During a sweltering summer, mere temperature readings never quite suffice, right? Yeah, yeah, you say it’s 87˚. But what’s that HUMIDITY, Chet Weatherman? What’s that REAL FEEL outside?
There should be similarly supplemental descriptors for how much time you really give to a summer movie … or at least to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Yeah, yeah, you say it’s 129 minutes. But what’s that TIME DECELERATION INDEX, Nick Rogers? What’s that REAL FEEL on your ass muscles as they numb? Flip the first two numbers and … well, you’re not close at all.
That’s because it feels like we’ve been watching Jurassic Park films for a few hundred hours rather than the (oddly exact) 10 we’ve been given over the last 25 years. Throw in all their imitators and emulators, for good or for ill, and we watch this movie at least five times a year.
Is this too many numbers? Does your head hurt? Sorry, folks. Math is a key component of science and science is a key component of Jurassic Park films — nowadays the formulas by which evil businessmen and scientists splice two killer dinosaurs into one nasty little package, with a portmanteau small enough to fit on a box of fries. Sorry. A Dairy Queen Blizzard cup.
These are the ways that Jurassic World and, now its sequel, have attempted to up the ante. It generally worked in the 2015 film and its runaway success a true surprise: Sure, it had been 14 years since the last film, but again: Hadn’t we gotten umpteen of this sort of thing since? Even more surprising: This was sort of the point of Jurassic World, examining what it might take to truly wow someone in an era of omniscient distraction and digression and asking if reverent wonder in a world of indifference was even possible. (It out-Tomorrowland-ed Tomorrowland.) It also happened to be a damn fine example of dinosaurs eating people, thus straddling the line between unexpectedly quizzical commentary and undeniably slick, quick crowd-pleasing thrills.
To couch it in the lingo of the aforementioned evil dudes in Fallen Kingdom: In that gray area of genetics, sometimes you find art. What we have here is a failure to communicate, titillate, captivate and, while it’s at whatever “it” is exactly, a failure to “ate.” Precious few people are chomped on here. Perhaps this franchise is simply at the stage of breeding where the pedigree starts to fade, you know the pets are going to get debilitating hip dysplasia after a few years and yet you just press on anyway because, goddamnit, you just do not know any better.
Plot? Psssssh. Okay. The events of Jurassic World have led to the abandonment of Isla Nublar, the island home to the amusement park-cum-killing floor. They have also led to a class-action settlement of $800 million. I’m no economist, but the comparison of Wells Fargo screwing people over for money to getting eaten by a goddamn dinosaur seems to warrant more than a 66% markup. It has also caused, as the screenplay says, “the animal rights issue of our time.” Leave the dinosaurs there or give them sanctuary elsewhere? It’s a phenomenally uninteresting question given urgency solely by the volcano conveniently about to erupt on Isla Nublar.
Characters? Double psssssh. Lady Whonow (Bryce Dallas Howard), formerly Jurassic World’s operations manager and presently of still-severe high heels, now heads the Dinosaur Protection Group. Are you down with DPG or DGAF? Politicians have decided the volcano is God’s way of erasing humankind’s hubris. Lady — despite watching dinosaurs eat, crush and fly away with a lot of people — and her sidekicks, Dr. Moxie (Daniella Pineda) and Timid Techie (Justice Smith) see it differently: They deserve a sanctuary not co-sponsored by Jimmy Buffett. But to paraphrase Buffett, they don’t know where the dinos gonna go when the volcano blow.
Enter Dying Gajillionaire (James Cromwell), the heretofore unseen partner of Jurassic World’s long-dead progenitor, John Hammond. Gajillionaire agrees to donate a huge tract of land to Lady’s cause and save the dinosaurs. “They don’t need our protection. They need our absence,” he says. Nice poem, dude, but why did you wait until this VOLCANO ERUPTED? Who knows.
Anyway, they need Lady’s handprint to unlock dormant island computer systems and find the dinosaurs. Even then, Lady learns Blue, the super-smart raptor from Jurassic World, will be hard to track. So she tracks the only human Blue trusts: Her former lover and Blue’s former trainer, Tripp Rapranodon, or whomever it is Chris Pratt is playing here.
He’s in the mountains, building a cabin. Pratt and Howard play this reunion like it’s a scene between Colonel Trautman and John Rambo … with less sexual chemistry. “You should write fortune cookies,” Tripp tells Lady. After mining unexpected depth in their script for Jurassic World, that might be a better follow-up for returning scribes Derek Conolly and Colin Trevorrow — the latter of whom hands over the directorial reins here to J.A. Bayona, whose trajectory from The Orphanage to The Impossible to A Monster Calls and now this is a sad fortune indeed.
Soon enough, Tripp, Lady, Moxie and Techie are back on Isla Nublar for a rescue mission. “It’s so hot,” Techie complains. “ ’Bout to get hotter,” Tripp says staring directly at that volcano and demonstrating that there is, in fact, a ceiling to what Chris Pratt can sell.
The mission, of course, goes south as Gajillionaire’s hired hands are found to be gathering dinosaurs for Nefarious Purposes®. Another symbolic Pratt moment, after Tripp is shot with a tranquilizer: He’s paralyzed after an ill-advised decision to go back to a role in his life best done once. Plus, as if you didn’t know they were evil after 20 minutes of evil activities, one of the baddies calls one of our heroes a nasty woman. We are indeed a long way from “clever girl.”
Much dinosaur running then ensues, via effects that look like your projector’s 3D cap was left on. After some innovatively conceived but indifferently conveyed escapes from both predators and that Dante’s Peak-lookin’ volcano, this foursome must figure out how to set things right.
If you’re Howard, this means making tough faces like Zooey Deschanel on New Girl only for serious. It also means uttering a line about blood transfusion so whiplash stupid that my head could only fall forward into my hands, as if by instinct to keep it from rolling off down my back.
If you’re Pratt, this means pretending you’re Goldberg — either spearing fools like Bill or game-facing your way through family-friendly dino-comedy like Whoopi in that movie where she played a cop and her partner was a T. Rex.
If you’re that brachiosaurus once so majestically introduced in Jurassic Park 25 years ago, that means standing on a dock while humans cry over you before you are consumed by a giant cloud of volcanic ash along with any logic, reason or coherence.
Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum returns as Dr. Ian Malcolm for a pair of congressional testimony scenes illustrative of two points. Fallen Kingdom isn’t wearing its themes on its sleeve. It has them printed on the ass-end of its underwear, which it wears over its pants. It also makes you realize Nicolas Cage must be gazing up at Goldblum from those lowly VOD tax-bill depths and wonder why someone else is getting paid so much more for the same eccentric indifference.
Frittering around the fringes of this foofaraw is the film you suspect Bayona would rather make — that of a curious little girl (Isabella Sermon) discovering big secrets in an even larger house. Bayona already sort of made that movie more than a decade ago with The Orphanage, the sort of thing upon which Hollywood too often gazes and asks: “How can we make this voice as boring as possible?” It’s telling that the villains’ seed money for the second phase of their scheme would seem to total around $44 million — roughly the budget of Bayona’s last film.
Much like the bad guys’ Phase Two, Bayona’s own isn’t going so well. Still, he generates some nice little tics of horror toward the end, like a dinosaur’s tiny talon tapping on the floor like the count-off to a flamenco of fury before the feeding frenzy. He also musters an indelible rooftop image while composer Michael Giacchino’s arms fall off fortississimoing pipe organs and choirs.
However, you will absolutely guess where this other movie is going well before it arrives there — in a scene of exposition so dumb that not even the dinosaurs have time for that bullshit, literally rampaging right through it by way of interruption. It’s one of many reasons that Fallen Kingdom swipes from Jurassic Park III, with the ferocity and strength of that genetically altered talon, the crown for the franchise’s worst film yet.
“Yet” is key. Yes, these eyes have fallen on a truly dim, dumb sequel but I also have a perverse curiosity to lay them on what comes next. Without spoiling anything, the final minutes of Fallen Kingdom promise … well, what we’ve always kind of wanted from a Jurassic Park sequel. A third installment is economically inevitable. Subtitles were already being bandied about in the parking lot. It. Is. Happening. Back to “yet”: The third Jurassic World could be great. It could be terrible. It’s something I can’t wait to see. As for the movie and math that brought us to this point: It’s 40 seconds of greatness with a pitiful 7,700 — a REAL FEEL of infinity — around them.