It’s a pretty widely accepted fact that the original Jurassic Park is a Sci-Fi blockbuster classic. When it came out, no one had ever seen anything like it; dinosaurs come to life before our very eyes. But it wasn’t the spectacle alone that makes that movie so memorable. It’s also the script that explored man’s perceived dominance over nature, only to be reminded in the most horrifying way that control is all but an illusion.
The very concept of Jurassic Park lends itself to further development through sequels. Of course humankind wouldn’t learn their lesson after their power over nature is lost. Humanity would never take that obvious lesson as an answer. They would continue to feed the idea that they can be in control. So of course the sequels that have released since the original 1993 movie have expanded upon the first movie’s concept and explored the dynamic between man and technological progress in new and exciting ways, right? Unfortunately, not so much.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the fourth sequel since the original, and on its own merits, it can be taken as a passably fun time at the theater. Much like its predecessor, it tells a basic B-movie monster story with top-notch visual effects. Both of the Jurassic World movies don’t want to be anything more than that, so at the end of the day, they are what they are. The frustration comes from the fact that they exist in continuity with the original film.
One specific aspect the original Jurassic Park nailed was character. A Sci-fi film calls for characters that lend a unique perspective to the theme of the story. Throughout the original, as the park descends into chaos, we get scenes that help us understand, from an emotional point of view, why each character thinks it’s either a responsibly or an irresponsibility to bring dinosaurs back to life in the modern age.
Take John Hammond from the original movie for example. Sure, he can be seen as a “villain” in the narrative. His unstoppable drive to create a dinosaur theme park is what sets off the resulting chaos. But amid the thrilling anarchy, we get a quiet moment where Hammond explains to Ellie why he needed to create the park. With tears glimmering in his eyes, he clarifies that he wanted to show the visiting children, “Something that wasn’t an illusion, something that was real. Something that they can see and touch.” After this brief emotional outpour, Hammond begins rambling about how he can get it right the next time. Through this one scene, a complex character is revealed. One who’s attitude we do not agree with, but can understand. His drive to entertain the world has tragically blinded him to the consequences.
The antagonists of Fallen Kingdom, however, may as well be holding the heroes of the story hostage on railroad tracks. Their villainy is way over the top. Eli Mills is simply a terrible person who wants to reap the benefits of selling and experimenting on dinosaurs. A complete sociopath, lacking any complexity or nuance. He is accompanied by the also one-dimensional, Ken Wheatley, as the ground mercenary commander. Together they will become extremely rich off the dumb dinosaurs! Benjamin Lockwood is thrown into the story as a former partner of Hammond’s. His involvement is meant to elaborate on Hammond’s backstory, but the attempt to sell this idea that Lockwood has had some off screen influence since the original movie adds up to nothing more than a shallow convolution.
Since this movie sees only in binaries, we also have our cast of good guys. The worst offenders on this side are the veterinarian girl and the tech guy. Both are meant for nothing more than some light dosing of comedy throughout, but their self righteous, single-minded attitude comes off only as annoying. Now to be fair, Claire Dearing is a character that has at least shown some developed since her experience from the last movie. As the operations manager of Jurassic World, she learned that her involvement in controlling the dinosaurs was unfair and now they should be allowed to live free, away from human meddling. This perspective is countered by Owen Grady, who agrees that dinosaurs should be allowed their freedom. However, he sees their impending doom by an erupting volcano as an act of nature that must be left alone, while Claire feels driven to save them as penance for her previous transgressions against the dinosaurs. In concept, the first act of Fallen Kingdom sets up this interesting conundrum between these two players, but is unfortunately derailed by a certain little clone girl in the third act.
One of the biggest offenses that have plagued every Jurassic sequel is the forced inclusion of a kid’s subplot. The first movie involved two children who were primarily there to play on Grant’s insistence that he does not like kids and does not want to have any with his girlfriend, Ellie, who loves kids. The comedy in the first act came from Grant’s annoyance of the bickering children. From there, Grant develops into a forced caretaker of the youngsters as the terror in the park ensues. The kids influence Grant’s development, and the audience begins to care for the children’s well being in the same way Grant does.
Each film since has run completely out of control with a new child or children’s involvement in the plot, deciding to represent kids as strong willed, butt-kicking characters in the corniest ways possible. The original movie never over played this, portraying the children as vulnerable and helpless, as they truly would be in such a situation. In the first sequel, The Lost World, the franchise jumped the gun when the young girl of that movie uses her gymnastic skills to flip around and kick a Velociraptor. The third movie takes it further when a young boy is able to survive on a dino-infested island with his trusty T-Rex pee. Jurassic World gave us the infamous subplot of the two genius kids who manage to repair an over twenty-year old car to drive themselves to safety. However, Fallen Kingdom seems as though it is competing for the position of most goofy child-centric subplot the franchise has ever seen.
Throughout the movie we check in with Lockwood’s (apparent) granddaughter, Maisie. She is our little hero detective who will uncover Eli’s nefarious plot to capture and auction off dinosaurs without her grandfather’s approval. This silly subplot quickly evolves into the most face-palming edition of Home Alone with dinosaurs. And if that’s not bad enough, we soon find that Maisie is actually a clone of Lockwood’s deceased daughter. Because not only do we need a character that can relate to dinosaurs and their troubles of being clones, we need a strong-willed child to do it. Yes, this is exactly what we need in a Jurassic Park sequel.
Again, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a good time if you’re looking for a ridiculous, yet fun, fast-paced action thriller. This type of B level monster movie usually doesn’t have the budget to show off such striking visual effects, so there is some merit here. Unfortunately, as long as they keep slapping the Jurassic logo onto these movies, the depths to which this once great franchise has sunk cannot be ignored.