppose that’s in line with the general ethos of the entire project, given how heavily Jurassic World leaned on the past, but it’s even worse here. There’s a scene in which Pratt finds Blue in the ruins of the original Jurassic Park inside of the new ruins of Jurassic World, and it was basically the Pimp My Ride meme version of emotion-baiting cheap-nostalgia. As it stands, Bayona is only ever able to sink his teeth into the locations: the dinosaur auction at the massive estate near the end of the film, the ash and lava-covered isle from which our characters must escape. The visuals are impressive, and it’s terrifying to see dinosaurs flee the destruction of the volcano, though it gets a little shaky when Pratt is thrown in there, which shatters one’s sense of disbelief when it comes to the effects. The dinos look good as well, even if their omnipresence has stripped away their mystique. Anyways, those are the only things that have any sort of impact here, being stimuli-inducing window dressings for the stupid characters on display.
Pratt is still Pratt, meaning he can read lines and intone them just enough to make them sound funny, but his character here is still a garbage-ass caveman full of shit-caked testosterone. No matter how many times you lampshade the fact that everybody hated how Bryce Dallas Howard wore heels when she ran around in the last film, the fact remains that she is an awful caricature of what the aging suits at Universal feel a “strong female protagonist” should look resemble. Replacing Jake Johnson as the nerd from the last movie is The Get Down’s Justice Smith, who is given the worst material for a supporting character that I think I’ve seen outside of a Roland Emmerich film without the camp faux-seriousness that make those performances watchable, and replacing Lauren Lapkus is Daniela Pineda (also the latest sufferer of Hollywood’s press-getting announcements about LGBT representation in their films only to be cut out in the end), who shows brief moments of life and levity before they’re totally fucking snuffed out by the action. They form the new core foursome, along with Rafe Spall as our big baddie, and a one-scene cameo from Jeff Goldblum, who looks physically uncomfortable with the thought of being in one of these things again.
Of course Goldblum looks uncomfortable: He knows Ian Malcolm wouldn’t ever willingly surround himself with people this dumb (and that is up for debate, of course, given The Lost World) and stupid they are, and stupid is the world that they inhabit! This is a movie in which, once any character (it’s even harder to call them that now, as they’re simply just boring archetypes that receive names, a collection of traits totally lacking in any substance) walks into a given room, you can predict that they will make the dumbest possible choice at any given time. So much of these dumb moments are wrapped up in plot specifics that I can’t reveal (including the specifics of dino blood-transfusions), but once the time for the dinosaur auction comes — in which the rescued dinos are off-loaded to a series of generic movie bad guys by a Trump-like auctioneer (Toby Jones) for the grand sum of… millions of dollars a creature, rather than the tech you’d take to make them, given that they are clones — the stupid gets so painfully overwhelming that your eyes may very well roll out of your skull. There’s a third-act revelation about a central character that is so thuddingly moronic that one can only assume that Colin Trevorrow fought tooth-and-nail to keep it in the script, despite everyone’s objections to the contrary.
It’s not even like there’s a bad idea at the heart of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and in fact there’s a germ of a great scientific one hidden in there, one that you might understand better once you’ve seen the end of the film and you don’t have to read reviewers talk around it. But the fact that it’s taken two films to get to this point, which perhaps should have been ground zero for a new spin on the franchise back in 2015, just shows the lack of imagination on the part of this series’ producers.
Fallen Kingdom is ugly faux-spectacle that actively tries to destroy what came before it, lacking thoughtfulness or beauty or wonder, and it’s such a colossally mind-numbing and horrific undertaking that you even wonder why they persisted at doing it. The folks behind it didn’t heed Goldblum’s advice: They were so busy thinking about making this movie, at the end of the day, they didn’t consider whether or not they should. And they shouldn’t have.
Featured image via Universal.