Resuscitating a doomed and frankly stupid franchise

Director JA Bayona manages to breathe some life into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but is it enough?

Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt in Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom

Even within the scope of lumbering, too-big-to-fail franchises, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World represents some sort of low point. Although the entire Jurassic Park franchise has been defined by its failure to truly capture lightning in a bottle twice, Trevorrow’s boring and wholly anonymous take commits the even more unpardonable sin of making dinosaurs destroying everything an extremely dull and laborious chore. You’d think the next installment would have nowhere to go but up, but short of tearing everything down again and rebuilding, Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom is stuck with a mess to clean up. The good news is that director JA Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) manages to breathe some life into the moribund corpse he’s been handed; the not-so-good news is that the script is possibly even more stupid this time around.

A few years have passed since the events of the first film have left the park on Isla Nubar in ruins. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s former manager of operations, now runs a non-profit dinosaurs’ rights organization that is powerless in its quest to save the remaining dinosaurs on the island. Claire is approached by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s estranged partner in the initial Jurassic Park affair, and his weaselly toady (Rafe Spall) in order to spearhead a so-called rescue mission to the island; a volcanic eruption threatens to wipe out life on the island, and Lockwood wants to take the dinosaurs back to the mainland and put them in a sanctuary. In order to get to the dinosaurs, of course, Claire will need the help of raptor specialist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who now lives somewhere off the grid, having put his dinosaur days behind him. With a paleoveterinarian (Daniella Pineda) and panicky systems analyst (Justice Smith) in tow, Claire and Owen arrive to the island to find that they’ve actually been lied to, and the supposed good guys are, in fact, very bad.

One of the fundamental flaws of the world the film inhabits is that Jurassic Park blew its best idea on the first film. Since then, all the stories have essentially been inferior variations on dinosaurs running amok because of poor decisions by greedy, amoral humans. Fallen Kingdom is no different; though it shoehorns in some global-warming metaphors (largely through a tacked-on Jeff Goldblum cameo that bookends the film), it has little more on its mind than setting all its ducks up in a row so that dinosaurs can run amok thanks to our poor decisions. A surprisingly effective and dynamic first act soon gives way to an incredibly silly and laboured plotline in which Toby Jones (as an amoral businessman leading a highly illegal dinosaur auction) delivers the inevitable “do you mean weaponizing them?” bon mot and then we patiently wait for them to all get chewed up by some dinosaurs.

In fact, nearly all the problems that Jurassic World 2 faces are directly linked to the script, which (surprise surprise) counts Colin Trevorrow as a co-writer. The characters, so bland and lifeless in the first film, are in no way improved this time around. Pratt is particularly ill-suited to the steely Eastwood-like demeanor that is asked of him — except when it isn’t and the film has him suddenly, for an instant, be Andy Dwyer all over again. He — and nearly every other character — speaks mostly in terse imitations of one-liners, while the narrative treads water starting at the midpoint, eventually inserting a thoroughly unnecessary little-kid element (Maisie, the granddaughter of Cromwell’s character) that further draws out the film’s interminable second half. It’s difficult to determine which of the cast gets the film’s most cringeworthy moment, but I have to give a special shoutout to Ted Levine (who plays a hardass mercenary dude hired by the bad guys to get the dinosaurs), who all but looks into the camera and sneers, “What a nasty woman!” when Pineda’s character pushes him off a truck.

I don’t think that such a scattershot franchise really ever had a trademark style, but Bayona at least brings a lot of familiar energy and panache back into the mix, with some excellent sequences peppering the film and bringing in the much-needed element of fun that was missing from the first film. It’s not always enough to boost the inane ideas for action scenes (including at least one sequence that’s a straight up “THE FLOOR IS LAVA” game from your childhood) and thoroughly dull second half, but credit where credit is due: JA Bayona is the reason why Fallen Kingdom is marginally more entertaining than the first installment.

It’s frankly incomprehensible that it’s this difficult in 2018 to pull off a satisfactory Jurassic Park sequel. All the elements are there, but they are so unpalatable and so lazily put forth that it’s no wonder the film can take you from exhilaration to a deep existential boredom within a few minutes. Fallen Kingdom finds itself inextricably split between being a movie that has its own ironic awareness that it’s essentially a creature feature and its unquenchable desire to be more than that; it’s a movie that presents cheesy one-liners, stock supporting characters and recycled situations (Bayona can’t resist taking a few shots and sequences directly from the original, which in the grand scheme of things this movie does wrong is a forgivable misdemeanour) as both deadly serious and the kind of silly thing you’re bound to see in a dinosaur movie. Neither works. ■

Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom opens in theatres on Friday, June 22. Watch the trailer here: