fallen kingdom rex

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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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net