There’s a lot of tsk-tsking in the fifth Jurassic movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, about the bad guys wanting to “weaponize” the dinos, both the original flavor and the new-formula extra-crispy. As it happens, weaponizing the dinos is exactly what the filmmakers do. The fun — such as it is — comes from watching dinosaurs chomp down on overweening bad guys who have insufficient reverence for Nature. That’ll teach them, at least until the sixth Jurassic movie.
Is Fallen Kingdom a good ride? It’s okay. The plot is a little more convoluted, with numerous human villains and less family-unfriendly blood — the exception being a transfusion performed on Blue, the semi-domesticated velociraptor, which is designed to warm your heart. It’s easy to spot the good guys (Chris Pratt with muscles, Bryce Dallas Howard in slightly more sensible shoes, a hot nerdy young woman, a whiny-hysteric nerdy young guy, and an otherworldly little girl) because they’re Friends of the Animal Kingdom. Howard’s Claire even runs a foundation committed to saving the reconstituted dinos — now threatened with their very own extinction by a volcano — from those who think reconstituting them in the first place was a mistake on par with splitting the atom. In the anti-dino camp is, surprisingly, Jeff Goldblum, who pops in to lecture a congressional committee — and, by extension, us — on how technological advancement precedes our capacity to use it responsibly. I agree! Filmmakers perfected CGI long before they knew how to tell decent stories with it. Here as elsewhere they just throw stuff at you, willy-nilly.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is set three years after Jurassic World. The park is obviously closed, and a newscaster informs us that its owners had to pay out $800 million in lawsuits — which seems kind of low to me. That’s, like, a good year for Bill O’Reilly. Spoiler: Howard’s Claire and Pratt’s Owen couldn’t make a go of it yet again. He wanted the chores and fresh air, she wanted the stores and Times Square. You know the story. But now she trudges out to where he’s hammering nails and asks him to help her get the dinos off the island, thanks to funding from dino-cloning pioneer James Cromwell and his aide, Rafe Spall, whom I never seem to recognize. (Fun fact: Cromwell is fresh out of jail for demonstrating against numerous eco-scumbags and the so-called EPA.) What Claire and Owen don’t know is that profiteers are busy gene-splicing together another whatever-o-saurus even smarter and meaner than the whatever-o-saurus from the last movie.
Apart from showing off their CGI virtuosity, Jurassic filmmakers (the director of this one is J.A. Bayona) specialize in ever more hair’s breadth escapes. One site tells me that the width of a hair (the European variety, as opposed to thicker Asian or Trump hair) is 0.04 to 0.6 mm, but I think Bayona has got it down to 0.02 or even 0.01. Snapping allosaurus teeth get about 0.01 mm from the foot of the babbling systems analyst, Franklin (Justice Smith), as he scampers up a ladder that keeps sliding down while lava dribbles all around him. Boiling lava comes within 0.009 mm of Pratt as he struggles to get his body working after the bad guys dart him. The little girl, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), makes two — perhaps three, I lost count — escapes in a dumbwaiter ahead of villains human and reptile. (She overhears the villains’ plans and what Maisie knows could fill a book.)
The fact that I lost count of Maisie’s escapes is part of the movie’s problem. The first time she gets away is suspenseful, the second only a little less so. By the third time you’re thinking, “Didn’t I just see this?” By the fourth, you’re aware that the plot is chasing its tail. (In the last part of the movie, we’re marooned in what seems like a haunted mansion.) It might not matter if Bayona and his storyboarders had more wit. They’re certainly trying to be witty — to create cascading, Rube Goldberg–esque catastrophes. But the movie plays like a strenuous imitation of Steven Spielberg instead of the real deal. Spielberg could offhandedly show you an approaching T-Rex in a side mirror over the warning “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear” or brilliantly prolong a shot of Julianne Moore on the windshield of a vertical, dangling bus as the windshield slowly spider-cracks beneath her and make you laugh even as you’re screaming. Here you register the cleverness without really losing your shit.
I liked a couple bits with Ted Levine as a sleazy commando (he says of Claire, “What a nasty woman!”) and Daniella Pineda as the hot nerdy dino-doc. (Note that Pineda’s character is ever brave and defiant while the get-me-outta-here whiner is a guy — but a reverse stereotype is still a stereotype.) And I heartily approve of the depiction of unscrupulous capitalists eager to part unscrupulous oligarchs from their money regardless of the consequences for the planet.
But the consequences for movies concern me, too. I’m guessing in ten years, when we’re immersed in virtual reality, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will look very old-fashioned. But this is more or less a blueprint for franchise amusement-park movies to come. As Jeff Goldblum said in another context, “Be very afraid.”