REVIEW: Jurassic World: Lost Kingdom…uh…sigh…

Well…there were dinosaurs.

But after four movies already, plus an assortment of King Kong films over the years (which are obligated to feature a T-Rex), not to mention a handful of Godzilla movies, is it really a novelty anymore?

When the first Jurassic Park premiered (we just looked back on it, by the way!) it was right in the sweet spot era of computer-generated effects. Things would only get more realistic of course, but things had progressed enough to be realistic enough to look…well, real, for the first time. And sure, Jurassic Park uses every trick in the book to bring their dinosaurs to life, but CGI played a big part in it and helped make a movie whose effects still hold up today.

Twenty-five years later there simply is no novelty anymore. It’s old hat. You show me a dinosaur on the screen and it’s just another cool effect. That’s jaded and cynical, sure, but…well, there it is. In order for this series to succeed in the 21st century it needed to rethink things; you can’t keep going back to the island and having crazy things go wrong. That idea was worn out as early as The Lost World in 1997.

When Jurassic World premiered a few years ago, it did so with a huge wellspring of hype. It dropped right in the sweet spot of the nostalgia age, where ticket-buyers were eager to return to the movies of their youth, no matter how derivative they might be.

And boy was Jurassic World derivative.

Was it fun? Sure. Was it stupid? You bet. But was it fun? I already said it was.

When we reviewed it, we gave it a solid 8/10. I stand by that rating, despite how the movie has certainly not aged well over the past three years. As I watched the sequel I remembered some points I made then and how they were still relevant in the follow-up.

For example, about the first Jurassic World, I said this:

I had hoped that the explanation/exposition-heavy dialogue would be contained to the trailers. But nope, that’s 90% of the dialogue in the movie too.

The original movie had exposition as well, but of course that film was fresh and original and intriguing. People wanted to know what was going on, and Spielberg paced the movie so that the explanations were punctuated by some great character moments that managed to feed into the plot: Dr. Malcom would hit a zinger that would reinforce the “man messing with nature” theme, John Hammond would have a great line that showed how obtuse he was while trying to play god. Those lines moved the story forward. The exposition in this film just moved in circles and stalled the movie.

So my biggest knock on the film may be something that you don’t mind; not everyone cares about dialogue when they go to an event film. If that’s you then you’re going to love this movie, because for me the biggest knock against it was the unnecessary cheese. All of the necessary cheese was done brilliantly, and when the characters stopped talking and started running the film soared. The thrills, moments of horror, exciting action scenes all worked just as they should. But when the characters stopped to “reflect” or to “discuss” or to “ramble on about the meaning” or “the plan,” that’s then things started to falter.

And also this, which I think is the most important take-away from the first Jurassic World movie…

This movie is secretly a satire on the state of Hollywood Franchises.

No one comes out and derides the “bigger and more everything” premise behind the plot, so either it was a subtle message from the director or I’m just crazy. But the entire idea behind Jurassic Wold, the in-movie theme park, is that the attractions have to get bigger and bigger to the point of ridiculousness. At one point it is stated that crowds are no longer “wowed” by dinosaurs, in a line I couldn’t decide if it was directed at the fictional ticket-buyers in the movie, or real ticket-buyers to the movies. The idea that people would get bored of dinosaurs seems outlandish until you consider the diminishing box office returns of the original Jurassic Park trilogy. The first one grossed over a billion dollars (pushed passed a billion through re-releases), the sequel brought in over 600mm and the third one did half of that, with 360mm.

Both of the original sequels tried to up the ante, but missed what worked: The Lost World brought a T-Rex to San Francisco, to terrorize a huge populace, because the studio thought bringing the action closer to home would resonate more. JP3 introduced a dinosaur (Spinosaurus) more ferocious than Rex because the studio execs thought the old was out of style. The violence ramped up again and again, as did the body count, but along the way the audience lost interest. So for fifteen years the franchise sat dormant. Now it’s back and the original sequels have been de-canonized in order to bring us a movie with more people to be terrorized, a dinosaur more ferocious than the T-Rex, more violence, more horror, and more death, all because the fictional “corporate” big wigs behind the theme park are worried about the audience losing interest.

This isn’t a Jurassic Park movie. This is a movie about the Jurassic Park movies.

Even the charismatic foreign tycoon funding the whole thing is a parody of the generic hollywood exec, so sure of his own genius when it’s the guys doing the dirty work that deserve the credit. This guy gets a hilarious moment late in the film when he approaches his personal helicopter, intending to fly it over the park in order to shoot down the antagonizing dinosaur villain of the picture. As he gets to the chopper, a worker shouts at him “Isn’t there anyone else who can fly that?” And then he turns around, as dramatic music swells, and the camera zooms in, and he replies “We don’t need anyone else.”

I laughed out loud, but I don’t know if it was supposed to be a parody or if that was supposed to be a serious, dramatic moment. Surely not, because five minutes later that chopper was going down in flames.

Throughout the movie, the scientists, park promoters, etc, all kept talking up the Indominus Rex (“Indominus” from the Latin meaning “unable to be dominated” or “unable to be trained”) as this Dino that was “so way cooler than the T-Rex, for reals.” They spent a lot of time trying to convince you of that too, even starting the “oh crap it’s loose” story a lot earlier than I thought they would, just to have more time to establish the terror this I-Rex can cause.  But in the end, who stands tall? Who has the last word roar? Whose face is on the logo? In fact the whole movie was a love letter to the T-Rex and the Raptor, the unquestioned stars of the first film. Like Hollywood, it was obsessed with rebooting, restarting, reimagining, but in the end it always goes back to the old favorite, because that’s where the emotional connection lies.

Now looking back on the first World movie, I don’t know for sure if writer/director Colin Trevorrow was trying to make a film that was actually about dumb Hollywood reboots, but if he wasn’t then he’s a hack. If he was…he’s Ed Wood? Is that better?

All I know is when I sat down for the sequel I wondered if they would try and do another secret satire. Now that I’ve seen it…no, they did not. Jurassic World 2 is somehow two half-baked movies shoved together. It’s the beginning of a by the book Jurassic World sequel, one that goes back to the island but with more stakes, more action, more blah blah blah. And then, following ten minutes of mind-numbing exposition, it’s the second half of a different Jurassic World sequel, one that would have been about something new, something that would have moved the franchise forward, away from the island and to a true “world” setting.

But instead of taking those two ideas and making two fully-fleshed out movies, writer Trevorrow took the first half of the first idea and the second half of the second idea and stitched them together, much the way the mad scientists in the movie keep trying to stitch together new dinosaurs from existing parts OH CRAP IT IS A SATIRE! IT’S A SPOOF OF THE PREVIOUS MOVIE’S OWN INANE PLOT!


6/10 – It’s not great, though. The writing is bad, the acting wooden. The action only occasionally thrilling, and the emotional beats completely devoid of emotional resonance.

I expected nothing and I’m still let down.

(It’ll make a billion dollars)


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