Every once in a while, I venture out of the Netflix Basement and get some much needed sunlight, only to quickly return to the dark, air-conditioned cavern of a movie theater redolent with the odor of buttered popcorn and nachos. The tantalizing allure of a little known Monster Mash movie known as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was calling my name. So I join the party late to discuss this cinematic endeavor.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I refuse to abbreviate it as JW:FK because that’s even harder to type than the actual title. But it’s the latest entry in the Jurassic Park series of films. It is directed by J.A. Bayona who has an impressively creepy resume including The Impossible, a really intense disaster movie about survivors of the Thailand tsunami. And A Monster Calls, a melancholic kid’s movie which I haven’t seen, but it’s got a big, creepy monster in it, so I’ll check it out some day. His movies seem to be about families coping with tragedy and loss, and normal people bravely enduring hardships. So naturally Jurassic World 2 features none of that. It’s a big, dumb action movie, but with some really terrific dinosaur special effects.
So the basic premise is that the Isla Nubar, which was a dormant volcano, is now suddenly un-dormant and all of the dinos in Jurassic Park are about to become extinct, again. This is just the beginning of a series of idiotic plot complications. I won’t even try to count them because my brain would explode after about five minutes. Let’s just say that it’s not just an active volcano, but potentially erupting in the next five minutes or so. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard agree to return to the island on a dinosaur rescue mission that would likely lead to certain death. The only reason they would do such a stupid thing is that they were contractually obligated to after Jurassic World made $1.6 billion dollars.
So Pratt stars as John McHero-Guy and Howard is playing Perky Redhead in a Tight T-Shirt. Together they are joined by Ted Levine, playing the requisite Fearless Dinosaur Poacher character and Rafe Spall, who completely disappears into every role he plays so that I can’t remember his name or that I’ve even seen him in movies before. That is a compliment. I recently saw him in the excellent horror film, The Ritual, where he is terrific and also totally anonymous. Oh, and Jeff Goldblum appears as himself, and phones in a dinosaur themed monologue.
The plot such as it is, is totally perfunctory. The heroes go to the run-down Jurassic Park and the crap hits the fan in record time and dinosaur chaos ensues. Chris Pratt is left for dead, must out-run the supernaturally fast-moving lava and somehow escape the island which is being obliterated as we speak. Dallas Howard and Justice Smith, who is amusing as the Jurassic Park trademarked computer nerd, also have to escape lava and a hungry spinosaurus.
After a stupid boat trip where they take a blood sample from the unhappy T-Rex, and operate on a gunshot velociraptor, the dinosaurs are taken to a mansion in Northern California where they run amok and the movie finally gets good. The dinosaurs are definitely the stars of the movie and they look terrific. I’m not sure which are animatronic and which are digital creations, but the fact that I can’t tell should give you an indication of how astonishing the effects are. This is a movie worth seeing in the theater for the dinosaurs. Too bad that’s the only interesting thing in the movie. When Chris Pratt shows up, I was excited for a moment before the reality sunk in that, oh yeah, this is Jurassic World, he won’t say or do anything funny. Like I said, he’s playing John McHero-Guy, an unkillable Indiana Jones clone whose single talent, training velociraptors, is never needed. Bryce Dallas Howard is fetching in her Lara Croft cosplay outfit and is completely extraneous to the movie, but at least she’s wearing sensible adventure boots and not high-heeled shoes like in the first movie. Not for one second do you get the sense that either of them is any danger, which kind of ruins the drama and tension of this alleged “thriller.”
Also ruining the dramatic tension is the fact that while the McHero-Guys are being dino-chased around Jurassic Park, Bayona keeps cutting back to that Northern California mansion where absolutely nothing of goddamn interest happens. Oh sure, James Cromwell is old-man pillow murdered, and the Jurassic Park trademarked Child in Peril is put in peril, but these are minor chills when compared to the terrors on Insta-Death Island.
So why do I recommend this movie? Well, when the dinos are moved into the mansion and we crank up the action for the third act, the filmmakers abandon all pretense that they’re making a serious movie and dive straight into the deep end of B-Movie Nirvana. There’s all sorts of dinosaur mayhem through the mansion lab, museum and onto the roof. There’s a terrific Monster Mash. And the new genetically engineered monster, Indo Raptor, is a sleek, black killing machine with spiky quills and gross yellow striping down the sides. She’s a star and a wonderful creation. The filmmakers knew where their bread is buttered. I just wish the movie was funnier, scarier, and more interesting. I knew I was in for a long slog when the opening featured a mini-submarine that you know is Mosasaurus chum and yet we cut away before the sub is swallowed. Boo! The Mosasaurus indeed escapes Jurassic World and is completely absent from the movie, aside from the shot of it menacing some surfers shown in the preview.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Since locking myself in the Netflix Basement, my evaluation of movies has totally changed. Although this movie isn’t good by Jurassic Park standards, it’s an all-time classic by Jurassic Shark standards. It’s got plenty of dinosaur mayhem and the last act is great, but most of the movie is dull and tension-free. It suffers from self-seriousness and by the numbers scripting and needed more ham and cheese. I imagine that Bayona probably had a much darker, more grueling concept for this movie, but grim and gritty doesn’t make $1.6 billion at the box office.
SPOILER ALERT: The only time the movie achieves cheesy greatness is the scene where Blue, the plucky velociraptor heroine, smells a gas leak and immediately ascertains that it is flammable and she outruns the explosion. I laughed hysterically. If the whole movie tapped into this vein of gonzo hilariousness, we’d have an all-time classic.