NEW SERIES! I mentioned a long time back that I wanted to do movie reviews where I took critically panned films and found the good in them. Not necessarily a SUPER panned film, but it’s current, so I figured this is a good place to start:
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the latest entry in the much-adored dino-go-smashy-bitey series, is currently leaving fans and critics alike yearning for the mystique and wonder felt by the original trilogy of movies. Honestly, I agree: The movie was very much a missable entry in the series and I hope if they plan to continue they do some serious work building this thing up from its bare bones.
But say you’re going to see this movie soon, with a date or a friend. What can you look forward to? What redeeming factors might exist amongst the muck? Well, like the paleontologists these movies used to actually involve, let’s dig our way through the rock of shallow characters and tonal shifts to find some nuggets of good that were obviously just put there by satan to fool non-believers (science is cool).
The best way to do so is to take a step back and look at the ravenous, all-devouring beasts that these movies are centered around. No, no, I don’t mean old, white businessmen, I’m talking about dinosaurs. Big, chompy, roaring, piles-of-poop-making dinosaurs. There is nothing quite like the first time, as a kid, seeing that T-Rex stomp his way out of his enclosure, all covered in rain and ready to munch on some human.
“Man,” she thinks as he steps over the tangled remains of her once oppressive enclosure, “I would absolutely KILL for some young, aspiring paleontologist right now. Just like mom used to make too, served up in a 1992 Ford Explorer XLT with a heaping side of computer hacker. That would hit the spot, dude.” T-Rex turns to her right and catches a glimpse of a welcome surprise. “Ho-lee shit… Rex, you lucky sonuvabitch, it’s all uphill from here!”
That moment was awe-inspiring, especially as a kid. Seeing this lumbering deadly beast from my books and toys come to life right in front of me. And that’s the POINT of these movies. We may not have the technology to bring dinosaurs back for real (and if you’ve actually paid attention to these films, we probably should just focus our scientific efforts somewhere else), and yet we DO have the ability to bring them to life on screen. The dinosaurs are the action, they are the fun, they are the magic of these movies. It’s the dinosaur moments that make Jurassic Park/World movies legendary.
So what about Fallen Kingdom? Well, it definitely has its weak dino moments, for sure. [Quick warning, this first point actually almost made Tee and I leave the theater and is probably the biggest issue I have with the entire film] The movie has a handful of moments wherein the audience has to watch these creatures suffer, often accompanied by screeching howls as they experience a slow, painful death. It’s like the injured baby T-Rex from the Lost World except with little more purpose than to drum up emotion and
with considerably less Vince Vaughn without the redemption of someone swooping in to save them. Overall, it’s pretty damn excessive and quickly underscores a lot of the decent dino moments. In addition to this, like its predecessor in the World trilogy (Quadrilogy? Heptalogy? As long as that money flows, who can really tell?) this movie just has to have a villain dino, something I harped on as the major weakness of the World series versus the Park series. The villain in this particular entry is rather shoehorned into the whole thing and relies incredibly heavily on tension built by the I-Rex in the first movie, being given very little time to earn its bones as a spooky, scary dino before it escapes and does what escaped dinosaurs do: passionately stalk the main child character. However, this dastardly dino DOES have some cool moments and decent chomps, and you will find yourself rooting for it at points. In addition, the filmmakers do work toward developing it as incredibly smart and constantly learning, but its actual screen time is just far too short to really get too deep into these qualities.
I know it seems like I’m torpedoing my own argument here, but despite these weaknesses, the dino action is the one thing this film nails pretty hard. The dinosaurs themselves look gorgeous, rich with all the detail and primal ferocity we’ve come to love. Though a large majority of the dinosaurs exist specifically in the myriad of stampede scenes found in the film, the moments of dino fighting or simply lumbering around are incredibly well done. From the slow building womance between the T-Rex and the Carnotaurus to the return of the Compys, which spend a lot of time in the background, presumably making jokes like the little brown aliens in Men in Black, the dinosaurs have a lot more personality in this movie compared to many of the previous films, which often tried to add in personality but never really got there. The filmmakers here have definitely poured themselves into making these animals feel real and alive and not just additional set pieces, and it just generally works.
None of this is more prevalent than in the velociraptor known as Blue, which is the one thing that single-clawedly drags this movie out of the depths. The development of Blue incredible. We watch as she struggles with abandonment and trust issues and learns to once again be the heroic badass that saved the day in the previous movie. This dino expresses love and compassion. It communicates with Owen and the others, saying an amazing amount with just its eyes and body language. Given more time, this creature could have been on par with the creature from Shape of Water in the category of most expressive non-human, non-speaking character. That’s the beauty of what they’ve accomplished with this film: The dinosaurs have transcended beyond plot points and set pieces to actual characters with their own behaviors, personalities and motivations. All of this is thematically brilliant, considering one of the main protagonists, Owen, is an Animal Behaviorist, meaning he would be more attuned to subtleties in a creature’s personality and body language. It’s fitting then that these films are when we as an audience also begin to see those elements of unique personality.
In the end, Fallen Kingdom is great movie for those who absolutely love dinosaurs doing what they do best. If you like things getting stomped on or bad guys getting chomped, this movie is going to thrill you. In addition, if you’re an animal person and know what it’s like to watch your pets develop their own unique personalities, this movie will hit you square in the feels plenty of times, for better or worse. I found myself chuckling at and cheering for the actions of the dinosaurs far more often than anything the people did. It was just classic, enjoyable dinosaur antics, and I loved it to the last drop.
One quick note: even though his character was a smidge cliche, I REALLY need Rafe Spall to play more villains. Please please.