There’s a point in your life as a film critic that you realise that maybe, just maybe, the shit that used to not bother you, really starts to bother you a heck of a lot. 2018 has gone down as the year that mindless entertainment no longer works on me. Pacific Rim Uprising, Ready Player One, and now Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom – all have attempted to explode a huge array of digital noise onto the screen with the hopes of dazzling and diminishing the audiences mind.
Not to get all ‘old man’ for a moment, but when I was growing up, there was a sense of intelligence and maturity that existed within the blockbuster of the year. Sure, I’m wearing rose tinted glasses and forgetting that films that took deep explorations into the human psyche like Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla film exists (who can forget the memorable moment where the heroes really get into the mind of the giant lizard by driving a New York taxi into its mouth?). Sarcasm aside, the Jurassic Park series started on a foundation where the heroes were scientists, and the science felt real. The internal logic that drove the plot worked on its own reality, and it helped make a world that felt real and believable. It felt like Jurassic Park was a place that could exist, and in turn, a place that one day could actually happen. That’s what ‘movie magic’ is.
A year ago I was voraciously defending the absurdity, the sexism, the racism, the noxious fumes that spurted and coughed their way through the almost three hour run time of Michael Bay’s last CGI vomit that made up Transformers: The Last Knight. With that film, I found myself actively enjoying the ridiculous, insane nature of what Bay was doing. Part of the reason I enjoyed its insanity was that I lived in a bubble where I didn’t have to address that sexism, where I didn’t have to address that racism. That I had thought ‘there is simply no way that this film is working on any kind of logic – internal or external’. Maybe I’m part of the reason why Trump’s America exists. Maybe I’m complicit in the blasé way that racism and sexism is defended within culture as a whole. Now, I have no idea if I’d have the same response.
Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom exists in an echo chamber, squirreled away from the genius of Spielberg’s original, allowed to run amok with its own system of cogs created from Swiss cheese – all holes, and crumbles under any kind of pressure. I bring up Transformers: The Last Knight because, like Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, it’s a film of no consequence. It’s a film that exists simply to provide a skeleton for the CGI set pieces that were conjured long before a script ever came into existence.
Sure, there are things that could be conceived as ‘ideas’, and there are actions that someone can write up an essay down the line that will retrofit a concept into the film that simply is not there. (See the many articles about Jurassic World being a parable about capitalism and I’m sure you can eagerly sit in anticipation for the same to happen with Fallen Kingdom. Oh, wait – too late.) Ideas such as ‘what would happen if an extinction event hit the dinosaurs again’ become immediately redundant when the film fails to even acknowledge that there are two islands where dinosaurs exist. Or, the long hinted suggestion of militarising dinosaurs and employing them in battle – an idea which sounds truly brilliant on paper (my mind immediately leaps to a troop of raptors in some fictional Middle East country battling a bunch of no face, no name enemies), but crumbles when it comes to executing them successfully.
This is the biggest problem that the Jurassic World series faces going forward. The ‘big science’ ideas have already been addressed. Five films in, we’ve long known the answer to the question about whether bringing back dinosaurs was a smart idea or not. (Heck, we knew the answer to that question five minutes into Jurassic Park when Muldoon is screaming ‘shoot her’ as a man gets his arm ripped off by an unseen raptor). Writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly appear to think that they’re asking Michael Crichton level questions about science, when really they’re asking Paul W.S. Anderson level questions about science. Namely, ‘what kind of cool dinosaur can we make up with our Random Dino Generator this time?’, instead of ‘if dinosaurs existed, to what extent would they be employed the world we live in today?’
Sure, blockbuster films don’t have to be exercises in intellectual ‘what if’s’, but those that leave a lasting impression are the ones that have you thinking further than ‘boy did that explosion look good’. In an era where Mad Max Fury Road showcased a post-apocalypse feminist tale, and Avengers: Infinity War questioned the impact of overpopulation, is it too much to ask the Jurassic World series to deliver a little bit more than dino action?
And maybe this is where the bloggers of the internet have applied the notion that the Jurassic World series is secretly one about capitalism. Instead of following the path of the Planet of the Apes series and following a natural narrative that would drive the internal logic of the series, the Jurassic World series continues to play like a play by play of ‘iconic moments from Jurassic Park’. You know that at some point during the film a T-Rex is going to kill another large dinosaur and roar victoriously. You know that somebody is going to say ‘run’. You know that there’s going to be a dinosaur looking through a window. Heck, I’m genuinely surprised that there wasn’t a ripple in the water moment in this film. After all, we also get bonus references to the kitchen scene, and multiple shots of raptors or raptor-esque dinosaurs tapping their toes. I was half expecting one of them to start singing and dancing and breaking out in a rendition of the long forgotten raptor classic ‘Alan!’ (After all, this film has a shot where a raptor smiles.)
I think that note needs a line of its own:
Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom has a shot of a raptor smiling.
It also has a sequence where a doped up Chris Pratt (playing the role of an actor who thinks he’s still auditioning for the role of Indiana Jones) rolls away from lava. Also, a sequence where a dinosaur shakes lava off its head. And, a sequence where a raptor gets a blood transfusion. And, a sequence that has a group of dinosaurs getting slowly gassed to death.
Oh yeah, if you want a freebie for your blog – go ahead and write up some noise about how maybe Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom thinks it’s a parable for the holocaust. It doesn’t, but when you’re grasping at straws to get something from your blockbuster entertainment, that’s where your mind inevitably wanders to. Heck, after fifteen years of blockbusters using 9/11 imagery to evoke unearned emotions, one has to wonder exactly how low filmmakers will go to get some kind of reaction from the audience. For Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, it’s by having the climax end with the ‘heroes’ deciding whether or not to allow dinosaurs to die a slow painful death by noxious gas.
But, what can you expect from a film that has a ‘fully qualified’ paleo veterinarian who has never laid eyes on an actual dinosaur before. (Sounds like a degree you’d get from Trump University.) The performances are barely worthwhile mentioning, given for the most part supposedly talented actors like Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Rafe Spall, and Toby Jones, give the impression that they were taught by Dee Reynolds how to act. The only actor to possibly walk away from this film with any dignity is Justice Smith as the tech genius Franklin Webb, who appears to exist to show how far computer geeks have come since Nedry died covered in mud in the original film.
This is not a good movie. There’s really not much to make a film about dinosaurs eating people entertaining – the filmmakers simply need to believe the internal logic they’re creating. But when director J.A. Bayona and writers Trevorrow and Connolly appear to not understand basic human emotions, well, it’s hard to find any kind of humanity within the film. It’s not enough that blockbusters have visual noise to dazzle and distract – they need to have a connection point for the viewers to engage with.
Look, maybe I’m just too old for this shit. Maybe I’m expecting too much from this kind of entertainment. Maybe, just maybe, I’m not the audience for this kind of film. And that’s fine. But, it’s hard to reconcile with the fact that an intelligent, empowering, exciting film like Jurassic Park has had its legacy essential devolve into ludicrous, nonsensical dribble.
Maybe I’m just depressed by the fact that even after the scene of Jimmy Buffett running away with two margaritas in his hands in Jurassic World, I’m still on this train hook, line, and sinker. And I know that when Jurassic World War Dino comes out in 2021, I’ll be there day one to diligently give them my dollars and resign myself to being disappointed. Maybe that’s the ultimate result of capitalism. That after all the disappointment, after all the racism, after all the sexism, after all the nonsense, we still keep coming back for more.
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Justice Smith
Writers: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly