Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Putting the ‘Stink’ in Extinction Event

Imagine, if you will (in your best Rod Sterling voice), a precocious four-year-old boy with a wooden crate brimming with toy dinosaurs – the sort with zero points of articulation because it was the 90’s and kids were still capable of using their imaginations, dammit. This boy spent his languid preschool afternoons guiding his motley herd on epic journeys through valley-like ditches, rainforest-esque gardens, wasteland-ish gravel lots, and oceanic sloughs – occasionally by way of the Millennium Falcon. The stakes were always high for this heroic herd and dangers lurked around every shadowy corner – from monstrous plush t-rexes with mint Beanie Baby tags to vicious velociraptors that had been bloodied with a red Sharpie to swarms of oversized bugs from a dollar store bucket to the mighty and terrible cat-god-of-wrath Whyskerssa (whose tender mercies hinged on proportionate blood offerings). These adventures were the sort of masterful works of fiction that village elders recount to wide-eyed youngsters over late-night campfires – noting, of course, that any resemblance their tales may bear to characters or events from The Land Before Time is purely coincidental.

The year was 1994 – when Jurassic Park was released on VHS for the first time – and I was that fanciful little boy. For the record, the herd always survived its perilous journey to the Great Valley – but at great cost.

Like countless other children who spent pretend time making their dinosaur toys kiss fight to the death, Jurassic Park was a landmark moment in my childhood cinematic experience and represented a graduation from the world of Don Bluth into something decidedly more grown-up, though ironically, far less traumatic.

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Today it remains one of my all-time favourite films. It’s an innovative, effective story that works flawlessly on every narrative level – its characters are fully-realized with clear arcs, its themes are poignant and proven, its CGI and animatronics still hold up, its direction is masterful, and its score is iconic, often looping through my head every time I crest a particularly lofty hill or even just open a door. My childhood love for dinosaurs may have eventually been supplanted by 1997 Sarah Michelle Gellar, but that first Jurassic Park film remains one of my greatest, most enduring loves (until Anna Kendrick starts returning my Tweets).

Like the Die Hard and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, however, it was all downhill from the there. I made it clear in my Jurassic World breakdown that, although the movie was bad, I didn’t hate it. For all its mindlessness and unnecessary noise, it at least made a halfhearted attempt to say something thematically intelligent – the problem is that it completely lost interest in trying to articulate that something after about twenty minutes in favour of showing off its superpowered I-rex. Even so, I recall giving it at least some points for trying (though not many).

Now I’ve seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and all I can say is that the backyard adventures dreamed up by my four-year-old self with his dollar bin toys were more coherent, engaging, and creative than this disjointed, bloated, lazy, triceratops turd of a sequel.

Let’s get this over with.

EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE IS AN IDIOT – PART I

We open on the now-abandoned park an indeterminate amount of time after the events of Jurassic World. It is the dead of night and a hurricane is in full swing – optimal weather conditions for mischievous mercenary trespassers, as my granddaddy used to say somewhere between his third Vodka Tonic and his daily dosage of Clozapine. A couple of said trespassers enter the Mosasaurus’ aquatic habitat by way of a mini-submarine from the ocean – which is rather remarkable considering that in the previous movie this habitat was very much landlocked. Ah, well. Like I said in my Jurassic World post, if a story works, most viewers will gladly overlook some minor inconsistencies or the occasional plot contrivance. That’s what the suspension of disbelief is for, am I right?

Anyway, these submariners are in the enclosure to pilfer a bone fragment from the fallen Indominus rex, which was conveniently dragged into the water by the Mosasaurus at the climax of World. How they knew exactly where to look for the I-rex’s body is just the first of many mysteries this movie presents that would confound even Columbo, because as we all surely recall, the I-rex removed its own tracking implant after escaping its enclosure – and Columbo suffered a brain aneurysm trying to unravel how it managed to do that without thumbs or surgical equipment. Also, I was under the impression that the Mosasaurus had eaten the I-rex… but I guess it just dragged it to the depths and left its carcass to rot on the lagoon floor. Either that or it pooped out its undigested bones and reassembled them in such a way that the mercenaries could easily locate them, which is awfully considerate of it, if you ask me.

Anyway, when one of the mercenaries nervously glances around for any sign of the predatory Mosasaurus, his partner assures him that, hey, “Anything in this lagoon is probably long dead by now!” This completely unfounded assumption tells us that these supposedly well-equipped soldiers didn’t feel the need to bother with any reconnaissance in preparation for this expedition and are therefore idiots. Either that or they’re just blindly optimistic, but in my experience blind optimism and utter stupidity are often interchangeable.

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Meanwhile, on the surface, a character whom I will call Idiot McDumbface hacks a computer terminal while his mercenary buddies wait in a nearby helicopter. When these buddies spot a friendly neighborhood T-rex on approach, they try desperately to get Idiot McDumbface’s attention, yelling and making manic hand signals for him to run. Idiot McDumbface, however, cannot hear what they’re saying over the hurricane winds and screams for them to yell louder, please. Now, I’m no Mensa affiliate (in fact, I’m on my third rejection letter), but I feel that if I were on an island I knew to be populated by carnivorous dinosaurs in the middle of a hurricane and I spotted my associates waving their arms at me in terror from a distance, I’d still be smart enough to figure out that I should haul ass even if I couldn’t discern exactly what they’re saying.

Sadly, Idiot McDumbface wasn’t that smart. He and the submariners subsequently get eaten and the Mosasaurus escapes to open sea, while the helicopterians slip off into the night with the Indominous rex bone fragment. This bone pops up so frequently throughout the remainder of the movie that you’d think it would serve an actual, consequential purpose in the plot – but it doesn’t (we’ll get to that). Given that the escaped Mosasaurus doesn’t even factor in the movie at any point beyond a fleeting curtain-closing cameo, this entire opening sequence is rendered pointless and could have been cut from the movie entirely. The thieving mercenaries may as well have been horny teenagers necking in the back of daddy’s Cadillac for all the impact their efforts had on the plot.

Right – the “plot.” We haven’t even ventured into the plot yet. God – this is just the first scene, isn’t it? How is this only the first scene? It’s already an inconsistent fustercluck – when I said Fallen Kingdom takes place ‘an indeterminate amount of time’ after World I meant it, because clearly enough time has elapsed for the I-rex carcass to decompose but not enough time for the Mosasaurus to starve to death. To obfuscate things even further, the island lies dormant in this first scene but is in the process of erupting right after the title card.

On that –

THE PLOT – AN EXPLOSION OF NONSENSICAL PROPORTIONS

I remember when the official trailer for this movie first landed on YouTube and how odd it seemed to see Chris Pratt back on Isla Nublar in what appeared to be an attempt to save his pet raptor from a volcanic explosion. “Surely this is a joke,” I thought, teetering between amusement and horror. “This can’t be the actual premise of the film… surely this is some kind of sick Andy Kaufman-esque practical joke orchestrated by CollegeHumor as a promotional stunt…”

As the Bee Gees once sang, if only I’d seen that the joke was on me.

Apparently, Isa Nublar is a giant volcano now. I guess John Hammond possessed the same sort of blind optimism as the Mosasaurus enclosure mercenary when he leased the island and just hoped to high heck it would never erupt. Then again, maybe he got suckered in by a lower interest rate and neglected to read the fine print, or perhaps he weighed the risks analytically and decided that in the event of an eruption he’d simply adapt his business paradigm to capitalize on it, savvy businessman that he is.

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Anyway, the island is on the verge of blowing to smithereens and ushering all its Jurassic denizens back into extinction, prompting worldwide media debate over whether or not efforts should be made to save them. This brings us to Bryce Dallas Howard, who is now inexplicably a dinosaur rights activist (we’ll get to that). She is summoned to the mansion of James Cromwell – who is retrofitted into the franchise as John Hammond’s business partner – where she is introduced to another new character whom I will call Evilpants von Badfellow. Badfellow explains he has a completely benevolent plan to save the dinosaurs by bringing them to the mainland – which would be mind-bendingly stupid even if there wasn’t a thinly-veiled villainous agenda behind it.

Yes – this plot is a complete retread of The Lost World, which also centered on an ill-fated, greed-fueled scheme to ferry dinosaurs to America. The Jurassic Park sequels tend to get a pretty bad rap, but I admit there were elements of The Lost World I rather liked. It’s decent enough as far as sequels go, with portions that work pretty well (many of the Site B scenes) and other portions that just don’t (all the San Diego scenes). The difference between it and Fallen Kingdom is that any existing subtleties and plot intrigue are eschewed here in favour of cutting straight to the action, which was Jurassic World’s most grievous CinemaSin. See, Jurassic Park’s most iconic scenes (the T-rex reveal, for instance) are memorable because they’re earned – when a story is allowed to unfold naturally at a healthy pace it makes its money shots worth the time spent getting to them, but when a movie is clearly in a hurry to get to the “good bits” it creates a blurring effect that not even the best CGI on the market can clarify. While Lost World provided at least some logical reasons for our heroes to ship out to the island, Fallen Kingdom trips over itself in a rush to just get them there and doesn’t seem overly concerned with whether or not any of it makes sense.

It is here that we hit an important narrative marker that will define the remainder of the movie – a point in the script where literally everything that happens can be explained away by the all-encompassing phrase “for some reason.” For instance, Cromwell and Badfellow extend Bryce Dallas Howard an invitation to join their pseudo-military expedition… for some reason (see?). The pretense is that they need her personal authorization code to reactivate the dinosaurs’ trackers, which is about as flimsy as a Kleenex raincoat in the Amazon. Enlighten me, why is she the only former InGen employee capable of reactivating the trackers, and why must she be physically present on the island to do it? For that matter, why are the trackers even off? If Facebook can remotely monitor me through my phone and report my every mouse click and bum scratch to advertisers, then surely somebody somewhere can track the whereabouts of enormous dinosaurs. Then again, maybe the dinosaurs didn’t provide consent for their personal information to be distributed to third parties. Could it be that dinosaurs are entitled to more privacy than humans? That’s downright discriminatory, I say. Where are my rights, dammit?!

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#MeFirst – the movement starts now.

Anyway, Badfellow wants Bryce Dallas Howard to convince Chris Pratt to tag along with their mercenary army as well, as he is the only man in the world capable of capturing the elusive velociraptor Blue, again, for some reason. After initially expressing hesitation at the prospect of returning to the doomed island, Chris Pratt agrees, for some reason.

Actually, that last one doesn’t sound quite right. Let me rephrase it –

After initially expressing hesitation at the prospect of returning to the doomed island, Chris Pratt agrees, for no reason. Ahhh, that’s better.

Things get a little hazy after this, as somehow both Howard and Pratt end up on the island with a couple comic-relief teenagers who serve no purpose, where they rendezvous with mercenary army leader Ted Levine, who mostly sits back and lets his numerous Botox injections do his enunciating for him. How they all ended up on the island together, I honestly can’t recall – maybe they all travelled by map. You see, when characters do things for no conceivable reason it’s actually quite easy for the viewer to lose track of why things are happening or even where the hell they are.

I call it “Rogue One Syndrome” – come at me, Lucas Hounds.

From here, it takes everyone about five minutes to hone in on Blue by following her tracker, which raises the question of why they needed Pratt’s assistance at all. He may be on the island like the movie needed, but his Kleenex raincoat is getting mighty soggy. The mercenaries then proceed to capture many dinosaur specimens without much inconvenience despite the volcano exploding all around them. The whole expedition is apparently so smooth and seamless, in fact, that the movie doesn’t even bother showing us any of it – not unlike all the battles on early seasons of Game of Thrones.

The entire island-portion of this movie is an intelligence-insulting mess marked by characters teleporting between set pieces, displaying imperviousness to the bone-melting heat generated by flowing lava, and running an endless gauntlet of hungry carnivores. Fallen Kingdom apparently expects me to believe that meat-eaters are so desperate to fill their bellies with human flesh that they’ll even stick their toothy snouts through flows of lava just for a nibble off the flank, which actually raises a thematic contradiction. See, Jurassic World asks us to consider its dinosaurs as living, breathing creatures who deserve to be on this planet just as much as we do… unless they’re carnivores, because those are just mindless eating-machines with little regard for their own lives. Dammit, movie, which is it? Real living, breathing creatures operate on instinct, and where instinct is concerned, self-preservation generally overrides any inclination for lunch. A lion fleeing a wildfire is probably not libel to get distracted by a tasty human, so neither should a {flips through dinosaur encyclopedia; is disappointed it doesn’t have pictures; chooses species at random} Micropachycephalosaurus.

Say that five times fast with corn flakes in your mouth.

As our heroes leave the decimated island forever, we are treated to a shot of a lone brachiosaurus standing mournfully on the beach with nowhere left to flee from the volcanic fumes. This was admittedly a very touching shot, by which I mean it touched my funny bone. You see, after witnessing Chris Pratt exhibit volcano-outrunning superpowers (oh, we’ll get to THAT) nothing in all creation either living or extinct could compel me to take anything this dumb movie throws at me seriously – not even a scene of a poor herbivore getting engulfed by flames and smoke.

Maybe I just don’t like dinosaurs anymore. When did I stop loving dinosaurs?

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Thaaaaaaaaaat’s right…

I realize I’m getting bogged down in the minutiae, but in my defense the only aspect of this movie I’m capable of looking at critically is its wealth of incongruous details. This plot is a scattershot mess that would prove too chaotic for even Ian Malcolm to reconcile, and my working theory is that each scene was written in a vacuum by different people with only the vaguest notion of where the next scene would pick up. A plot that can’t be followed is a plot that can’t be analyzed conventionally – though it does remind me of the time I dumped my entire toy crate of dinosaur toys down the living room stairs just to watch them fall. Somehow, I recall that having more rational thought behind it.

If you’re hoping our heroes’ journeys will redeem this festering quagmire, I’m afraid there’s nothing going on with any of them that even remotely resembles an arc. Hell, I’d have settled for a straight line if it was just interesting to watch.

EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE IS AN IDIOT – PART II

As stated above, Bryce Dallas Howard is now a dinosaur rights activist for some kind of non-profit organization based out of a Silicon Valley set. This is a fascinating development considering that just last movie she was a cold, dollars-and-figures-fixated businesswoman who refused to acknowledge dinosaurs as real animals. Her designated word for them was “assets” – which she verbalized with enough frequency to make it an unbeatable drinking game. Anyway, in Fallen Kingdom she now loves dinosaurs and wants to give them a fighting chance at life – which makes little sense considering they killed potentially thousands of her park patrons. Her nameless, forgotten nephews were almost killed by them. Hell, she was almost killed by them. She has no reason in the world to be remotely inclined towards dinosaurs, apart from a combination of PTSD and insanity.

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Protagonists can change across franchises – if it’s done correctly it’s called character development. Say what you will about Jurassic Park III, but at least Alan Grant’s characterization was consistent with his experiences. He loved dinosaurs in Jurassic Park – but that was before they tried to eat him. By JPIII he’s become understandably wary of them and only goes to Isla Sorna because he was manipulated into doing so.

After Jurassic World, Bryce Dallas Howard could have gone in literally any direction – except down the path of someone who regards dinosaurs with even a modicum of tenderness. She has no logical reason for wanting to save them, no financial motivation, nothing to gain, and nothing to strive for personally. I’d call her depiction in Fallen Kingdom a betrayal of character… but she never had a character to begin with, only a two-dimensional characterization.

What is a betrayal of character however, is John Hammond’s legacy, as he is now retroactively memorialized as a compassionate humanitarian who fathered dinosaurs out of some kind of paternal instinct. Clearly the screenwriters had never even heard of the first Jurassic Park, where he was a self-deluded businessman who tried to play God and lost. He tried to commercialize dinosaurs by building a theme park around them, for crying out loud, and the first film (not to mention the novel) makes it abundantly clear that he was delusional at best and villainous at worst.

Still, senseless character-reversals are more than can be said for our total blank-slate of a protagonist, Chris Pratt (character name either Phil, Dale, or Joey JoJo Jr. Shabadoo – don’t recall). When we catch up with him in Fallen Kingdom, he’s broken up with Bryce Dallas Howard… and that’s it. Loveable as Pratt certainly is, he has no personality in these movies and just does whatever the script needs him to do, up to and including developing superpowers that would put Star-Lord and the entire Avengers roster to shame.

Once they’re on Isla Nublar, Ted Levine plugs Chris Pratt with a tranquilizer dart and leaves him to die in the jungle (for some reason). Pratt not only survives the same dose of tranq that floored Blue the Raptor in six seconds flat but is back on his feet an hour later fleeing a deluge of lava, which somehow doesn’t incinerate him despite flowing inches from his skin. Once the volcano finally blows, Pratt is regrettably overcome by the pyroclastic cloud and dies from both the asphyxiation and searing 1000 °C temperatures—wait, sorry, I was reading from a rejected draft of the script. Let me start over –

Once the volcano finally blows, Pratt outruns the 700 KM/hour pyroclastic cloud and survives a five-hundred-foot swan dive into the ocean – which itself is still an agreeable temperature despite being pumped full of lava. All that still somehow seems wrong… but that’s what happened.

Worse still – he and Howard end up back in the exact same place they were last movie. At the close of Jurassic World, Pratt and Howard’s forced sexual tension culminated in a kiss and a second chance at love. By the beginning of Fallen Kingdom, they’ve broken up and moved on – but never fear Internet ‘shippers, because by the time the credits roll they’ve found the courage to put aside their vast differences and give their love a second chance.

Again.

The retread of Pratt and Howard’s journey through World suggests that the screenwriters either didn’t see any of the previous movies or just didn’t care enough about the established canon to worry about rehashing information. Honestly, Jeff Goldblum remains the only element of consistency across this entire franchise. In his woefully brief cameo (which he likely filmed on the grounds that he could sit in an air-conditioned building the whole time and not actually do anything) he makes the sole intelligent statement in the entire movie – that the world should allow nature to take its course and eliminate the dinosaurs, which he still maintains should never have been brought back from extinction to begin with. It’s refreshing to see at least one character retain his convictions and traits from the first film all these years later.

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LOGIC MAKES ITS EXUENT, PURSUED BY A PREHISTORIC BEAR

So, none of our characters have anything to do except get chased, but that’s okay because once they all get on the boat with the rescued dinosaurs the movie mercifully ends. That’s right – the story about Chris Pratt retrieving his pet raptor from a volcanic apocalypse bows out with as much grace as director J.A. Bayona could grant it. Unfortunately, on its exit through the John Hammond Memorial Gift Shop it handed the ol’ cinematic reins off to an exponentially dumber, infinitely more offensive movie about an evil, mutant raptor that stalks a little girl through a mansion like a serial killer. It’s like the screenwriters hit page 50, got bored with remaking The Lost World, and decided to remake one of the Friday the 13th installments instead – but not one of the good ones. The back half of this movie is the narrative and critical equivalent of Jason Takes Manhattan.

After a series of irrelevant side-missions intended to pad the script and give our heroes something to do on the boat, the dinosaurs are at last brought to James Cromwell’s estate, where Evilpants von Badfellow finally unveils his dastardly plot – to auction all the dinosaurs off to a room full of mustache-twirling bad guys, who will ostensibly do nefarious things with them. The already wobbling house of cards then crumbles completely, spontaneously combusts, and burns everything in its vicinity to cinders, leaving arson investigators with a laundry list of questions –

One – how was it possible for an army of mercenaries to evacuate dozens of dinosaurs from Isla Nublar completely undetected when we’ve clearly established that the island is the focal point for global news coverage? Chances are an operation of that magnitude wouldn’t pass unnoticed in this Information Age.

Two – how did the mercenaries spirit the dinosaurs through international waters and into California without running afoul of the U.S. Coast Guard or any border authorities? I can’t even get a pack of Camels through Customs without getting strip-searched and water-boarded – and that’s going into Canada!

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(Apologies to RLM)

Five – why did Badfellow need to bring the dinosaurs to America at all when he could have just based his evil operations out of Site B? If Isla Nublar was refurbished in time for Jurassic World, then surely the facilities on neighboring Isla Sorna were restored as well and could have suited his villainous purposes just fine. It’s almost like Universal really, really wanted dinosaurs running amok in America…

Six – if the grand reveal of this asinine plot was that park veteran Dr. Wu was in cahoots with Badfellow the entire time and helped him breed the genetically-enhanced Indoraptor by the time of the movie… then why did anything in the first hour and a half happen at all?!

We’ve come at last to the curious case of the Indoraptor – a prototypical, weaponized dinosaur that attacks anything its master points a rifle at… which is a bit of a counterintuitive method of killing someone with a firearm, by my reckoning. Anyway, this genetically-modified wondersaur was built by blending the DNA of a velociraptor with that of the Indominous rex… except that the Indominous rex was already bred using raptor genes. It was one of the worthless “twists” in Jurassic World that ensured the I-rex could control the park raptors like minions. Building a new species of raptor from the genes of something that already had raptor DNA is kind of like inventing a new brand of sandwich whose secret ingredient is other sandwiches.

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The very existence of the Indoraptor raises even more unanswerable questions. You recall the Indominous rex bone that was salvaged during the inconsequential prelude, yes? The assumption is that Badfellow and Dr. Wu needed it to create more dinosaurs like the new Indoraptor. Except, at the end of Jurassic World we clearly saw Dr. Wu escape the island with all his research, so why did they need to get the I-rex bone at all? These movies have long-since established that InGen can make new dinosaurs like my niece makes Easy Bake Oven cookies, so why is this stupid bone so vitally important? How much time has even elapsed between the prelude and the reveal of the Indoraptor? It can’t be that bloody long because the damn thing is already fully grown. How long does it take for dinosaurs to reach maturity, anyway? Why is it even called an Indoraptor? Does its prefix ‘indo’ indicate indigenousness to the Indian subcontinent or the surrounding region?? If the Indoraptor was created from the I-rex bone, then why is the bone still intact in the third Act? Leaping leviathans, I hate that stupid bone – it’s the polar opposite of Chekhov’s Gun in that it dominates half the scenes in the movie but isn’t used in any clever way.

I can write no further on this Indominous mess of a movie – and I haven’t even addressed the useless little cloned girl character or the brazenly contrived manner in which all the dinosaurs end up loose in the U.S. The entire third Act is a migraine-inducing slog of contradicting scenes, painfully-forced exposition, idiotic decisions, and cartoonish characterizations. Jurassic World was only just bad, but this – this is downright insulting.

CONCLUSION

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom starts out laughably bad and by the end becomes unbearably bad. The CGI is lurid and oversaturated – not quite as sickly-looking as the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot (spit) but still nauseating to behold just the same. Characters do things for some unknown reason at best and absolutely no reason at worst. Logic has bowed out to plot convenience and that last dangling thread of wonder that was still in Jurassic World’s mix has snapped, lowering the proverbial drawbridge for empty spectacle, tensionless action, forced emotion, and lazy storytelling to all stomp unceremoniously in and take a collective dump on everyone’s fondness for the one that began it all.

In the first Jurassic Park, life found a way. In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the same can be said for utter stupidity.

1/10

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