Synopsis: When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event. (From IMDb)
Possible Mild Spoilers
Review: I remember the first time I saw Jurassic Park. It was shortly after my tenth birthday and my mom rented a beat up VHS copy from the library. Once the film started, we realized that mom had rented the version for people with low vision. Having a narrator intone “the dinosaurs have no eaten Nedry” took some of the magic out of the viewing experience. On the other hand, I will never forget the film. All in all, I loved Jurassic Park. Few other films spawned such iconic sequences like the “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” scene so perfectly parodied in Toy Story 2. Twenty-five years on, the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park still look hyper realistic and showcase the CGI brilliance of Steven Spielberg. Like most sequels, Jurassic Park II & III lacked the magic of the first one and are mostly forgettable. Then Jurassic World debuted in 2015 and breathed some new life into the franchise.
Directed by J.A. Bayona, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom serves as a direct sequel to Jurassic World. This film sees Claire Dearing (Bruse Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) return to Isla Nublar to save the remaining dinosaurs from extinction due to an active volcanic eruption. During their journey, they uncover a huge conspiracy plot that threatens the entire human race. Since the events of Jurassic World, Claire and Owen broke up, though the reason why is never stated. Claire starts and runs a dinosaur-rights non-profit lobbyist firm with the intention of getting the US Federal Government to pay for an expedition back to Isla Nublar to save the dinosaurs. She does not find a lot of sympathy from the Senators and Congressmen/women. Swashbuckling animal-behavior specialist Owen went off the grid and spends his time building a cabin on a lake in a non-specified location. Ron Swanson would be proud.
Claire finds an ally in Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the manager of Benjamin Lockwood’s fortune and business ventures. Mills flies Claire to Lockwood’s Northern California Mansion, shows her a diorama of a new dinosaur habitat on an unspecified island owned by Lockwood, and promises to fly her out to Isla Nublar to save whatever animals she can corral. After emotionally shaming Owen into joining her, Claire also brings along paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and computer super genius Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), the younger, nerdier comedic relief. Once they land on the island, everything falls apart and the main plot of the film begins to unfold.
Two questions underlie the main narrative of all the Jurassic films: what are the ethical limits of human tampering with nature and what obligations do we owe to reanimated, formerly extinctic creatures? In this film the moral and ethical consciousness comes from Dr. Ian Malcolm-a cameo appearance from Jeff Goldblum-when he speaks at a Senate hearing that bookends the movie. Other than two scenes, which criminally underutilize the brilliance of Jeff Goldblum-the narrative only skates over the ethics of saving deadly animals with no natural predators. This lack of ethical and moral discussion hollows out the main message of the film.
Perhaps the worst part of the narrative is that Claire and Owen seem like completely different characters from the ones depicted in the first Jurassic Park. Anyone who brings an itinerary on a first date will also ask some probing questions before embarking on a potentially life threatening expedition. Yet Claire takes everything Eli Mills’ promises at face value and never asks the next question, such as, “how will we get the dinosaurs off the island?” Then she comes to the island with no protection, no firearms, and a passive aggressive Owen. Regardless of your positions on firearms, if you were going to an island populated by giant, deadly dinosaurs, you would want a gun of some kind.
Owen, on the other hand, seems to have become a generic action man cliché. He raised Blue from birth yet seems completely fine with her dying a fiery death. Claire and Owen still play off of each other quite well but the quick thinking witticisms in the first film is missing from their dialogue in this one. Regardless, Owen is still the type of person I would want to take with me on a suicide mission to an exploding volcano. Franklin and Owen have the best scenes together since they are complete opposites. Where Owen is an action man who is prepared for every occurrence, Franklin is more comfortable behind a computer screen than interacting with nature. Paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez does not need a man, can save herself, suffers no fools, and knows how to do a blood transfusion under traumatic circumstances.
As a villain. Rafe Spall does an adequate job making Eli Mills come across as a corrupted idealist. Really all of the characters play second fiddle to the dinosaurs. And J.A. Bayona pulls no punches with his vision of Jurassic animals run amok. Bayona mainly does horror films and brings this element to Fallen Kingdom. Of all the Jurassic films, this is the only one that truly delves into the monster aspect of dinosaurs. The cinematography focuses on dark, moody colors that emphasize shadows and illusion. When a dinosaur pops around the corner, it is quite frightening. Moving the action from an isolated island to a gothic mansion in Northern California makes the action sequences tighter and the stakes higher. What would happen if dinosaurs escaped into urban America? A true Jurassic World would occur. You do not have to wait long since Jurassic World III will explore this very occurrence. Overall, this film is a solid addition to the Jurassic franchise, if slightly less intellectual than the first Jurassic World. Also, B.D. Wong needs more screen time. His character ends each film rushing out of the lab carrying eggs and DNA samples. As the only character to appear in all the Jurassic films, it is time for him to get a bigger on-screen narrative arc.