Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Edwin Arnaudin: After the pleasant surprise of Jurassic World in 2015, I felt confident that its sequel Fallen Kingdom would deliver a comparable level of entertainment — but apparently a high-quality Jurassic Park movie only comes around every 22 years. The good news is there are only 19 more trips around the sun until the next one.
Bruce Steele: I was entertained, but I was less disappointed since I expected a considerable dip in storytelling ingenuity. As the tagline says, “The park is gone,” and any Jurassic tale without the theme park story line seems to confound filmmakers and leave audiences less thrilled. This movie borrows elements from The Lost World: Jurassic Park and The Freshman, among other sources. Originality apparently was not a priority.
Edwin: True, but that degree of diminishing returns still surprised me with Jurassic World screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow back on board. Perhaps they’ve entered easy paycheck territory with what feels like the first draft of a script. There are a lot of promising ideas that spring from Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) fighting to save Isla Nublar’s dinosaurs from extinction via volcano, and the action moves well, but it’s so sloppily assembled and executed that I wondered if Steven Spielberg truly had given the project his approval.
Bruce: I don’t think Spielberg or anyone really anticipated the dropoff in excitement in this movie’s second half. It probably looked better in planning than in its execution, which I would call uninspired rather than sloppy. Fallen Kingdom is really two movies: The Claire-dominated first half, to which you refer, gets us to the exploding island for a pretty nonstop action fest. Then at the midpoint we leave Isla Nublar, with a boatload of dinos, for another location… where we’re trapped for the rest of the film. I don’t want to spoil the twist for viewers, but let’s just say that the second site’s limitations are not conducive to dinosaur cavorting.
Edwin: Both settings would conceivably play to director J.A. Bayona’s strengths. Part One inspires disaster imagery similar to his tsunami thriller The Impossible and the frequent landscape destruction of A Monster Calls, gifting us the memorable sight of a peaceful brachiosaurus at the water’s edge, calling out in panic as it’s engulfed in volcanic ash. Then Part Two harkens back to the horror roots of his slightly overrated The Orphanage, but other than the introduction of an amusing, clumsy young head-butting dino, the final stretch barely offers anything new.
Bruce: It’s exactly those little touches that kept me entertained, especially that little head-butting dino, and the inevitable if unsurprising comeuppance of the villains. And that shot of the brachiosaurus on the dock, slowly engulfed by smoke, was quite powerful. The first half also makes good comic use out of cowardly computer tech Franklin (the always welcomed Justice Smith, of Every Day and Paper Towns).
Edwin: I giggled at his first few socially awkward reactions, but was long unamused by the 27th and 28th. The return of Chris Pratt as raptor trainer Owen also produces occasional chuckles, but other talented performers like James Cromwell, Toby Jones and Ted Levine feel lost under Bayona’s guidance.
Bruce: They’re all just hitting their marks, it seems. I’m guessing Bayona is a highly script-dependent director, and he can’t do much with the confined and too predictable second half. The crucial problem is there’s not a clear goal here, in plot or in theme, despite a cameo by Jeff Goldblum as “chaos theory” mathematician Malcolm, who tries to sum things up. Other critics have called it an animal rights parable, but that’s a weak armature on which to build a Jurassic movie, don’t you think?
Edwin: If that’s the message the film seeks to deliver, it needs a much tighter and more thoughtful package to succeed. Still, despite the eye-rolling way the ending arises, it sets up a potentially wild follow-up, to be handled by Trevorrow. I just wish I cared more.
Bruce: The third movie could go anywhere, so we can still have hope. In the meanwhile, I can’t entirely dismiss the entertainment value of Fallen Kingdom. The clichés pile up pretty much from the get-go, but audiences may sit comfortably with the familiarity and the feeling that they’re one step ahead of the story. And I did like that Claire gets to make the hard decision that none of the Avengers was able to make in Infinity War: She’s willing to sacrifice some beloved lives to prevent mass chaos. Doctor Strange and Gamora and friends could have learned from that.
Edwin: Her willpower was a nice touch. Jury’s out on the audience superiority factor, though. Honorary Movie Guy Christopher reported that the young woman next to him jumped at every conceivable “scary” juncture, so the folks spreading positive word-of-mouth may attract similar gullible viewers, not Sherlockian types. I mean, this is a movie where a hoard of diverse dinosaur species behaves inconsistently in two comparable life-or-death situations and there’s such a thing as a paleo-veterinarian who’s never practiced on an actual dino. These wackadoodle details didn’t bore me, but I’m not convinced it qualifies as entertainment.
Bruce: I liked the paleo-veterinarian, both the cheekiness of the concept and her sassy portrayal by Daniella Pineda. On the other hand, the addition of an observant little girl (Isabella Sermon) to spy on the ill-behaved adults seemed pure plot device — even if her name, Maisie, is a sly nod to Henry James. I kept waiting for her to do more than eavesdrop and scream, but no such luck.
Edwin: The less said about Maisie’s big revelation, however, the better.
Bruce: I really liked Jurassic World, which was essentially a remake of Jurassic Park that raised the stakes across the board, but Fallen Kingdom seems to shrink rather than enlarge the franchise — then promises a much grander sequel. The more I think about it, the more it reminds me of The Last Jedi: A place-holder sequel to a great entertainment that accomplishes much less yet portends a greater future.
Edwin: You’re spot on with that comparison, especially with the extent to which its series-starter The Force Awakens skillfully echoes Star Wars. It’s also possible that Bayona is the sacrificial lamb here, content to do what he can with middle-film material — not that that was what happened with Rian Johnson, and not that Bayona will be given his own Jurassic side trilogy with which to experiment. While my estimation of The Last Jedi has diminished since December, I still rank it a good level above Fallen Kingdom, which gets a C from me.
Bruce: I was hovering at an optimistic B when we walked out, but I’m afraid thinking about it wasn’t good for the movie, so it has dropped to a B-minus from me. I’d still recommend it for fans of the series, with modest expectations, but not for doubters. For creative, ebullient entertainment, I’m sticking with Solo, despite the bitter buzz. I know you gave it a second spin recently. Any fresh wisdom on that underappreciated Lucasfilm orphan?
Edwin: It’s still the best big-budget film of the year and a practically perfect summer movie. Even more than in the first viewing, Alden Ehrenreich’s performance barely reminds me of Harrison Ford and the same goes for Donald Glover, who stands well apart from Billy Dee Williams’ interpretation of Lando Calrissian. Emilia Clarke is still a bit too smiley and bland as Qi’ra, but I found her role in the adventure a good deal more developed than I’d thought. Otherwise, Woody Harrelson’s and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s appeal hold up well — and someone besides Jon Favreau should have been picked to voice Rio.
The hate around this fun, well-made asset to the Star Wars universe baffles me. The Force Awakens is a Star Wars rehash, Rogue One is joyless, The Last Jedi thinks too much outside of the series’ box and Solo is…bad because Ford isn’t in his 30s anymore and your dead inner child never ever wanted to see the Kessel Run? Piss off.
Grade: C-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photos: Universal Pictures)