It seems that the more appearances a movie monster makes, the more we start cheering for it. Not only do we appreciate the longevity of the beast, and its ability to outlast all comers, but when the human competition grows weaker and weaker, why would we cheer for such losers? This is the case with the dinosaurs in the “Jurassic Park” franchise, which started in 1993, and is now on its fifth film. We may love Chris Pratt’s hunky hero from the 2015 reboot, but the scaly ones are where our true sentiments lie. The kingdom in the title “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” refers to the doomed island the creatures inhabit, but it really is implying mankind. By now, our rooting interests are clearly against the humans who continue to get in the way.
The “Jurassic Park” franchise got a fresh start three years ago, though much of “Jurassic World” already felt way too familiar. Its story may have taken place at an even larger theme park and dialed up the parody with spoofs of petting zoos and Sea World-type water shows, but most of it felt paint-by-the-numbers. Of course, the dinosaurs couldn’t be contained, and humans became their dinner. Once again, good scientists battled corrupt business types working to exploit the beasts. And it was shocking to no one that the dinosaurs reigned triumphant at the end once again since that was the climax of every one of the other films.
This sequel, unfortunately, may be one too many times to the trough. So much of it feels less like a continuation of the story and more like mere retreading over the same literal and figurative terrain. The story finds a reason for humans to once again return to the dangerous island, albeit this time to rescue the beasts from doom by a volcano that’s about to explode. Yet again, good science-minded heroes will battle venal one-percenters who want to exploit the beasts. And once more, the venerable Jeff Goldblum shows up as Dr. Ian Malcolm to reiterate his warning about playing God. (It’s a glorified cameo, but a fun one.) This time, Malcolm appears in front of a Senate panel imploring them to let nature take its course and render the beasts obsolete once again.
Good advice, but we wouldn’t have a franchise if it was taken. Thus, humans, both good and bad, rush to the island to rescue the dinosaurs from the impending lava, fire, and smoke. Just as soon, all the same tropes from the other films start to be ticked off one by one. Only this time, there is the fresh angle of animal abuse weaved into the narrative indicating all the more how the filmmakers are wholly on the side of the beasts.
Still, it is a credit to screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, along with acclaimed director J.A. Bayona, that the movie does find ways to inject some fresh fun into the overly familiar. They start by correcting many of the previous movie’s biggest problems. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing is no longer an irritating corporate villain but an animal rights activist hoping to move the creatures to a natural habitat. Gone too is her strained and bitchy banter with ex Owen. Now, they’re on the same side, hired by mogul Lockwood (James Cromwell) to take care of the DNA recreations that he helped spearhead with John Hammond (Richard Attenborough in the first film.) Connolly and Trevorrow have even managed to get Claire out of those white heels that made her such a ridiculous figure her first time out and given her sensible boots instead.
The screenwriters make wise choices with the supporting good guys too. Young doctor Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) is fiercely self-sufficient, nursing the injured raptor Blue back to full bite after she’s shot on the island. Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who is the center of the B story back at the mansion where the dinos are taken, is a smart and moral kid who shows great courage during her arc. Even the comical and coward character of computer geek Franklin (Justice Smith) isn’t as much of a pain in the ass as Claire was in the previous film. By the end, he’s conquered his nelly fears and risen to heroic heights too.
Unfortunately, the scriptwriters and directors don’t succeed as well with the all-too-familiar, two-dimensional villains. Lockwood caretaker Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) is such an obvious turncoat from the get-go that he almost inspires yawns. Ted Levine can play hard-ass authorities in his sleep, but he’s given little to do here as mercenary leader Wheatley. His band of armed brothers are all nobodies who show up merely to be killed by the dinosaurs and the script doesn’t bother to give any of them any bit of business that would make their deaths interesting. And couldn’t the scripters at least have handed acclaimed actor Toby Jones more of a character to portray? He plays a greedy auctioneer selling off the creatures in the bowels of the mansion, but the character’s most distinguishing trait is a floppy, blond wig.
One of the more absurd scenes in the film is that auction scene where guests, dressed to the nine’s, bid on the caged beasts as they’re wheeled out on a conveyor belt like bachelors at a charity event. It’s crazy enough that it happens in the basement of the mansion, all the more so that it’s dressed out with the wait staff, wine, and hors d’oeuvres. And in what world would bidding on such rare animals yield paltry bids of a mere $25 million? I’m surprised Dr. Evil isn’t one of the bidders yelling out, “One meeelion dollars!”
As the richies bid, we all know some of those caged captives will soon escape and turn the guests into their own crudité platter. At least some of the dinosaurs have personalities, even if the villains are lacking. A Pachycephalosaurus crashes the party, literally, and rams his battering head with wild abandon. A recovered Blue appears too and endears us to her even more as she ends the arc of a major baddie. It’s fun to see the dinosaurs destroying the mansion as well, and Spanish filmmaker Bayona shrewdly renders it for both laughs and scares. The dinos look totally real once again, even while doing ridiculous things such as traipsing up spiral staircases or negotiating the narrow ledges of the mansion’s gables.
As impressive popcorn entertainment as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is, well made and witty, too much of it just remains so, so predictable. The climax even sets up the inevitable next film. And like all the others, that one will likely arrive at the exact same conclusion. Playing God and toying with Mother Nature is a fool’s errand. You’d think the humans would figure that out after all these Jurassic encounters, but because they won’t, we’ll keep rooting for the dinosaurs.