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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

At the time of its release, Jurassic World quickly became the most controversial film of that summer. Everyone either really loved it or really hated it, with not much in the way of middle ground. I personally came down on the side of enjoying it, though I was eventually worn down in the months that followed.

In the face of so many complaints about the plot holes, faulty logic, and iffy CGI, it seems like there are relatively few left who will stand up for Jurassic World. Of course, it doesn’t help that director Colin Trevorrow effectively torpedoed his own career, between his growing reputation as a pompous asshole and the catastrophic trainwreck that was The Book of Henry. Trevorrow sank himself so hard that even his good films look worse in retrospect, which of course did no favors to Jurassic World.

While Trevorrow stepped in to co-write Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, directing duties were handled this time by J.A. Bayona. This is the same up-and-comer who previously directed a horror film (The Orphanage), a drama centered around a natural disaster (The Impossible), and an effects-heavy fantasy in which a kid interacts with a CGI monster (A Monster Calls). So on paper, it’s easy to see why putting Bayona in the director’s chair seemed like a good bet.

Sure enough, Bayona is easily the most powerful talent behind this movie. The camerawork and editing are solid, the action is breathtaking, and there are some new horror elements that are beautifully crafted. I could point to several set pieces and sequences that are so much more effective for Bayona’s work behind the camera, but the benefits of a more talented director are most plainly visible in our newest Big Bad dinosaur. I won’t go into spoilers, but suffice to say that this new apex predator puts the Indominus Rex to shame. This one has a much better design, she’s way more imposing and dangerous, she has so much more personality, she doesn’t have to pull any bullshit superpowers out of her ass, and her reveal is an inspired work of glory.

The only problem is that this particular dino tends to suddenly and inexplicably get Nerfed when it suits the plot. Which leads me to the overarching problem with this movie.

The script is thin. That’s all there is to it. The plot is thin, the characters are thin, the motivations are thin, the setups and payoffs are thin. It’s like the filmmakers knew what had to happen at certain points, but had no idea how to connect the dots in a plausible or compelling manner. This is how we get a whole movie full of characters who spontaneously appear exactly where they’re needed, able to get away with whatever until they suddenly can’t, and acting as they do for no better reason than “because the plot said so.”

This is most plainly visible in the basic premise of the film: Isla Nublar is about to blow up in a giant volcanic eruption, and all the dinosaurs on the island are about to be re-extinct. And so the bulk of the plot concerns Claire Dearing and Owen Grady (played once again by Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt) as they try to save the dinosaurs.

Owen is primarily motivated by saving Blue, the raptor he raised from birth and developed a deep emotional bond with. And Claire is motivated by… um… well, she thinks that dinosaurs are really cool, I guess. That’s seriously her strongest argument: Who wants to live in a world without dinosaurs? And then of course we have the rich douchebags who want to save the dinosaurs to make a profit off them, because it’s a Jurassic Park movie.

More than anything else, however, it seems like the filmmakers want to use the dinosaurs as an allegory for endangered species. There are two reasons why this doesn’t work. First of all, it’s not like this is some preventable tragedy. The dinosaurs aren’t in danger of extinction from poaching or climate change or any other man-made cause, they’re in danger from a freaking volcano. And even if the dinosaurs are wiped out, there’s nothing to keep us from making more.

This brings me to the second reason why this “endangered species” allegory doesn’t work: In the world of this franchise, ENDANGERED SPECIES DON’T EXIST!!! The most basic and central premise of this whole franchise is that we’re capable of resurrecting dinosaurs — fucking dinosaurs! — of umpteen completely different species that have been extinct for upwards of 65 million years. If we can do that, what’s to stop us from bringing back the dodo, the black rhino, the aurochs, or literally any species in the history of our planet?!

Far more importantly, we’ve been at this for 25 years. This is the fifth movie, for God’s sake. Massive fortunes have been lost in research, development, and collateral damage. Thousands, maybe even millions of people are dead. It’s been repeatedly proven that dinosaurs and human beings are not compatible. All the times we’ve tried and failed to contain these beasts, with catastrophic results for each and every attempt, and we still have someone greedy and stupid enough to keep trying. Fuck outta here.

The motivations to save the dinosaurs aren’t nearly strong enough to justify the actions taken by the characters in this film, especially in the face of all the near-certain drawbacks. Of course, there’s also the inescapable fact that the characters themselves aren’t nearly strong enough in their own right.

Claire is still an archetypical example of a “strong, independent woman” as interpreted by men without any idea for what an empowered and inspiring woman actually looks like. Owen still has no personality of his own, aside from being Chris Pratt. The two of them are assisted by newcomer Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), such a whiny and annoying coward that he couldn’t die fast enough for my liking. There’s also Daniella Pineda in the role of Dr. Zia Rodriguez, who deserved to be the lead in a much better movie instead of a supporting player here.

Elsewhere, Rafe Spall and Toby Jones play such transparently two-dimensional money-grubbing douchebags that I’m not even going to pretend it’s a spoiler. Ted Levine plays the obligatory trigger-happy asshole with no regard for life — reptile or otherwise — but at least it looks like he’s having fun. James Cromwell appears as an eccentric old billionaire who’s idealistic to the point of naivete (read: the stand-in for Dr. Hammond), but it works because God knows Cromwell has done more with a lot less.

BD Wong appears just long enough to remind us that he’s still in the franchise. Jeff Goldblum gets even less screen time, but at least he serves an important purpose as the movie’s resident prophet of doom.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Isabella Sermon, here making a solid film debut as Maisie, the resident child of the movie. Aside from Sermon’s surprisingly good performance, Maisie is most notable for a sadly predictable plot twist that I still won’t spoil here. I’ll only say that the plot twist kicks up a MASSIVE hornet’s nest that could potentially take the franchise in a terrifying new direction if anything is ever actually done with it. The filmmakers are most likely setting something up for the next movie, but I wouldn’t bet on any kind of satisfying resolution.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is clearly trying to be an intellectual sci-fi movie that asks huge questions while also serving as a fantastic CGI action spectacular, but these filmmakers are woefully and pathetically incapable of striking that balance. Instead, we got a movie that delivers mindless entertainment in spectacular abundance, but falls flat on its face with every attempt at character development or plot.

While I appreciate mindless popcorn fun as much as the next guy, it’s not enough when we already have plenty of movies that offer that and so much more. There’s no way I can recommend this while Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2 are still in theaters, unless you’ve already seen them both and you’re not interested in waiting a couple of weeks for Ant-Man and the Wasp. Though I would still recommend it over Solo.

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