Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

July 17, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Bites Off More Than It Can Chew

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To appropriate Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) famous line from 1993’s Jurassic Park, Universal Studios’ executives were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a sequel series to Steven Spielberg’s hit dino film that they never stopped to think about whether they should have. Yet in Hollywood, when there are more explanations for why a film bombs at the box office than why it exists in the first place, even a sacred fossil like the Jurassic Park franchise is not allowed a graceful passing. In 2015, the nostalgic yet predictable Jurassic World was released, and roaring into screens three years later is Fallen Kingdom. Thanks to director J.A. Bayona’s chilling oversight (if there was ever to be a horror movie with dinos to be made, this would be the one) and a fresh setting to ground the monstrous conflict (the saga has finally moved on from malfunctioning theme parks and their clueless supervisors), this sequel is a marked improvement over its predecessor.

However, like its featured hybrid dinosaur the Indoraptor, Fallen Kingdom’s 128 minute runtime is unevenly split amongst the goals it sets out to achieve, and its attempts at complexity and multi-layering come off as convoluted. By trying to set-up 2021’s Jurassic World 3, comment on how cloning will replace nuclear weapons and be a moral inquisition into the ways the depth of our own greed will destroy us, it is unable to stitch together those components to form something cohesive. While it certainly has more bite than bark, it merely nibbles at the topics it so clearly wishes to chew on more thoroughly. For the few questions it answers definitively, the conclusions leave you wondering whether your enjoyment of this flick is as unethical as the acts depicted on screen.

Nonetheless, encomium is due for the innovative steps that Fallen Kingdom takes plotwise. In past installments, narrative sequences, like how a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s presence was heralded by its water-glass rattling footsteps, could be seen from miles away. In Fallen Kingdom, screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly cleverly subvert expectations, while following them initially. After a volcano on Isla Nublar threatens to destroy the last living dinosaurs, a dinosaur protection group led by a thankfully high-heel-less Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) attempts to save them. She recruits Owen (Chris Pratt) to specifically rescue Blue, the sole Velociraptor. Despite initial obstacles, including molten lava, a hungry Baryonyx and a Deus ex Tyrannosaurus, Claire’s team escapes the island before it is destroyed by the volcano. Not too long after, they uncover a plot by a rival corporation to sell the creatures to the highest bidders, effectively releasing the prehistoric monsters into the human population.

This is where the story gets interesting and the film is at its strongest narratively, thematically and stylistically. Whereas the first half of the film draws parallels between Claire’s crusade to save the dinosaurs to modern day efforts of animal preservation (and the hypocrisy of how people can ultimately care more about the life of animals than their fellow human beings), it is in the dinosaur-auction sequences that Bayona shows the consequences of creativity without discipline and science without ethics first-hand. By creating endlessly and playing God without taking a seventh day of rest to reflect and consider the consequences of their heinous actions, human beings have engineered the one thing they never thought they would: their own destruction at the hands of these prehistoric beats. We can no longer cover our guilt with the leaves of despair but must reap our consequential harvest. A post-script of sorts from the grizzled Ian Malcolm reflects on these dismal conclusions and asks: is such an ending poetic? Deserved? Unfair, because society’s ultimate fate is determined by the few educated and wealthy? The seeds for such questions are planted, but sadly few answers are gleaned and reaped.

The film’s ending seems to preach that childlike wonder and curiosity with biological power can be just as damaging to society as those who maliciously use it. These despondent themes are further amplified by Bayona’s creepy presentation. The Indoraptor is as ferocious as it is devilishly cunning, and you can almost imagine it cackling inwardly as it hunts and destroys its prey. The final showdown takes place in a mostly-abandoned mansion and it screams of gothic horror, as Bayona uses shadows and lighting to great effect.

Before presenting the Indoraptor to the greedy buyers, Scientist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) warns Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) that the dinosaur not for sale as it is not the final version, saying that in its current form it is purely a creature of rage, lacking the necessary components that give it personality and empathy. Likewise, while on the surface, it has the workings of something deep, sophisticated, and layered, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom still feels largely like a set-up for the next installment, complete with its own MCU-style post-credits tease. Perhaps next time, Universal Studios and Jurassic World 3 director Colin Trevorrow ought to more fully explore the themes and let this creature feature be, or else leave the franchise in the dust where it belongs.

Zachary Lee is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at zjl4@cornell.edu.