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Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom



With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the Jurassic franchise jumps the Mosasaurus into full-on Terminator franchise territory: taking a tidy, elegant, initial idea - what if there was a theme park full of dinosaurs? - and sending it careening out of control to keep the billion-dollar money train rolling. It's true that the franchise had to evolve; Fallen Kingdom is the fifth time humans ventured to the doomed island Isla Nublar and were chased by the cloned dinosaurs that rule it. The previous film, Jurassic World, soft-rebooted the original trilogy to show the theme park John Hammond dreamed of fully operational before the dinos ran amok. Fallen Kingdom is the next step - making the title manifest by bringing the dinosaurs into the mainland at last. By the end, the planet (starting with America, naturally) threatens to become a Jurassic World, for better or worse.

The plot is simple: Isla Nublar suddenly has an active volcano about to blow and wipe out all of the dinosaurs. Despite the fact that InGen took all the embryos off the island and can make more dinosaurs, Congress debates whether the Jurassic World dinosaurs classify as an endangered species and warrant protection (their answer is no). Nonetheless, Bryce Dallas Howard, now a dinosaur protection crusader, is bamboozled by Evil Businessman to recruit Velociraptor whisperer Chris Pratt and return to the island to rescue Blue, the raptor he raised and taught to follow human commands. Blue is the last of her species, they argue - again forgetting they have the embryos and can create more Velociraptors for Pratt to train if need be. Still, they go back to the island and are immediately doublecrossed by the military guys who are secretly there to traffic the animals. 

The fact that Pratt, Howard, and their two assistants Justice Smith and Daniela Pineda, survive their ordeal on the island stretches believability to its snapping point - and that's saying something for a dinosaur movie. The four manage to elude certain death many times over from a dinosaur stampede as volcanic fire rains from above and then miraculously don't drown despite dinosaurs plummeting into the ocean all around them. Their escape from the island is so frantic and impossible, it's simply not believable. This is followed by sea travel so ridiculous that it makes the travel in Game of Thrones look reasonable: Isla Nublar is 100 miles from Costa Rica. The Lockwood Mansion, where the second half of the film takes place, is in the Pacific Northwest. You cannot travel from one to the other by ship overnight - unless you're in Jurassic World

Regardless, the latter portion of Fallen Kingdom takes place entirely in a gloomy gothic mansion complete with a Museum of Natural History-like dinosaur gallery. This madhouse also has a sub-basement containing a secret genetics lab, a dinosaur holding facility, and even an auction era - apparently all built without the knowledge of sickly billionaire James Cromwell, who we learn was the best friend and business partner of the late John Hammond. Despite already being established as expendable and the targets of attempted murder, for no good reason other than the movie needs them alive to be its heroes, Pratt and Howard are inexplicably kept alive by the mercenaries.

Meanwhile, Evil Businessman auctions off the dinosaurs captured from Isla Nublar and then unveils Fallen Kingdom's newest Big Bad: the Indoraptor, a hybrid dinosaur which will be the lynchpin of a ridiculous plot to sell Indoraptors to be used as military-grade weapons (because "Indoraptors can take commands better than human soldiers"). Of course, the Indoraptor escapes and massacres everyone except Pratt, Howard, and their friends, who can miraculously outwit it. There's also the revelation that dinosaurs aren't the only thing InGen has the power to clone - Fallen Kingdom introduces the concept that perfect human clones are a thing in the Jurassic universe. Repeat: PERFECT HUMAN CLONES exist and no one bats an eye about this. But Emperor Palpatine will be pleased; he can summon a Clone Army to fight the dinosaurs.

As Jeff Goldblum (largely wasted in a mere walk on) warns, humans are irresponsible, will be the cause of our own demise, and boy, do we deserve it. As such, Fallen Kingdom - while containing a few thrilling and outright terrifying sequences well-directed by J.A. Bayona - boasts an illogical and nonsensical script by franchise architects Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connelly that eschews wonder and heart. Instead it is a deeply cynical and violent exercise in stretching a franchise out while condeming human beings for being the worst creatures on Earth. It makes abundantly clear humans are the villains, populating the film with ruthless, greedy businessmen, international arms dealers looking to weaponize dinosaurs, and paramilitary animal traffickers who have no qualms about leaving the film's heroes to die horrifically on an island about to be destroyed by an erupting volcano. Wheras the previous films feasted on humans being eaten by dinosaurs (they usually deserved it), Fallen Kingdom is the first Jurassic film to show humans murdering other humans in cold blood. 

Ostensibly, Fallen Kingdom is about empathy for the dinosaurs - there are two shots of dinosaurs crying and the most heartwrenching moment if the film is being forced to watch a Brachiosaurus left behind on the island to be consumed by volcanic fire - but virtually none for humans. The final act of the film makes the choice to let the dinosaurs live and allow them to run freely into the world - an errand of mercy for the dinos that nonetheless will condemn countless people and other animals wholly unprepared for a T-rex or a Velociraptor to suddenly storm their neighborhoods to horrific deaths. Fallen Kingdom likes dinosaurs but hates humans. Maybe it has a point, but it's a weird one for a billion-dollar movie dinosaur franchise to make - except that they've got to make another couple of billion, yo.