“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”: an apt title?

“Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom,” the fifth movie in the “Jurassic” franchise to date, is an utterly unnecessary sequel that has little-to-no reason to exist.  While it’s not nearly as  bald-faced or useless as, say, “Independence Day: Resurgence,” it only becomes truly interesting right at the finish line.

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Director Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Orphanage”) does a decent enough job juggling actors with visual effects, and I appreciated his extensive use of animatronics (the large sedated T-Rex is particularly impressive), but there is just not enough newness to justify this sequel.  It’s mainly a rejiggering of familiar elements from the previous “Jurassic” movies.

**** DINOSAUR-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD ****

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Both Chris Pratt (“Owen Grady”) and Bryce Dallas Howard (“Claire Dearing”) return from the previous film (2015’s “Jurassic World”) as does Jurassic veteran Jeff Goldblum as  “Ian Malcolm.”  Their characters are essentially back to square one.  Other than Claire going from soulless corporate suit to dino-rights activist, the pair are nearly exactly where they were at the start of “Jurassic World”, and I found that disappointing.

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Are these two characters just going to be ‘emergency lovers’ from now on?  Maybe they could’ve been married and divorced with a kid by now; at least that would’ve been something resembling actual development in their relationship.  But as they are, this could’ve easily been the first time we’ve ever seen them.   Even Grady’s history with beloved velociraptor “Blue” is generously explained to newcomers via video footage.

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Two new characters are added as allies.  First up is the utterly uncool, life experience-challenged tech-head “Franklin Webb” (scene stealer Justice Smith) and ‘paleo-veterinarian’ and fellow activist “Zia Rodriguez” (Daniella Peneda).

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Both characters do have roles to play, yet they’re fairly underdeveloped as well.   They’re primarily there for comic relief and just fixing things (either for hacking/patching electrical stuff, or tending to dino wounds).  Of the two, Franklin was the more memorable of these underdeveloped sidekicks.

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From the press of the movie (especially the trailers) I also expected Goldblum to play a much greater role in the overall action, but his appearances in the movie amount to about four minutes of screen-time and a bit of closing narration.   To say that Ian Malcolm’s ballyhooed return to the franchise is a cheat would be a brachiosaur-sized understatement.   Goldblum’s role reminds me of Charlton Heston’s bookending appearances in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970), though at least Heston’s role in that film was a lot more significant than talking-head Goldblum is in this film.

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The story, for whatever it’s worth, is essentially a rejiggering of elements from the previous movies, as the Owen, Claire, Franklin and Zia arrive at the abandoned, gone-to-seed Jurassic Park (a metaphor for the franchise?) on the fictional island of Isla Nublar (off the Costa Rican coast) to try to save as many dinosaur species as possible from an extinction-level volcano on the island.   Lava flow activity in this movie is pretty silly; the only laws of physics or thermodynamics it seems to obey are whatever the script requires.  Any relation to actual lava flow is strictly coincidental.

Moving on…

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Once there, the group meets with the evil mercenary “Ken Wheatley,” played by no less than “Silence of the Lambs”’ own “Jame Gumb” (Ted Levine).  For this obvious foreshadow-casting alone, the movie deserves a groan.  Then again, this is a sequel with a fairly dry tank when it comes to surprises.   With his squinty gaze, leathery skin and strangled voice, he practically broadcasts untrustworthiness.   His referring to Zia as a “nasty woman” only reinforces his function as a complete and total dick.

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Turns out Wheatley is under orders to take these ‘saved’ creatures on a giant military transport ship back to the almost laughably gothic mainland American mansion of “Benjamin Lockwood” (James Cromwell).  Lockwood lives in relative seclusion with his little ‘granddaughter’ “Maisie” (more on her in a bit) and their caretaker “Iris” (Geraldine Chaplin, from the classic 1965 epic “Doctor Zhivago”).

Lockwood is the elderly, dying, filthy-rich partner of the late John Hammond, the Walt Disneyesque founder of Jurassic Park.   Lockwood is little more than a stand-in for the Hammond character, and it feels like it, too.   He even has Hammond’s trapped-in-amber mosquito topped cane.   The casting of Cromwell in lieu of the late Richard Attenborough reminds me of one of those old sitcoms where an actor wouldn’t return due to a contract dispute, and we’d be introduced to the character’s lookalike cousin or kid sister the following season.

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Lockwood is completely unaware that his greedy, would-be estate executor “Elli Mills” (Rafe Spall) is conspiring with former Jurassic Park geneticist-turned-mad scientist “Dr. Wu” (played with absolutely zero subtlety by a returning BD Wong) to both sell and create new dinosaurs for high bidding, deep-pocketed scumbag clients.

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^ BD Wong returns as the now fiendishly cliched Dr. Wu.  If he had a mustache, he’d be twirling it, I’m sure…

This whole ‘surprise’ angle is little more than a rehash of the main plot from “Jurassic Park 2,” which saw Ian Malcolm, his daughter and his girlfriend returning to Isla Nublar only to find themselves betrayed by greedy big game hunters and zookeepers who similarly sought to exploit the dinosaurs.   This time the betrayed are Owen, Claire, Lockwood, et al.

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^ The increasingly blurring line between ripoff and homage…

It seems the Jurassic franchise only has a handful of stories to tell; two of which are people in danger at the park, or people seeking to exploit the animals from it.  In JP2, the dinosaurs were threatened by game hunters and zookeepers.  JP3 went back to the previous formula of threatening human visitors to the park.   JW saw the military with its eye on weaponizing the dinosaurs.  Now in JWFK, the creatures threatened by rich dangerous capitalist exploiters of any and all kinds (including a shady-looking Russian oligarch and big pharma reps; two current big bads in our headlines today).   This exploitative angle in the “Jurassic” movies has become downright generic.

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^ Send in the clones? 

One interesting (if unsurprising) story twist that is given far too little screen time is the revelation that Lockwood’s ‘granddaughter’ Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is actually a clone of his dead daughter that he resurrected using Jurassic Park technology.  The idea of perfectly cloning humans using that now uncorked genie of cloning is something that the franchise should’ve touched on long ago, and it’s nice to see it finally arrive.  But the idea is essentially buried, only to be used later as a quick bit of character motivation in a critical scene.

In a world that has genetically resurrected dinosaurs, could perfect human clones have been that far behind?  I doubt it.   In fact, I could imagine the mega-rich making clones of themselves (for whatever reasons) far more easily than using such technology to make dinosaurs for theme parks.

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The movie does raise another interesting question; what would happen if the dinosaurs were unleashed into our world unchecked?   It’s another idea that’s given far too little exploration in favor of a largely recycled story.  What would such a ‘Jurassic world’ look like with regular dinosaur attacks?

^ “Jurassic Park 2” gave a whole new meaning to ‘catching a bus.’ 

We got a taste of such chaos with the T-Rex on the loose in JP2, but what would happen if a wide variety of such creatures were on the loose?  T-Rex alerts?  Brachiosaur seismograph warnings?  Pteranodon-proof roofing?   We get only tantalizing glimpses of such a world, and if you stay after the credits, there is a money shot of flying pteranodons reaching deep into the United States.   I only wish that the movie opened with this premise.

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That JWFK is making so much money (almost $800 million worldwide as of this writing) means that we’ll either see such ideas fully explored or we’ll just get more of the same.  I’m really hoping for the former.  If a future sequel fails to advance the ideas seeded in JWFK, then I’d say the franchise is creatively dry on fossil fuel.

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My thoughts on the original “Jurassic Park” and its three other sequels here: “Jurassic Park” (1993) loses none of its bite 25 years later.

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