Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Spoilers!

So now the island that housed the disastrous theme park Jurassic World of the last movie has a volcano on it, and it's going to explode. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), turned from prim and proper business woman to free-spirited animal lover in the last film, is heading up an organization to save the dinos. The government decides to stay out of it, so she jumps at the opportunity when a private company run by Rafe Spall offers to help her relocate the animals. Then she ropes in Owen (Chris Pratt) because his favorite Raptor, Blue, is still on the island.

Should've bombed the island as soon as all the humans got off. Then they wouldn't have this problem.

But surprise! Rafe Spall isn't actually relocating the dinos to another safe island -- he's bringing them to the mainland and keeping them in the cellar of a massive estate that belonged to John Hammond of the original, original film. What could possibly go wrong? Oh and Dr. Wu (BD Wong) helped him and Toby Jones create a new, new dino by mixing Raptor with the Indominous Rex of the last film. The Indoraptor. Super creative name, yeah? They plan on bidding all of them off to the wealthy and ill-intentioned of the world. Things go exactly as you imagine they will.

And that's not really a bad thing in itself. The giant house wound up being a fun set piece for the last act; the first was getting on and off the island, and the second was adventures stowed-away on the transport ship. With a little tweaking it could have been a rollicking and pure-blooded adventure. But it gets distracted, by focusing way too hard on... trying to teach us a lesson? They were pushing us to feel sympathy for the dinos, which I guess they didn't realize is something we naturally feel. Dinosaurs are freaking awesome, and unless they're actively portrayed as evil beings, we not going to be eager to see them die.

I mean seriously -- look how freaking cute she is!

But they went all ham-handed on the tragedy of their situation anyway, and went so far overboard with it. At the end of the first act as they sail away on the ship, a Brontosaurus is left behind, literally calling to them from the dock as the ash and lava catches up to it. The music swells dramatically; the cloud engulfs the majestic creature; the fire lights its silhouette as it rears and seems to dissolve away.... and I was about to roll on the floor laughing. Feels bad. The harder I tried not to, the funnier it became. I did manage to laugh quietly, so hopefully I didn't annoy the person next to me.

There's also a big plot line involving Blue being a good dino, and one secondary bad guy (Ted Levine) who pulls teeth out of the dinos to collect for a necklace. In case the point about him being evil wasn't clear enough. But guess what they neglected to do? Yep, create sympathy for any of the humans. Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is the most because she spends time alone figuring out the bad guy's evil plot and running for her life. Claire and Owen are complete blanks except that they care about the dinos, which doesn't help me much. They had a bad break and allude to that, and by the end they're kissing again, but nothing happened to get them there.

If one shared near-death experience couldn't keep them together, why should a second? 

And the two sidekicks, Franklin (Justice Smith) and Zia (Daniella Pineda), I actually forgot existed whenever they disappeared from the screen. Everything they did could've been accomplished by Claire and Owen, or was unnecessary in the first place. Like, they have a whole sequence where they reboot the ventilation system to save the caged dinos from poisonous gas, but later their efforts have only stalled for time -- so the leak could've been slower in the first place with no different outcome. They didn't annoy me particularly, but were blank too, and if their time had been redistributed through a smaller cast -- but the problem wasn't lack of screen time, but of attentive writing.

The poisonous gas bit was inter-cut with Claire, Owen, and Maisie hiding from the Indoraptor, in what is probably the best extended sequence of the film. The dark house of endless rooms and museum-displays of fossils, the one dino tracking them down. It's the classic Jurassic Park stuff and only seemed lacking because it wasn't given time to breathe. It needed to revel more. Linger and seep in. It did that in brief staccato moments, but jumped around too much for the feeling to stay.

"Rafe?" "Yes, Toby?" "Are we the bad guys?" "I think." "Well, crap."

And it's probably just me but I wanted a lot more out of the villain. I like Rafe Spall. But he did his thing and then disappeared until it was time for his death scene. And speaking of deaths, literally all but one death goes as follows: person discovers dino danger; person tries very hard to survive; person survives by skin of teeth; person relaxes -- bam! -- person is dino lunch. Not that that's a terrible way to do a death scene, but a little variety would've been nice. Also, I felt weird watching bad guys get munched on. It was like the movie wanted us to enjoy it; to cheer or feel satisfaction over it.

In the previous movies, even a villain death was played for horror, not elation, right? We felt they deserved it, but it was still grisly and disturbing. It's also worth noting that no good guy is killed by a dino in this film. Not a single one. Not even a neutral, innocent bystander. It's not like even a hint of stakes were ever in place for anyone except the dinos -- that was just adding fuel to the fire.

Forgive me if I want to care about human characters in a movie where the human characters are the leads.

Fallen Kingdom builds on a decently solid skeleton, and that keeps it from falling into a distracted oblivion. That, and the innate likability of Pratt, Howard, and newbie Sermon. A quality level equal to Jurassic World was out of reach I think, simply because the "horror at the theme park" premise is tough to top -- but though it's not unworthy of the name, it clearly could've been better than this.

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