First, a word on my bias: I consider watching the neck-first lurch of a T-Rex with the smell of popcorn filling my nose and the arctic air conditioning prickling the skin on my exposed legs to be one of life’s distinct joys. That’s to say, I’m already basically on board with whatever a movie in the Jurassic Park franchise wants to throw at me because I’m just so happy to be there. They say that sex is like pizza in that even when it’s bad it’s still good. Well, I think sex is more like a Jurassic Park movie in that even when it’s bad it’s still good and you never know when you’re going to get bitten or how scaly your biter will be until it’s too late.
Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is a bad movie, but it is mostly a good bad movie in that it is fun and often stupid enough to be hilarious. Its script by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, who collaborated on 2015's Jurassic World, which was also directed by the former, is inane. It is full of one-note characters that still manage to be redundant (hacker Franklin Webb, played by Justice Smith, exists mostly to remind you that dinosaurs are scary, in case you miss all the roaring and teeth the size of human forearms) and one-liners that shouldn’t have even been typed into a first draft, let alone make it to film. (Plot spoilers ahead.) Upon arriving at Isla Nublar, the site of the shuttered dinosaur theme park Juarassic World that’s now home to an active volcano, a character notes, “It’s hot!” Owen (Chris Pratt, who plays cool by acting like he’s holding in a fart) quips, “It’s about to get a whole lot hotter.” Get it? Because a volcano is erupting???
They’re there in an attempt to rescue dinosaurs from the island that’s about to become uninhabitable—in what feels like a hat tip to X-Men movies and maybe Okja, dinosaur rights are a topic of public discourse. Do animals brought back from extinction deserve the same amount of protection as other endangered species? We see a Senate hearing in which Jeff Goldblum, in a cameo reprisal of his role as Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park and The Lost World, vaguely testifies on the repercussions humanity will face if these creatures are allowed to continue to exist. Let ‘em burn in the lava, he suggests. Other humans remain unconvinced.
Despite the fraught nature of this issue, Owen, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, who does wear heels in a few scenes but is given the dignity of semi-sensible boots on Isla Nublar), and their crew, are able to walk onto the island without any problem or so much as a security check and aid a team that’s pulling dinosaurs off in order to put them on a sanctuary that’s been set up by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the partner of John Hammond (the bearded guy with the mosquito in amber from the original Jurassic Park). That’s the plan, but of course, humankind’s tendency toward corruption is about to complicate things.
Fallen Kingdom’s first act, which takes place on the besieged island, is exciting and stupid. It contains such intelligence-testing elements as Pratt’s character overcoming paralysis to dodge creeping lava, and the full-power operation of one of those transparent ball things that the kids drove in the previous movie, despite the park not being fully operational for three years.
On Isla Nublar, though, we also get to see Blue, the highly intelligent raptor, in action. Wow is she fierce, as literally as she is figuratively. She’s got thick skin and a fuck-you attitude. She doesn’t take shit from any man. She’s not bossy; she’s a boss. (Still laughing about Owen calling her a beta to his alpha in the previous movie—yeah right.) She hears you, but she isn’t necessarily going to listen. Her nails are to die for. She looks cute while sedated under a blanket. She’s butch but moves gracefully. If all of this sounds so good that you want to marry her, well, you’re in luck because she’s perpetually ready to be a bride—she’s something old (a dinosaur), something new (...that’s been brought back from extinction), and she’s got something borrowed (DNA from the Black-Throated African Monitor Lizard), something blue (her stripe). Take a number!
Blue ends up overtaking the T-Rex as this feature’s central creature—as she did last time around, she figures heavily into the climax, as she faces off with yet another newly engineered dino species, the Indoraptor, made from the DNA Indominus rex and a Velociraptor. Blue, like many of the film’s female-identified characters, is tasked with cleaning up the messes created by men. Nothing in this movie is particularly well formed or thought out, but there is the suggestion that patriarchy yields monstrous results and pushes our planet to cataclysm. When paleo-veterinarian (and lesbian, according to a line in the script that didn’t make the film’s final cut) Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) tells mercenary Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) essentially to go fuck himself, he quips, “What a nasty woman.”
Just like it sort of waves its hand at the notion of misogyny, Fallen Kingdom acknowledges the ills of capitalism with a conflicted vagueness. “Something something capitalism is something something and...bad?” says the movie, another inevitable blockbuster in a franchise that has already grossed more than $3.5 billion globally. Thanks to the devious machinations of Lockwood’s aide, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the rescued dinos aren’t headed to a sanctuary at all; they’re being auctioned off to rich people who are going to do god knows what with them. Shoot them and put them on their walls? Keep them in their giant backyards? Unclear. This goes horribly awry and the auction goes from recalling Get Out to invoking the creature bedlam of Gremlins. In the most brazenly PG-13 moment I’ve ever seen on film, Fallen Kingdom contains a bloodless dismemberment: the Indoraptor bites off an arm without extracting so much as a drop.
Director J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls) keeps his flair at a minimum until Fallen Kingdom’s climax, which features the Indoraptor creeping around the estate during a dark, stormy night and terrorizing Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). There’s a lovely shot of the dino’s terrifying claws-out shadow, against her bedroom wall. It’s a classic movie-monster scene in a movie that takes an unconventional approach to monsters: It wants you to fear them (the movie comes down to basically a series of face-to-face stand-offs between humans and dinosaurs, which the humans escape...most of the time), but respect them. It wants you to root for the death of the bad dinosaurs and for the continued existence of the less bad ones, even though that means potential societal collapse. It wants to reinvigorate the franchise, but it does so by referencing tropes and conventions of earlier films (its climax points the series in the direction of the Planet of the Apes reboot franchise). The movie is just how one of the dinosaurs during the auction is described: “a creature from the future made of pieces of the past.” Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a mess and a good time, a bloated story that’s as straightforward as it is confused.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in theaters today, June 22.