Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2015 we saw Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, groused a little, but ultimately thought:
While the human interactions grow increasingly awkward and superfluous in the final hour, I’d have to be a humorless, eightysomething stick-in-the-mud to rebuke the film’s grandest spectacle, the great big Godzillatastic dino-bashing showdown that so blatantly aims for the kid’s heart in all of us. I have to wonder if it was the first scene they wrote, and then the rest of the screenplay was reverse-engineered purely to make it happen by any plot device necessary. I wish life had found a way for the rest of Jurassic World to match that same giddy zeal, or the heartwarming cleverness of too-brief scenes like the baby triceratops petting zoo or the one touching moment where The Land Before Time meets Where the Red Fern Grows. And it’s a shame the wink-wink self-parody gags are short-lived. On average, though, this stockholder-pleasing sequel is thankfully a bit more fun than flipping through a museum gift shop catalog.
Once again it’s time for a trip to the deadliest theme park known to man, but at least this time they’re not selling tickets to future civilian casualties. With the next chapter Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, Penny Dreadful) revisits the blockbuster-thriller foundation that Steven Spielberg laid down in the original with gusto, succumbs to bouts of sequelitis, but finds ways to make at least a few dinosaurs exciting all over again.
Short version for the unfamiliar: Nasty surprise time: Isla Nublar, site of both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, has a volcano on it that’s just gone from inconspicuous and dormant to live and preparing to explode, threatening to wipe out all that real estate and thousands of lives of merchandisable dinosaurs along with it. The remaining owners of Jurassic Theme Parks and Evil Gene Ops, Inc., need as many dinosaurs retrieved from the island as possible before all those living, breathing, dangerous assets are burnt to cinders. Overseeing the rescue mission is returning hero Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who’s so confident about her performance in the last movie that she doesn’t mind her first shot in this film being a closeup of her high heels. She’s still not a big game hunter, dinosaur shepherd, or big action superstar, so naturally she has to seek assistance from the one man she knows: Star-Lord.
The first trailer already covered most of the results. The volcano erupts, everyone runs and runs, large portions of Isla Nublar are churned and burned, Chris Pratt is all over the place, and everything’s disastrous, but this time it’s not the dinosaurs’ fault. Neither is what happens next in the other half of the movie, when the survivors switch locales altogether to forested California, where men in suits hold court in a fancy mansion and naturally have nefarious plans for the innocent, lethal animal clones they’ve just had flown in. As we previously saw in The Lost World when dinos came to Cali, no good will come of this.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Jeff Goldblum returns for two scenes as Dr. Ian Malcolm, trying to convince Congress and the American people that the dinosaurs should go away and die again for our safety because we’re too stupid or smug to contain them. Fellow Jurassic alumnus B.D. Wong is back as the head cloning scientist, a bit haughtier and more on edge about his cold-blooded creations being “art”. At three Jurassics apiece, Goldblum and Wong are officially the most seasoned veterans of the series to date. Trailing slightly behind them is Blue, Captain Andy Dwyer’s favorite trained CG velociraptor from Jurassic World.
James Cromwell (Star Trek: First Contact) is John Hammond’s old partner Benjamin Lockwood, who’s still legally Jurassic’s owner but too bedridden to oversee day-to-day operations or sinister plots. Mostly he spends the days in his wheelchair, zipping around his gargantuan mansion, caring for his granddaughter Maisie (newcomer Isabella Sermon), and obeying his caregiver (famous daughter Geraldine Chaplin).
Rafe Spall (The Big Short, Life of Pi) is the shifty CEO who’s all smiles and handshakes until it’s time to cash in on that sweet dino market. Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs) is the requisite big-game hunter in charge of keeping the lizards in line and the civilians out of the way. Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger) is a dinosaur auctioneer.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? After her theme park management gig begat some $800 million in post-pteranodon-attack legal settlements, Claire is now an animal rights activist, except she focuses entirely on dinosaurs. The world’s entire dinosaur population appears to be concentrated solely on the one island 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica (the film seems to pretend there never was an Isla Sorna), but she’s made it her life’s mission to see to it that whatever creatures still alive among the trees and wreckage on that single island are treated with utmost dignity and respect, even though that’s no longer her job, we see no evidence that she has the means to hold the owners accountable, and no one asks for her thoughts on their 25-year body count. It’s possible for a non-profit to devote itself to a single island’s wildlife (Galapagos has one), and possible for deadly animals to have fan clubs (show of hands, who’s all in for snake conservation?), but a nonprofit dedicated to the villains from the first four films? Really? And yet, here we are.
Claire even has acolytes in two new characters — I.T. guy Franklin (Justice Smith from Paper Towns), who’s mostly cowardly comic relief; and Dr. Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda from The Originals), a self-proclaimed dinosaur veterinarian who’s never had a patient. Together they stand to ensure that all these formerly extinct animals aren’t mistreated or re-eradicated in justifiable human self-defense.
Their ideals fly right out the window when the film introduces the series’ latest super-dinosaur, the Indoraptor. Someone thought it was an awesome idea to retrieve some cells from Jurassic World‘s homicidal Indominus rex and splice in even more raptor DNA. The result is a preternaturally agile dinosaur stalker smart enough to figure out doors, play tricks on its prey, track scents over long distances and through winding mansions, slice through everything in its path, and — OMG huge spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the trailers or the first four films — escape its cage and go kill-crazy. Obviously the Jurassic series is all about super awesome dinosaur action for the six-year-old dinosaur fan in all of us, but the Indoraptor is the centerpiece of Fallen Kingdom‘s top-notch second hour, expertly crafted by its fictional inventors and by the filmmakers for max thrills.
Nitpicking? If you saw the two trailers, you’ve already seen two-thirds of the film. I’m glad I never saw the final trailer till tonight. A few surprises remain uncovered, but not many. What the heck, Universal?
Having seen most of the volcano apocalypse in advance, for me the film’s first half on Isla Nublar explored no new ground, except to throw slightly more explosions at the dinosaur population while humans run and run and run. A few token gestures for resurrecting Jurassic grandeur don’t quite get there except maybe for the youngest viewers. The Act One climax ends in a would-be tear-jerking moment that begs the audience to remember some of the dinos are innocent herbivores, so won’t someone please think of the dinosaurs? All that’s missing is Sarah McLachlan crooning “I Will Remember You” while riding a triceratops.
Once we leave the island, the giant summer blockbuster movie all about big bad dinosaur action then crams its box-office superstars into tiny boxes for most of the second hour. The dinosaurs, I mean, not the humans. Some tension is wrung from their predicaments (one effective sequence involves performing a medical procedure on a T-rex), but the talky, non-CG humans occupy far more screen time than most kiddie dinosaur lovers would probably prefer.
The series continues to adjust animal speeds and footstep volume up and down to meet the needs of the scenes. Sometimes they’re like elephants; other times they’re like stealthy repto-ninja.
Any viewers hoping for a respite from today’s hostile political environment will have to grit their teeth during Dr. Malcolm’s TV testimony, in which he comments on the climate change debate while the cable-news chyron below his talking head reports that the current American President in the Jurassic Cinematic Universe is a full-on dinosaur denier who thinks they never existed in the first place despite Planet Earth’s voluminous intercontinental fossil record and, I invoke their restless spirits yet again, the casualties of Jurassics I through IV. I know “Our President be soooo dumb…” jokes are guaranteed to receive groundswells of Pavolvian approval nowadays among many a crowd, but they’re already old, they’re far too easy, and they’re not helping.
The film’s ending also sparked a lively debate in our family about the filmmakers’ general stance on animal rights, whether it’s situationally selective or All Animals Matter absolutism. The blatant intent is to pave the road to Jurassic Six, but the (in)actions by the survivors in the closing moments are either despicably immoral toward fellow humans (I do not mean the bad guys) or extremely lethargic because they’re too tired to keep thinking hard and just want to get the movie over with.
So what’s to like? The second half may be light on dinosaur head count, but it’s the best old-fashioned monster movie we’ve seen in theaters in a long time. I’m usually skeptical every time they introduce the latest super-dinosaur, but the Indoraptor is visually sleek, wily, and gifted with any number of expertly composed frames that would make wonderful hangings in a One Perfect Shot gallery. While the humans flail and flee as much as they can, Blue the friendly raptor becomes the secret weapon Our Heroes and the film needed most.
And for what it’s worth, as whatshisname the Dino Whisperer, Chris Pratt is a lot less wooden, a bit more relaxed, and rather more amusing this time around. Part of me wished that he would’ve stopped hogging the screen and stepped aside a little more so Bryce Dallas Howard could’ve charged forward in a few more scenes (eventually she does? kind of?). I never identified with her PETD crusade, but I found myself sufficiently entertained that after a while I stopped paying attention to whether or not she was still wearing high heels.
How about those end credits? To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom end credits, only five seconds long but rife with foreshadowing of the trilogy’s conclusion scheduled for 2021. For those who fled the theater prematurely and really want to know without seeing it a second time…
[insert space for courtesy spoiler alert, in case anyone needs to abandon ship]
…having escaped Lockwood Estate and fled to the open skies, at least one pteranodon makes its way to scenic Las Vegas and takes in the nighttime scenery of lighted fountains and so forth. I couldn’t tell you which fountains because we haven’t been to Vegas yet. And if that pteranodon can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere.