Sunday, July 1, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom / ** (2018)

Maybe it’s apropos that a fifth blockbuster about genetically engineered dinosaurs begins and ends with words from Ian Malcolm, the man whose theories have underlined the obligatory fallout of this exhausting excursion. Seen in a senate hearing about whether the U.S. government should intervene in the protection of gigantic creatures at the sight of a now-defunct theme park, he signals an ominous warning that most recognize as authentic: if you save beings that exist in violation of the natural order, you may be risking your own. All signs point to a wrap-up of that possibility as the site of Isla Nublar faces a new threat: the island’s long-dormant volcano has come back to life and will likely render the surviving species extinct, effectively undoing the experiment of scientists playing god. Alas, a movement of fierce protectors has risen in the political fringes, seeking a way to rescue the dinosaurs before such a fate is a reality. That prospect inspires the agenda of a billionaire closely linked to the park’s resources, who calls upon characters from the previous film to go in and relocate a dozen species to a nearby sanctuary island… without knowing that they intend to sell them to foreign harvesters on the black market.

And here begins the long and troubling journey that is “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom,” a sequel that removes the adventure and replaces it, quite vulgarly, with a relentless engine of chaos. Forget the notion that anyone shows up to experience a sense of wonder, or be told a compelling story with fascinating scientific possibilities at the forefront; these animals have ceased being sources of excitement and are now superficial showpieces in a plot that piles one ludicrous moment on top of another, without providing us much time to react or contemplate them. In some way all the movies in this series have attempted to mimic the spirit of the original, but those who have made the latest have mistaken its intentions. Special effects only go so far in a series this ambitious, and even a supply of multi-faceted explosions and run-ins cannot displace one from the knowledge that barely anything of interest is going on.

This time, the plot deals less with the foolish aspirations of man and more with their total arrogance. Years have now passed since Jurassic World crumbled after dinosaurs ran amok against screaming tourists, and what remains is a ruin overrun by a new natural order. Alas, signs emerge that an imminent volcanic eruption will soon destroy what remains of the surviving animals, relegating a fringe group of protectors that includes Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to the act of seeking a government-sponsored rescue effort. Unfortunately, when the senate committee rejects such a proposal, that places all their remaining bets on the mysterious Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former peer of John Hammond, who convinces her to go on and assist in the expensive dinosaur rescue mission. Why do they need her, in particular? Two specific reasons: 1) her security clearance will turn on the tracking system to pinpoint the location of all the species up for rescue; and 2) she is the only one who can convince Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to come along, in hopes that he will be able to wrangle the velociraptor he initially helped train.

Unfortunately, Lockwood’s thoughtful agenda is also spearheaded by Eli Millis (Rafe Spall), who controls the estate and plans to keep the acquisitions as a way of creating a bidding war between foreign adversaries. Although his primary motivator is money, the film clouds the issue of his character. Is he wanting to sell them just to aggravate national hostilities? To provide scientific study to outsiders? Or is he simply after the monetary value? A ridiculous monologue towards the third act points to a vengeful act against the billionaires who played against the laws of nature; to him, the ensuing chaos he spearheads is almost like an obligatory act of justice. That standpoint might have seemed more sincere if it weren’t sanctimonious; Spall delivers the dialogue with all the complexity of a hygiene commercial, and his captors stare back in silence not as if they have been called out on their hypocrisy, but as if lacking patience with such an absurd counter-point.

That one moment goes to the deeper problem with “Fallen Kingdom,” which is that the plot, character motivations and words are all superfluous exercises; they move to create a foundation for an endless supply of action episodes. Some, admittedly, are well-staged – particularly the island’s volcanic eruption, which concludes with a sad shot of the human faces glancing back to see a mournful dinosaur standing at the edge of the dock before it is engulfed in the pyroclastic cloud. But in creating so much and cramming it all into a two-hour excursion, director J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible”) plays against our patience and inspires grandiose frustration. Exactly what climax are we supposed to react the strongest to? The inevitable confrontation between the humans and yet another genetic hybrid being brewed in the billionaire’s labs? The narrow save by Grady’s velociraptor, who is effectively the world’s deadliest protector? They all pale in comparison to the daring island escape, which ought to have played as the grand finale rather than just a generic kick-off.

The actors, meanwhile, attempt to save grace by selling their predicament with obligatory sarcasm. Pratt proved to be a solid conduit for nervous humor in the previous installment, and here he does not disappoint: the morose certainty of the rescue mission is interlaced with a sense of sardonic displacement, especially as his failed relationship with the Howard character becomes a nagging reference point (“if I don’t come back,” he muses, “just know it’s because you asked me to be here.”) Howard counters this with amusing frustration, and even their supporting tagalongs – played by Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda – have some precious moments as they adopt to the chaos going on all around them. The screenplay, unfortunately, doesn’t know how to occupy their time outside of ambitious chases. The dialogue plays less like connective tissue and more like synthetic platitudes, simply there to fill in spaces of time. Certain predicaments – including a side detail involving a blood transfusion between the T-Rex and the Raptor – lack intrigue because no one seems at all engaged in the agenda. Then there is a plot twist towards the final act involving the billionaire’s granddaughter (Isabella Sermon) that plays as if it is a last-ditch attempt to create human interest, perhaps as an answer to a bigger conundrum: when the remaining survivors are left to decide the fate of the remaining dinosaurs, will her background give the moment a greater context than the others could provide?

A sixth film in this franchise is all but guaranteed, even apart from the suggestions of the final shots. Box office returns remain consistent and rewarding, in a time when moviegoers have shown an impenetrable loyalty to movie series with already established followings. But if any advice is to be followed by whoever takes up the mantle beyond this point, let it be this: a good endeavor depends not on how many creatures you can throw at the screen, but in supplying the foreground with well-written character arcs and motivations. Nothing in “Fallen Kingdom” moves to the beat of sincerity or plausibility. It is a long, mechanical exercise. Given the more precious origins of this premise, how exactly are we expected to show enthusiasm in another entry? Are special effect dinosaurs enough to hold our attention while the humans in the foreground simply submit to the wave of relentless chaos they create? No change in trajectory would all but ensure Ian Malcolm’s appearance in the next chapter, this time providing a eulogy rather than a cautionary notice.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Action/Adventure (US); 2018; Rated PG-13; Running Time: 128 Minutes

Chris Pratt: Owen Grady
Bryce Dallas Howard: Claire Dearing
Rafe Spall: Eli Millis
Justice Smith: Franklin Webb
Daniella Pineda: Zia Rodriguez
James Cromwell: Benjamin Lockwood
Isabella Sermon: Maisie Lockwood
Ted Levine: Ken Wheatley
Jeff Goldblum: Ian Malcolm

Produced by
Belen Atienza, Patrick Crowley, Thomas Hayslip, Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg and Colin TrevorrowDirected by J.A. Bayona; Written by Derek Connoly and Colin Trevorrow; based on the characters created by Michael Crichton

No comments: