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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom | John McDonald

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

June 22, 2018
A boy and his raptor. Owen instructs Blue on the principles of Tai Chi

Spanish director, J.A.Bayona has made a horror film about a creepy old house (The Orphanage), a full-on disaster flick (The Impossible), and a monster movie (A Monster Calls). These must have seemed like excellent credentials to a Hollywood studio looking for someone to helm the fifth installment in their ever-popular dinosaur franchise. If only Bayona had done the odd documentary with David Attenborough he’d be perfect.

In theory Bayona was a more promising choice than the industry professionals Hollywood usually gets to direct a blockbuster. They don’t want artists, they want drones who can follow orders and stick to a tried-and-true formula.

In practise, Bayona has given us exactly this kind of formula film in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Before we enter the cinema we know that egocentric, greedy humans will stuff up some experiment with dinosaurs, allowing for carnage on a massive scale. The basic paradigm upon which all these movies have been based, beginning with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park of 1993, is that old chestnut: Science Gone Wrong.

In the prevous installment we saw how the dinosaur theme park on Isla Nublar, had descended into chaos as humans lost control of their genetically-engineered creations. As we pick up the story the island is being threatened by a volcanic eruption, meaning that humanity has to choose whether the reconstituted dinosaurs are to be rescued or left to their fate.

Jeff Goldblum, who played scientist, Ian Malcolm, in the first film, is shown testifying at a Congressional hearing that it’s best to let nature take its course. Meanwhile Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who had a management job at the doomed theme park in 2015, is now the head of a conservationist group that wants to save the dinosaurs.

Claire’s concerns are shared by invalid billionaire, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) an early investor in the project. He summons Claire to his gothic mansion in the remote countryside to enlist her aid in a rescue attempt. She in turn knows she needs to sign up he-man, dino-wrangler, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who is building himself a log cabin somewhere.

While this is going on, a sinister subplot has been unfolding in which Cromwell’s trusted assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), has been secretly plotting to use dinosaur DNA to create a new batch of creatures to be sold to a market demographic of crazed dictators, warloads and terrorists. The vital link is Owen’s favourite raptor, Blue, who must be captured alive.

No sooner do Owen, Claire and their pals arrive at the island than it becomes clear that all is not right. Our heroes find themselves in conflict with a group of brutal mercenaries, barely managing to escape as the island and most of its dino population are engulfed in a volcanic eruption. The action then shifts back to the Lockwood mansion, where scientists are engineering a new batch of ‘weaponised’ dinosaurs in a basement laboratory.

I’m omitting lots of details from a plot crammed with every possible horror-sci fi scenario, and every dramatic, action cliché. If you’re thinking this sounds great you are the ideal audience for this lucrative franchise, which keeps blitzing the box office. Personally, I’ve discovered how easy it is to be bored by an endless procession of shocks and thrills. When the brain is disengaged the pulse barely moves.

Part of the problem is the aptly named Chris Pratt, whose acting style consists of standing around looking rugged and handsome. His predictable romance with Claire is surely one of the dullest male-female pairings in the history of the cinema. It’s obvious that Owen’s real love interest lies with the raptor, Blue.

To tug on our heartstrings while we are watching people behind crushed and gobbled by dinosaurs, we have Lockwood’s cute little granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who plays a leading role. One imagines her growing older in sequel after sequel.

In order to squeeze all this nonsense into a mere two hours and eight minutes the plot has more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire. To create a new super-dinosaur apparently all the scientists have to do is take some DNA and add water. The terrorists and warloads who are eager to pay millions for these dinosaurs can’t be very bright, as even the most savage predators remain far inferior as “weapons” to conventional artilliery.

If we step back and reflect on this fabulous mess there are a few topical themes being explored. The question of whether to rescue the born-again dinosaurs from the volcanic island reads like a parody of conservationist efforts to protect rare species from extinction. The capture and sale of specimens echoes the thriving black market that sees exotic birds and animals smuggled out of their habitats and sold to unscrupulous collectors. On an utterly superficial level the filmmakers seem to be trying to instill some environmentally responsible thoughts into the minds of their audience. Let’s call it the gangster theory of Mother Nature: if you don’t show her respect she’ll rub you out.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Directed by J.A.Bayona
Written by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, based on characters created by Michael Crighton
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Isabella Sermon, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine
Spain/USA, rated M, 128 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, 23 June, 2018