'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' Spoiler Review: The Park Is Gone, And So Is The Fun

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick...and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.)

Welcome to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The fifth entry in the Jurassic Park franchise, and the follow-up to 2015's Jurassic World, doubles-down on all the elements that made the previous film unpleasant, while adding a few twists and turns. Director J.A. Bayona does his absolute best to breathe life into this weak, rushed story. But a few stellar visuals aren't enough to rescue this film from itself.

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom Trailer Breakdown

That Power Is Out Now

In 1993, Steven Spielberg changed the face of blockbuster filmmaking with Jurassic Park. Spielberg took Michael Crichton's technobabble and worked it into a monster movie with heart. Jurassic Park was movie magic at its finest – a combination of amazing filmmaking and cutting-edge special effects, both working together in harmony. There would be bigger blockbusters to come, but few big spectacle films have the heart and soul of Spielberg's glorious dino-flick.

And then it all went wrong. When I think of the Jurassic franchise as a whole, I think back to one of the quieter moments in Spielberg's film. After the dino-shit has hit the fan and characters start turning into T-Rex chow, park creator John Hammond sits down to have himself some ice cream. The power outage at the park is causing the tubs of ice cream to melt, and Hammond has them all laid out on a long dining table like an extra-sweet take on the Last Supper. Paleobotanist Ellie Sadler joins him at the table, and there, Hammond recounts the earliest attraction he ever created: a flea circus he ran at Petticoat Lane. The circus was, of course, all an illusion – tiny motorized amusements to fool kids into thinking they were seeing actual fleas on parade. "But with this place," Hammond says, "I wanted to show them something that wasn't an illusion. Something that was real..." Ellie tries to counter that none of that matters now, and Hammond, not really hearing her, goes on: "Creation is an act of sheer will. Next time it'll be flawless."

"You never had control!" Ellie shoots back "That's the illusion! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. But I made a mistake, too, I didn't have enough respect for that power and it's out now."

In a sense, Spielberg has become the real-life John Hammond, and the Jurassic franchise is his powerful monster that he lost control of. And that power is out now in the world he created, and it's been conjuring up subpar sequels ever since.

I'm a realist. I know that no Jurassic sequel can ever recapture the awe and wonder of that original film. But gosh darn it, if these sequels must exist, do they have to be so stupid? In 2015, Colin Trevorrow revived the franchise with Jurassic World, a film that both served as a sequel and a fresh start. The film was a dinosaur-sized hit, ending up as the fifth highest grossing film of all time. But fans were less-than-thrilled with Trevorrow's film, some going so far as to call it an abomination of sorts.

My own take on Jurassic World was mixed. I don't think it's a good movie, but I didn't loathe it like many of my peers. I looked at Jurassic World as the Jaws 2 of the series. Spielberg's Jaws is pretty much a perfect film – smart, funny, scary, tightly-wound, and well acted to the extreme. It's the best example of what an intelligent blockbuster could be. Jaws 2, in contrast, was a slasher film. It was a big, dumb horror flick where instead of teens being menaced by a zombie in a hockey mask, they were attacked by a shark. Jurassic World followed this slasher mentality: the "slasher" was the Indominus rex, and the humans were the clueless victims. It was stupid, sure, but here's the thing: the film never once seemed like it was trying to be something more. Trevorrow appeared to be embracing the B-movie nature of his script, and that made it all a bit more palatable.

Which brings us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a sequel that is somehow better and worse than its predecessor. What Fallen Kingdom has going for it is J.A. Bayona. Bayona, director of the horror film The Orphanage, took over directing duties from Trevorrow, and what an improvement that is. From the first frame of Fallen Kingdom, it's apparent how much better Bayona is than Trevorrow. The man really knows how to compose a shot, and he makes great use of lighting and shadow – one of Bayona's favorite running gags in this movie is having dinosaurs appear out of the darkness when they're illuminated by a flash of lightning or a burst of flame.

Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom still has Trevorrow's involvement – he wrote the script with Jurassic World co-writer Derek Connolly. So all the script problems Jurassic World had are carried over into Fallen Kingdom. And to add insult to injury, Fallen Kingdom commits the sin that Jurassic World avoided: it becomes a movie that thinks it's smarter and more clever than it really is. Jurassic World was trash that knew it was trash. Fallen Kingdom is trash that thinks it belongs in a museum.

In order for any franchise to grow, it needs to take risks. It needs to cover new ground, and take its story into uncharted territory...while also remembering where it came from. A great recent example of this is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which takes huge risks yet still remains true to the spirit of what Star Wars is. Fallen Kingdom, in contrast, takes a torch to everything that came before it. It's a hearty "fuck you" to anything you liked about the Jurassic franchise as a whole. Trevorrow and Connolly literally want to burn Jurassic Park down and scatter the ashes to the wind. It's not a coincidence that the tagline for this film is "The Park is Gone."

I'm all for change. I'm all for new ideas. But the approach Trevorrow and Connolly take here is downright cruel. I can still recall the wonder I felt watching Spielberg's Jurassic Park on the big screen in 1993. With Fallen Kingdom, Trevorrow and Connolly take that wonder and chuck it into the garbage. It pissed me off to no end, and made me bemoan the fact that Trevorrow will still be involved with Jurassic World 3. Why is he in charge of a franchise he so clearly does not understand? It's baffling and depressing.

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Back To The Island

For all its change, Fallen Kingdom's story is like a greatest hits compilation. The film ticks off boxes, recreating moments from the other films in the series, hoping to trick fans into thinking this is just what they wanted. Remember the still-amazing Brachiosaurus reveal from Jurassic Park? That's recreated here. How about the scene from The Lost World in which our heroes must quickly work on an injured dino? Yep, that's here too. The fake rescue mission plot from Jurassic Park III? Yes, that's also here! A group of evil hunters rounding up helpless dinosaurs like The Lost World? That's here too. Do they use a goat on a stick used to bait the T-Rex, a la Jurassic Park? You bet! Does the T-Rex swoop in and save the day the way she did in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World? She sure does! In fact, Rexy does this twice in this film.

The setup: it's been three years since the disaster at Jurassic World. The dinosaurs have continued to live on the island, but that's about to change really fast. The once-dormant volcano on the island is getting ready to blow, and when it does, it will make the dinosaurs extinct once again.

The government is debating whether or not they should step in and help. They even consult Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who is all in favor of letting the dinosaurs get wiped out again. As Malcolm says, it's best to let nature take its course. Man tampered with nature's domain and created dinosaurs, and now nature is course-correcting.

One person who doesn't ascribe to this line of thinking is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former operations manager of Jurassic World. Claire, who was first introduced to us in the other film as a cold-hearted capitalist who only saw the dinosaurs as a product, has become a full-blown dino rights activist. She wants to save the dinosaurs, and she has a whole team backing her up. Included in that team are Nervous IT Nerd (Justice Smith) and Sassy Veterinarian (Daniella Pineda). These characters have names in the film, but they're so painfully one-note and underdeveloped that it doesn't matter. Who are these people, and why should we care about them? Don't ask me, and definitely don't ask writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, because they have no clue.

Claire gets an offer she can't refuse: Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond's business partner we've somehow never heard of, wants Claire to launch a rescue mission to the island to save the dinosaurs. Lockwood has set up a sanctuary where the dinosaurs can live peacefully, free of humans and fences. The mission is spearheaded by Lockwood's right hand man, Mr. Clearly Evil, played by Rafe Spall. Alright, the character's actual name is Eli Mills, but it's clear from the jump that this guy is up to no good. He lives with Lockwood in Lockwood's big spooky mansion. Also living there is Maisie (Isabella Sermon), Lockwood's beloved granddaughter. We learn that Lockwood's daughter was killed in a car accident, and Maisie is now in his care. This stuff is sort-of interesting, and it's leading towards a big twist that seems mind-blowing at first, and then becomes kind of stupid. Cromwell lends a touch of dignity to the proceedings, and while Spall's character is paper-thin, he does his best.

Mills lays out a not-very-clear plan for Claire, and insists that it's very very important that she locate Blue the raptor. Blue is the last living Velociraptor, raised and trained by Jurassic World's former dinosaur trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). This insistence on locating Blue gives Fallen Kingdom an excuse to get Owen involved with the story, so Claire seeks him out and begs him to come with her. The two became a couple after the events of Jurassic World, despite having zero chemistry together. Needless to say, the relationship ended. But Claire is able to guilt Owen into coming along by appealing to his fond memories of raising Blue from a cute little raptor into a lean, mean killing machine.

Both Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are very likable people. They've also turned in some wonderful performances in the past. Howard's work in the unjustly maligned The Village is phenomenal, and Pratt's roguish charm in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie rightly turned him into a movie star. But here's the thing: these two performers are terrible in these movies. Part of it has to do with how they're written.

Think back to the first Jurassic Park. Remember how every character in that film, even the blood-sucking lawyer who is destined to be eaten on the toilet, was well-constructed? How we knew their motivations, and their personalities, almost from the get-go? We get none of that from the Jurassic World movies. Pratt's Owen is a cipher – according to Wikipedia, he's a Navy veteran, but I honestly couldn't have told you that and I just saw the movie. These films seem to think that Pratt's charm is all they need, but that's not the case here. In fact, I'd argue that these movies sap Pratt of all his charming powers. He just comes across as rude and kind of stupid in these movies. A big, dumb, handsome guy with no real personality.

Howard's Claire is bit more well-drawn – we know her motivations because she's constantly announcing them to us. But this is piss-poor character building – show us who this character is, don't have her constantly reminding us with dialogue.

Worst of all, Howard and Pratt have absolutely no chemistry together. Watching them flirt is like staring into a black hole. It's downright embarrassing at times.

Before you know it, Claire, Owen, IT Nerd and Sassy Veterinarian are on the island, and so is a team lead by Another Clearly Evil Guy, played by Ted Levine. I'll say this for Fallen Kingdom: it doesn't waste much time. Almost immediately after showing up on the island, the volcano goes off and Ted Levine and his team drop their ruse and reveal they're bad guys.

Owen locates Blue, and Levine and company swoop in. They shoot Blue, knockout Owen, and take Sassy Veterinarian hostage so she can tend to Blue's wounds. Meanwhile, Claire and IT Nerd have to fight off some dinosaurs and lava.

It all culminates in a big, cruel action set piece where we get to watch dinosaurs flee in terror as smoke and lava engulfs the island. It's about as fun as it sounds. Owen, Claire and IT Nerd survive as many dinosaurs plummet off the side of a cliff. Ted Levine and his gang of khaki creeps start rounding up dinosaurs, including the T-Rex, to take them off-island. Owen, Claire and IT Nerd stow away on the bad guys boat, and we get to watch the island be completely destroyed.

As an extra fuck you, we're forced to watch the Brachiosaurus – the very first dinosaur we saw clearly in a Jurassic film – go up in flames. This moment sums up my loathing for this film: it doesn't give a shit about the dinosaurs. To Trevorrow, the dinosaurs are either punchlines, dumb monsters, or props to move around.

Spielberg, in sharp contrast, loved his dinosaurs. Spielberg is one of our great humanist filmmakers, and his heart shines through in Jurassic Park. The love he feels for these creatures – even the scary ones – comes through loud and clear. Even The Lost World, the only Jurassic sequel Spielberg directed, feels this way. The Lost World is a mean movie – but it's mean to humans. Spielberg has no problem letting dinosaurs tear human beings apart. But he doesn't want the dinosaurs themselves to suffer.

Trevorrow wants to watch them die. It's infuriating. Or maybe I'm being too sensitive. Maybe you'll get a kick out of seeing a Brachiosaurus moaning in pain and fear as its engulfed in flames. I, however, wasn't in the mood. The park is gone, and so is my enthusiasm for this franchise.

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The Park Is Gone

The second half of Fallen Kingdom morphs into something completely different. It's sort of interesting, and it owes a great deal to John Sayles' absolutely insane (and unused) Jurassic Park IV script. Rather than having the rest of the film set on an island, we're transported into the labyrinthine Lockwood mansion.

There, Eli Mills has assembled a gaggle of the world's richest, most evil people. There's going to be a big dinosaur auction, with the thunder lizards sold off to the highest bidder. To sweeten the deal, the sort-of-evil Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) has created a brand-new scary dinosaur hybrid: the Indoraptor. It's a terrifying creature with laser vision and a nasty attitude. Needless to say, if the Indorraptor turned into the Outdooraptor, we'd all be in a lot of trouble.

As I watched these moments unfold, I felt curiously disconnected. I wanted to like this stuff, and Bayona's direction in his later half of the film is truly stellar. The auction scene is staged to perfection, with the dinosaurs rolled out in backlit cages, their shadows cutting across the wall. But it's hard to reconcile all of this. Because we know where it's going. We know it's only a matter of time before the dinosaurs get out of those cages and start chowing down on these evil businessmen. And we know it's inevitable that the Indoraptor will get free as well, and Owen will have to fight it.

And that's what happens. Owen and Claire show up at the mansion, get captured, escape, and soon the dinosaurs are running free. Somewhere in the midst of all this, Lockwood – who is completely oblivious to all the evil stuff going on in his own house – is smothered to death by Mills. Maisie finds out about this, and tries to flee, at which point she runs right into Owen and Claire.

This sets the stage for the film's big twist: when Eli catches up with Claire, Owen and Maisie, he blurts out that Maisie isn't Lockwood's granddaughter. She is, in fact, a clone of Lockwood's dead daughter. Lockwood used the Jurassic cloning technique to bring his dead daughter back to life – an action that infuriated John Hammond. Hammond was fine with cloning giant killer monsters, but cloning humans is where he drew the line.

This twist should be shocking. But it just sort of lays there, limp. It doesn't help that the twist comes out of left-field, and that we don't really care that much about Maisie. It's not as if she's some beloved character who has been well-established. Had Maisie been a character from the previous film, and we just learned now that she was a clone the entire time, that might be interesting and shocking. Instead, she's revealed to be a clone practically as soon as we meet her. It lacks the punch Trevorrow and Connolly were clearly hoping for.

Owen soon does battle with the Indoraptor, and the Indoraptor is quickly dispatched. R.I.P., Indoraptor. We hardly knew ye. Trevorrow has gone on record saying that the Indoraptor is the last "hybrid" dinosaur for the franchise, and thank heavens for that. I know I keep bringing up Jurassic Park in reference to this film, but that's only fair since this is a direct continuation of that movie. Think back to how Jurassic Park didn't need to invent a whole new hybrid species of dinosaur to be effective. We didn't need a super-soldier dinosaur. We just need a T-Rex, or a raptor, or a triceratops. Throwing these super-dinosaurs at us is lame, and the Indoraptor is particularly ineffective. At least the Indominus rex in Jurassic World had a whole movie to shine. The Indoraptor is only featured for about twenty minutes before it's quickly killed. Who cares?

And what of the other dinosaurs? Why, they're trapped in one room, and about to be gassed to death. Because of course they are! Once again, we're treated to the sight of dinosaurs in terror as a room in Lockwood's mansion fills with gas. Claire considered letting them go. "I can't let them die," she weeps. Owen cautions her against this. "We're not on an island anymore," he says. If she lets the dinosaurs go, they're going to run out into cities and neighborhoods. Claire decides to let the dinosaurs die, and there was a moment when I thought the script from super-sadist Colin Trevorrow was going to let these animals die. But here is where Fallen Kingdom finally does something interesting, with only mere minutes left in the film: Maisie, feeling a kinship with these cloned creatures, lets the dinosaurs go free. Which gives the T-Rex a chance to kill Eli Mills. It also gives us a montage of dinosaurs inheriting the earth.

You know that amazing shot of the Mosasaurus about to eat up some surfers that was featured in all the Fallen Kingdom trailers? That's part of this ending montage. Ditto the moment where the T-Rex roars at a lion in a zoo, and the lion roars back. We return again to Dr. Malcolm, who now says that humans need to learn to live with these free roaming dinosaurs. "These creatures were here before us," he says, "and if we're not careful, they'll be here after us."

If this is setting-up a third film in which dinosaurs have taken over the world and human beings are at the bottom of the food chain, I'll confess I'm intrigued. A post-apocalyptic film with dinosaurs has a ton of potential. But it also doesn't feel like Jurassic Park. It's so far-removed from what made the first Jurassic so special that I wonder what the point even is anymore.

"How many times must the point be made?" Malcolm asks, and I echo that sentiment. Fallen Kingdom takes a few risks, features some stylish visuals from director Bayona, and hands the world over to the dinosaurs. And yet, when all is said and done, I keep coming back to yet another Dr. Ian Malcolm quote. One uttered many years ago: "That is one big pile of shit."