It's been a little over a month since Fallen Kingdom released in theaters and reigned supreme at the box office. Therefore, rather than just simply do a review, I'm going to dive into a spoilerific discussion and breakdown of not only Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but of the Jurassic series as a whole, where it has excelled, where it has fallen short, and why, in my opinion, Fallen Kingdom tries so hard to hit the mark but just doesn't quite get there.
So let's start at the beginning. What made the original Jurassic Park such a timeless classic? Yes, it features state-of-the-art special effects, combining the strengths of practical, animatronic effects and CGI in order to seamlessly bring extinct creatures to life and still holds up today. Yes, it has uniquely awesome dinosaurs, which, in general, have captured the imagination of humanity for generations. And yes, Spielberg is a master of suspense and adventure, and he just so happened to be at the height of his career when he made the film. All the above being absolutely true, no film in history has enjoyed the level of international, perpetual pop culture relevance that Jurassic Park has enjoyed over 25 years without having some substance to go with all the bells and whistles.
Aside from having a wildly effective premise that captures the imagination (what if scientists bioengineered the DNA of dinosaurs, bringing them back from extinction, and put them in the greatest theme park in the world on a remote island?), the original Jurassic Park boasts a captivating moral theme as well: what are the consequences of ambition when humanity attempts to play God and tamper with nature? What happens when humanity thinks it has reached the height of not only the natural world, but even the metaphysical or supernatural world; not only partaking in the act of creation, but also having the audacity to think it can control it, "patent it, package it, slap it on a plastic lunch box, and sell it?"
We see this theme play out in several ways throughout the movie, most notably in a quasi-philosophical discussion between all the core characters at a lunch table (well before a rampaging T-Rex takes center stage). The affluent, charismatic Jurassic Park owner John Hammond makes claims such as "our scientists have done things that no one has ever done before" and poses questions such as "how can we stand in the light of discovery and not act?" To counter his arguments for what Hammond might call altruistic ambition, Dr. Ian Malcolm admonishes Hammond for lacking true respect for the scientific advancements that he had made, likening him discovering the power to resurrect dinosaurs from the dead to "a kid who's just found his dad's gun." He also goes on to criticize Hammond's scientists for being "too preoccupied with whether or not they could, they never stopped to think if they should." To cap off this round table discussion of the benefits and potential catastrophic downfalls of the park, Dr. Grant poses a wise yet humble rebuttal to Hammond's blind, earth-shattering ambition by posing the simple question, "Dinosaurs and man, two species separated by 65 million years have suddenly been thrown back into the mix together. How can we possibly have the slightest idea what to expect?" Is man meant to bring dinosaurs back to life, even if it can? What will the consequences be? Is this the next step in reasonable human progress or is it destructive hubris in the same vein as Icarus flying too close to the sun or even Adam eating the forbidden fruit? This single conversation captures the entire nature of the conflict and thematic weight contained within Jurassic Park, even once the dino mayhem ensues later on. What's more? The theme is interplayed between layered, fully fleshed out characters with true arcs and character development, most notably Dr. Grant and John Hammond, that ground the dinosaur action and thrills in something fundamental. Something innately human.
Since then, the Jurassic series has had 4 sequels. The 2 immediately following Jurassic Park (The Lost World: Jurassic Park & Jurassic Park III) remained relatively stagnant from a thematic standpoint; perfectly entertaining in their own right from a dinosaur action perspective, they were merely extensions of the consequences of the first film and were more of an excuse to go back to these islands rather than offer anything new to say about the morality or ethics of having brought dinosaurs back to life. After a 14 year hiatus, Jurassic World came along, and aside from demolishing the box office and offering bigger and better action than any previous installment, it actually played with some interesting concepts. It not only introduced a fully functioning theme park, as John Hammond once dreamed; the theme park had been in operation for over 10 years, which led to the general public having grown a bit tired of the spectacle. This dino fatigue led the corporate leaders of the park, Jurassic World manager Claire Dearing most notably, to introduce a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, in order to boost sales once more. To me, this concept was actually an intriguing and effective meta commentary on society and its attitudes not only towards entertainment, but also world-changing technological advancements in general, such as smart phones, the internet, medicine, etc. In today's society, we take these nearly miraculous advancements in technology and societal benefits as givens and are honestly not all that impressed with them on a day to day basis, just as the people in Jurassic World are apparently not all that impressed with genetically resurrected dinosaurs anymore. I also enjoyed the concept of humans interacting with and observing dinosaurs in the same manner as real people observe and interact with wild animals, specifically in how Owen interacts with the Raptors. Although potentially a little silly in a way, the way they treated this concept actually worked for me and sold me on the Raptors being real (albeit super dangerous) animals, rather than just movie monsters. While Jurassic World explored several cool concepts and had some of the best dinosaur action of the series that I absolutely adore, it essentially had the exact same thematic basis as the first one: should man tamper with nature (this time in even more ludicrous ways)? Only this time, the answer is obvious because 1) we've seen 3 other movies beforehand that essentially answer the question before the movie even starts, and 2) this time, we have flat, uninteresting, sometimes cartoony characters making dumb decisions that have obvious outcomes. For those reasons, Jurassic World, while admirable and certainly very entertaining, falls short of what a proper sequel to Jurassic Park should have been.
Finally, we arrive at Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Looking at the first half of the movie, the characters are faced with an ethical conundrum: should we just let the "beloved" dinosaurs that have terrorized us for decades die a fiery death in the wake of an activated volcano, or do we, as a society, have a moral obligation to do everything we can to save them from certain death? The second half of the flick shifts its focus WILDLY (and I mean "wildly" as in it's a 100% completely different movie with a different theme, aesthetic, genre, action type, moral argument, you name it; everything other than the core characters is completely different) to an ominous mansion where the "rescued" dinosaurs have been whisked away under false pretenses in order to be sold to the highest bidder in a black market auction, thanks to greedy, mustache-twirling villains who aggressively ignore the potential drawbacks to their hubris. The ethical conundrum that ends up plaguing our heroes at the end of this ("second") movie, given the unavoidable fact that the villains were stupid enough to bring dinosaurs back to the mainland rather than the nameless sanctuary island that was originally promised, the heroes must choose between two horrible outcomes: watch the dinosaurs die from carbon monoxide poisoning (or something), or "mercifully" set them free into the rest of civilization, thus completely ripping open the lid to Pandora's Box off its hinges and unleashing certain death on at least the local suburbs of the State of California, if not the rest of the world (Jurassic "WORLD" Get it? Huh? THEY HAD A PLAN ALL ALONG!...)?
Getting past the fact that this movie was essentially two separate movies (thus a veritable 10 pound crap stuffed into a 5 pound, structurally unsound bag), let's look closer at these two ethical conundrums, more specifically why they didn't work. The key problem with the first conundrum is there is a certain leap of logic....yes, I know it sounds absurd that a primary problem I have with a dinosaur-infested action fest on an exploding island with hybrid monsters is that there is a leap in logic, but hear me out. Going for an animal rights activism angle, Fallen Kingdom assumes audiences will view the active volcano on Isla Nublar as a modern day re-occurrence of an extinction event for dinosaurs. Two things: 1) these dinosaurs have caused nothing but destruction, death, and chaos, as Dr. Malcolm might put it, and, while humanity may not want to actively put them out of their misery, it's hard to believe that people would go out of their way to save these monsters from a natural disaster, and 2) even if humanity were to say that dinosaurs are worthy creatures of existence and, now that we've brought them back from extinction, we should do what we can to preserve them, this movie completely ignores the fact that the likes of Dr. Wu (and perhaps other scientists in the world) possess the ability to clone more dinosaurs. While there might be something convincing to be said for having a responsibility to take care of living things that you have now created, to frame the moral argument in a way that suggests we need to move the dinosaurs off the island in order to prevent the extinction of these creatures is disingenuous because it simply isn't true. Because cloning more dinosaurs in order to solve the "extinction" problem isn't even explored (even from an antagonistic point of view), the entire justification for going back to the island to "save the dinosaurs" comes across as a weak excuse for the characters to go back to the island and run around screaming for some good, fun dino action.
The second moral conundrum that caps off the climactic end of the film, and virtually opens Pandora's Box, is pretty much laughable to me. Yes, it would be sad to watch any animal die a slow painful death, particularly the ones you've been trying to save from impending doom up until this point. But the other choice is to actively unleash dinosaurs unto the world, knowingly allowing the deaths of countless people in the immediate area and, if "life finds a way," a post-apocalyptic dystopia ruled by dinosaurs....THIS IS NO CHOICE AT ALL! Any sane human would choose to allow the dinosaurs to suffocate, while most likely acknowledging that it's terrible to watch them die this way, if it meant that the DINO-POCALYPSE could be prevented. While that's ultimately the decision Claire Dearing makes, it's sold as this gut-wrenching "what will she do?" moment that caused me to mentally scream "IF YOU PUSH THAT BUTTON YOU ARE THE STUPIDEST HUMAN EVER AND CERTAINLY THE WORST PROTAGONIST IN HISTORY!"...Ok, that specific sentence didn't go through my head at the time, but the visceral feeling of dumbfoundedness associated with that sentence certainly did. What's more? The precocious little girl pressed the button anyway!!! WHY?!, you might ask? Well, she's a clone......Oh yeah, the movie shoe-horned that detail in slightly earlier in the movie for the sole purpose of justifying her dumb decision to let the dinosaurs go and hoping the audience goes "You know what, I can't fully blame her since 'they're like her.'" YOU FOOLS! SHE'S DOOMED US ALL!......IS ANYONE GOING TO ACT LIKE IT? The answer is no. Instead, Owen, Claire, and clone girl ride off into the sunset in a station wagon as pteranodons fly along the coast, no doubt heading off to cause some raucous somewhere (Las Vegas, as we learn in the post-credit scene).
Much like Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom brings several interesting concepts to the table and yet does little to nothing with them and has poorly written, flat characters to flesh them out. A dino crisis caused by a volcano, the moral dilemma of not only creating but preserving artificial life, selling dinosaurs in an auction for alternative purposes aside from theme park entertainment, and, finally, dinosaurs inevitably "finding a way" and escaping into the world are all bold, fresh ideas that could be natural progressions of the original ideas and concepts introduced in 1993. The manner in which those concepts are carried out, however, leave something to be desired.
The movie scratches the surface in one scene in particular, that being the scene where Eli confronts Owen and Claire in the little prison cell in the mansion basement. Eli suggests to Claire that she's no better than him; after all, she green lit the making of the Indominus Rex, the most vicious, dangerous creature that ever walked the Earth and the result of a mad scientist project, for a couple extra bucks of revenue. He essentially calls Owen a hypocrite as well for training the Raptors and yet being morally outraged at that training/research being used for the logical application of that research (at least insofar as what the movie deems "logical"). Although Eli twirls his mustache with the best of them, he reveals an irony and serious internal character conflict that Owen and Claire should have had. If the writers had spent more time and effort using those ironies and character conflicts and motivations and applying them to all of Owen's and Claire's decisions, we may have had a more memorable movie that had character depth rivaling that of the first film. Instead, they put all their eggs into the basket where Chris Pratt is a superhero, that Franklin kid is screaming insufferably all over the place and is only around because he can do computers, and that Buffalo Bill actor collects dinosaur teeth, which leads to him unwittingly letting the Indoraptor free.
I don't know, maybe I expect too much from a dinosaur action series at this point. And don't get me wrong, there were certainly positive aspects to this movie; the direction from J.A. Bayona, the 5 minute opening sequence, the Indoraptor, and the suspense in general being some of the key highlights. But the reason no one can honestly hold this, or any of the sequels really, to the same standard as the original Jurassic Park is because they have poorly written characters with nothing interesting to say, and because they lack logical, nuanced science-fiction based ethical debates that made the first one so iconic and memorable.
So those are my thoughts on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. If you are a fan of the Jurassic series but understand that you won't get much thought-provoking material from it anymore, I'd still recommend going to see it. I just felt the need to rant about why I think it could have been so much more. Hopefully you enjoyed this long-winded, one-sided discussion!
What did you think about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom? Hate it? Love it? Somewhere in between like me? Let me know! In the meantime, stay tuned and God Bless!