There is, of course, an acceptable level of dumbness for a movie about genetically engineered dinosaurs escaping an island. We want to see the dinosaurs stalk people around conference rooms and bellow, and maybe tear a scared accountant or lawyer limb from limb at some point. It’s more amusement park ride than movie, which is probably why I saw the original in the theater three times. (“That was great, I wanna go again!”)
Point is, we understand the format and we’re willing to accept a lot of narrative corner-cutting in the service of getting some smarmy functionary into a room with a T-Rex to have his face ripped off. For most of its running time, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom pushes right up against that limit, and it works, even when you sort of expect it not to. The entire plot, for instance, is that Isla Nublar, the island off the coast of Costa Rica now overrun by dinosaurs and the setting for 2015’s Jurassic World, is being threatened by a volcanic eruption. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire now belongs to a group trying to get the government to evacuate the dinosaurs from said island.
Already, this is a lot to swallow. The killer dinosaurs that ate the tourists? They want to save them? Yes, that is correct. And Claire does her best to sell it. “Would you really want your children to grow up without dinosaurs?” she asks a congresswoman.
Didn’t… she grow up without dinosaurs? And even if this volcanic eruption were to wipe out all these de-extincted dinosaurs and make them extinct once again, couldn’t we just, you know, clone them back to life like we did the first time?
I understand that there sort needs to be an island and a way for the dinosaurs to go nuts again, but it’s not like we’re asking they change this entire movie around. It’d just be nice if we had one or two lines of dialogue to address these obvious logic problems. Fallen Kingdom (directed by A Monster Calls director JA Bayona and scripted by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow) doesn’t, and, at first at least, it knows we love dinosaurs juuuust enough to accept it. It seems like it won’t work, and then a dinosaur eats someone and all is right with the world again.
The government (wisely, probably) won’t listen to Claire and her pals about saving the dinosaurs, but rich guy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) — an old partner of original Jurassic Park creator John Hammond, we learn in an expository speech so fast that I later had to look this up on a Wiki site — has agreed to finance an expedition to the volcano-threatened island to save the dinosaurs, and take them to a different island sanctuary, where he says they’ll be able to roam, free of human interference and tourists without eating lawyers, and become cage free, pasture-raised Whole Foods dinosaurs or whatever (unfortunately they are not non-GMO).
To achieve this, Claire naturally has to re-recruit raptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to capture his old pet, Blue, the semi-tame ‘raptor. They also bring along paleo-veterinarian Zia (Danielle Pineda) to treat the sick dinos and nerdy-nerd tech IT guy hacker Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) to tap on keyboards and shout things like “Okay, I’m in!” (Yes, the hacker guy actually shouts “I’m in!” in one scene).
“Fine,” you think, “It seems like there are many problems with this plan and many different, less dangerous ways to achieve what these characters want, and this is definitely not how volcanos work, but as long as they make with the dinos chomping soon I will just eat my popcorn and shut up.”
This is, after all, a franchise about mankind’s hubris, so maybe it’s okay that the characters all seem so brash and shortsighted? Then a bad guy shows up, and with almost no foreplay whatsoever he starts trying to kill people. Still, you accept it, because there are some legitimately cool underwater stunts and a couple (not enough) of scenes of jerks being brutally devoured. It’s not especially a movie, but it feels like a decent roller coaster ride to go on with the kiddies.
And yet still, they keep upping the dumbness quotient long after we’ve already bought in. There are so many times in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that everything would’ve been just fine if only they would’ve quit while they were ahead. Like, we know full well that this is Universal’s shot at a big franchise to compete with the likes of Star Wars and Marvel, and since it’s already a functioning franchise (Jurassic World being the fifth-highest grossing movie of all-time, worldwide) and we generally like watching dinosaurs eat people, all they really need to do to maintain it is to not constantly remind us that it’s a business proposition. But Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, like a lot of movies these days, doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between a pitch to investors and a movie for viewers. And so, near the end, a character all but pushes a giant glowing red button that says “SEQUEL.”
It’s a kid character with a big backstory (Maisie Lockwood, Ben’s granddaughter), and at least she isn’t that kid with the terrible hair from the last movie, and that’s about all we need in order to buy in. And yet…
We know that the movie is essentially a teaser for future movies. We know the characters are going to go to the dinosaur island even though it’s a terrible idea. We accept these things because we want to go on this ride and all we ask in return is for the thinnest smoke screen of plausibility. A few lines of dialogue here, a little closure there. After all, we accepted in order to enjoy Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, all we ask for in return is a real ending.
Instead, we get a blatant advertisement for future Jurassic World movies, like getting to the end of the scavenger hunt and having the secret message read “DRINK YOUR OVALTINE.”
It feels like a betrayal. If mankind’s sin is hubris, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom‘s sin is insecurity. Trust your audience. Just a little. We’ve already bought in. You don’t need to keep selling.