Prove your humanity

It’s only appropriate to start out by saying I’m not a fan of Jurassic World; while enjoyable on first viewing, thinking about it only makes it worse. Watching it again two years later only exposed its flaws with more prominence. It’s visually ugly due to it being incredibly over-lit, and it’s bogged down by poor writing far too often; however, I will admit it’s watchable if you view it on a for-fun-only surface level. I can’t say it isn’t enjoyable.

Despite my relative distaste for the film, it’s the fifth highest grossing film of all time to date, so it was definitely a commercial smash. Jurassic Worldwas directed by indie filmmaker Colin Trevorrow and this sequelwas helmed by acclaimed Spanish filmmaker J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage; The Impossible), whose most recent film—A Monster Calls­—won many awards. I was hoping for the best, but definitely didn’t go in with soaring expectations.

From the opening sequence we are greeted with a mercenary team trying to gain the DNA of the first film’s villainous dinosaur—Indominus Rex. As it’s a Jurassicmovie, things may or may not go to plan. We are then greeted with the film’s central question: should we save the dinosaurs stranded on Isla Nublar, or simply let them die? Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) returns in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, insisting we’ve interfered with natural course enough and the latter should take place.

This goes against the values of Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who, three years after the Jurassic World disaster, is heading up the Dinosaur Protection Group. After the Senate rejects the rescue of the dinosaurs, John Hammond’s former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell)—along with his aide, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall)—plan an expedition to Isla Nublar to save the dinosaurs, as a long-dormant volcano is about to spell doom for them. Joined by a reluctant Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who is no longer with Claire, they venture to Isla Nublar.

This fifth instalment of the franchise, and the second of the new trilogy, really shows that there’s only so much you can do with dinosaurs. The sense of wonder and awe can’t be recaptured so you have to do something fresh. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t have much freshness at all. It’s hard to fully blame Bayona because he’s restricted by Derek Connelly and Colin Trevorrow’s poor script (the pair also co-wrote Jurassic World). Claire is set up as a more likable protagonist than in Jurassic World, but there still isn’t much depth to her character—at least that film gave her an arc and chance to grow even if it wasn’t executed perfectly. It’s hard not to enjoy Chris Pratt’s presence of screen; he’s a naturally charming actor, but Owen Grady is still a thin character; a gifted velociraptor trainer is as far as his character goes. The laziest piece of writing here is the exact rehash of Claire and Owen’s relationship arc; it’s so blatant and uninspired.

Our villains are also rote. Fortunately, there isn’t anything as over-the-top as Vincent D’Onofrio’s heightened villain of Jurassic World, who wanted to militarise raptors. Our main villain—who I won’t reveal—is motivated solely by profits with no interesting subtext. Secondary villains include Toby Jones’s hilariously fake toothed auctioneer and Ted Levine’s overly generic mercenary.

With a disappointing script, Bayona had to step up his game as director. The script and its set pieces cater strongly to his sensibilities with the first half supplying a large disaster film sequence, which he perfected in The Impossible,and the final third catering to his horror sensibilities, which he displayed inThe Orphanage. Thankfully, this film has a stronger visual look than Jurassic World. It isn’t as overly lit and Óscar Faura’s cinematography has a couple of moments to shine. There’s one shot in particular which was more moving and impactful than anything else in this movie by a fair distance. Otherwise, his directing—which normally shines—feels disappointingly executed. The Isla Nublar destruction set piece—aside from that one shot—felt emotionally flat, and the gothic horror flourishes of the final third lacked any real tension, especially considering the location was prime for excellent horror.

Michael Giacchino returns to compose, and his score underwhelmed me. It often aims for a gothic tone, which was understandable; but, disappointingly, it never felt enjoyable or elevated the film.

As stated earlier, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are decent once again. Other performances here are also fine, but you can only do so much with echelons of ham-fisted dialogue. The talented Rafe Spall does his best with a thin character. Young Isabella Sermon, making her film debut, is actually quite decent. Unlike Jake Johnson’s comic relief side character in Jurassic World, Justice Smith’s character didn’t work and, frankly, annoyed me. Just because he’s a nerd, nervous and has a loud scream doesn’t make him funny.

Here our characters don’t learn anything, don’t grow or have compelling character moments and arcs, which means the film has to rely on its action to be compelling. And it isn’t. There’s an interesting central idea of whether or not to let the dinosaurs die, but the script is so eager to rush to the next uninspired set piece that it doesn’t even bother exploring it at all. Some of the best scenes in Jurassic Parkinvolved Ian Malcolm and John Hammond discussing the ethics of bringing dinosaurs back to life. It was thought-provoking and smart. Fallen Kingdomis anything but smart.

I don’t like compulsive nit-picking, but why would you build a theme park where millions would visit next to a volcano? And I’m not saying dumb is automatically bad. Here’s a guy who enjoys the Fast & Furious franchise! That franchise works because it has self-awareness, sincerity and embraces its idiocy. The Jurassic franchise didn’t start out silly at all. It feels like, now, it’s just a bunch of throwaway action set pieces with poor characters. This is such a shame considering J. A. Bayona has shown he can do fantastic work in many genres. There’s glimpses of his talent here, but his directing is brought down to the level of a shoddy script.

I can’t decipher whether this is better than Jurassic Worldor not. Visually it looks better, but I’d argue Worldwas more entertaining. This sequel is a more tedious watch. There’s also a post-credit scene to get everyone excited for the third and final instalment of the trilogy. It sets up something we’ve never seen this franchise do for a whole Jurassic movie before. Despite that, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdomhits Perth cinemas on June 21.