Subject: Armor Bird Reviews: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - A One-And-A-Half-Year Retrospective
Posted on: 2020-01-03 22:08:44 UTC
This was LOOOOOOOONG overdue, and I feel bad that I didn't get it out while it was still fresh in the cineplexes, but here's something I've been meaning to crank out for a while because I thought about the subject too much not to write about. As with my other reviews, EXPECT SPOILERS BELOW!
If you have been following my writings and ramblings and original works and DeviantArt favorites for long enough, you'll know that I am unashamedly a dinosaur fan - I never outgrew the phase because despite what people have told me both online and off, palaeontology, like other sciences, is not specifically a child's thing - obviously dinosaurs are cool, but there is a lot of technical stuff that you'd need college degrees to understand in the field, too. While I certainly am a stickler for accuracy when it comes to dinosaur portrayals, however, I am also not ashamed to admit that I have a love for fictional portrayals of them as monsters, too. Jurassic Park, which was - for its time - pretty much a reconciliation between the "prehistoric monster" imagery of dinosaurs in popular culture and the latest discoveries about the actual fossil animals during its production, is my favorite movie of all time, partly for this reason and partly because there's a lot of depth and sophistication to it as well - a sophistication that modern movies seem to be utilizing less and less. Even the Jurassic Park franchise itself was not immune to this trend, and although it still remains my top favorite franchise of fictional media, the changing conceit of what audiences want in an entertaining film has dragged it along for as much of a long and bumpy ride as just about everything else Hollywood has to offer. Still, even in spite of it all, there are a lot of things to like about the sequels we got since that groundbreaking original - I'm admittedly one of those people who actually enjoyed Jurassic Park III, though in fairness I was too young upon first watching it to really pick it apart and analyze its numerous flaws, and I also heaped a lot of praise on Jurassic World upon my first review of it... in hindsight, perhaps a little generously. Although I won't pretend that everything since The Lost World (including TLW itself) is flawless and that the complainers are wrong, even the infamously controversial JP3 had some enjoyable moments in its own right, despite being seen by many as the worst installment of the franchise by quite a margin.
Which leads us to the most recent film of the franchise, 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
I had intended to review this movie for a good, long while - back when I was a more prolific writer I used to write film reviews shortly after seeing the movies in the theater, though schedule concerns have obviously made that too difficult. But there's a silver lining here, in that by not reviewing a film I've seen until much later (...well, much, much, much later as the case may be), I have the time to really sit down and think about what made the movie tick or not, and oftentimes have come down from my rush of excitement by the time I actually get off my tail and write the review itself. There are exceptions, of course, with certain films actually leaving me disappointed as soon as I left the building, but these cases are mercifully rare. I'm happy to say that despite being horrendously imperfect, Fallen Kingdom wasn't one of those cases. I was genuinely entertained by it more than 50% of the time - which is, for better or for worse, the highest compliment I can give the film because, as we shall see, in some ways it really is quite terrible.
I watched Fallen Kingdom twice since its release - first in the theater at my home town, and then on rental DVD - and both times, my impression was the same: this movie, in retrospect, plays out much like a big-budget, cinematic fanfiction of the Jurassic Park films or even of Jurassic World (the latter of which I actually consider darkly hilarious for reasons that are highly specific to me exclusively, which you'd only understand if you know what I've written in the past - I'll get to that shortly). This is perfectly understandable, seeing as the director, screenwriter, and production crew have changed considerably from the team that helmed the original trilogy during the ten-year gap between JP3 and JW. Even if the work is canon, it's essentially someone else taking a look at the original franchise material, picking out what they liked about it, and building an original story off of it, oftentimes borrowing characters from the original work and inserting them in (most notably Rexy, and yes, I consider her as much of a character as the humans she menaced in the original movie). Across the board, in all kinds of franchises, this approach tends to fall flat if you don't know about the original work, though I do have to say that there was one very notable exception in the case of Jurassic World, that climactic fight scene with the Indominus rex, which is my favorite part of the movie even if it isn't entirely perfect. Now, I realize that I'm being a bit of a hypocrite by saying that these films are imperfect, because almost a decade ago, a friend and I co-wrote a megacrossover fanfic where Jurassic Park was the most prominent franchise by quite a margin (and didn't even start out that way to boot - my own selfish preferences caused elements of the franchise to slowly bleed in until a recycled plot of the second and third movies took over the whole thing). What makes it truly embarrassing to me is that the fic didn't even need the series' involvement in the first place, and my choice to shove it in anyway was one of the numerous factors that led to it going completely off the rails and turning into a tremendous tangled mess of clumsy writing and mishandled characterization, not just with JP itself but with almost all of the dozen other continua that got dragged in as well. Obviously, the fact that Fallen Kingdom is restricted by its very nature as a sequel to the one franchise only thankfully precludes the sheer absurdity of what my co-writer and I had inadvertently wrought back then, but upon rewatching the film I couldn't help but notice that in a few ways, it does ironically come off as being quite similar to my own old shame, albeit coincidentally, though it still earns points for choosing to be a Jurassic Park/World film and sticking with that conceit, rather than an entirely different film with JP elements shoehorned into it. I've harped on my stupidity as an immature fanfic writer back in the day for long enough, I think, but I felt this was worth mentioning regardless, because like the fic I touched upon above, this is a work I only started having issues with long after the fact, but these days I can't unsee these issues now that I've considered them.
One of the biggest things that stood out to me regarding Fallen Kingdom was that no matter how you slice it, it was trying to be two films at once, and had less time for both than most would have desired. The first half of the movie concerns Isla Sorna being destroyed by a volcano, and everyone trying to get the dinosaurs off of it before they are rendered extinct once again, with another island being noted as their new sanctuary (though of course, one of the antagonists quickly screws that plan over, but more on that later). You could easily make an entire film out of that - exploring the island one last time, dodging potential threats from both the volcano and the dinosaurs themselves, and coming to terms with the fact that not every creature can be saved, and that the end is coming for everyone eventually. The scene with the Brachiosaurus being overtaken by the eruption, with its plaintive wails and iconic rearing silhouette, is proof that such a moral could make a solid closing for this kind of movie, and heck, you could even have the subplot with the executives hoping to exploit the dinosaurs bleed into the movie until, at the very end, you get a scene where their true intentions with the animals are revealed as a sequel hook, rather than being resolved over the course of like half an hour or so in a rushed manner that gives people too little time to consider the implications. And this brings me to my next point.
Remember what I said about that dumb fanfiction I co-wrote having the elements I personally wanted more than my co-writer did slowly fester in true plot tumor fashion until they took over the entire story like literal cancer? As it turns out, what I witnessed in Fallen Kingdom wasn't quite as ridiculous, but kinda sorta similar in its own way. Obviously, Fallen Kingdom isn't so audacious (or ignorant of copyright laws and plain old common sense for that matter) as to let an entirely different franchise stage a gradual hostile takeover of itself, but the somewhat cliched plot of capitalist exploitation being the absolute worst roommate imaginable with a whole franchise's worth of temporally misplaced creatures that can and will kill you if you look at them funny - already done in both the original movie and TLW, and to some extent in JW as well, but still relatable in our current social climate even after so much repetition - still manages to... well, stage a gradual hostile takeover of the movie, and enforces itself in full force during the remaining third or so of the runtime. The antagonists, a pair of cartoonishly evil and somewhat flat executives, sabotage the plan so that the dinosaurs are diverted to the Lockwood Mansion instead of the sanctuary island, and then things escalate when the prototype Indoraptor is bought in and, inevitably, raises hell for everyone involved. As with my previous pitch, the idea of bidding wars over the dinosaurs and the moral debate over the ownership and exploitation of living creatures - something which does happen in the real world - could have made for something interesting, again, if the script wasn't so rushed. Continuing where the hypothetical sequel hook left off, we could open with a discussion between the villains about the implications of what they are doing, followed by the heroes having to deal with the ramifications of such actions along with the involvement of Dr. Wu, the Indoraptor, and of course Blue as a potential prize-winner. Of course this runs the risk of becoming the original Jurassic Park except on the mainland, and thus not really trying anything new, but it could at least give audiences the time to digest the film and appreciate the moments where it makes a genuine impact, even before the dinosaurs end up getting released into the mainland like what happened in the movie itself, complete with the insane amount of ramifications thereof. The Stygimoloch plowing its way through the bidders on its way to freedom was almost as cathartic for me to watch as the climactic fight in JW, and I wish it could've gotten more screentime, or even plucked up the guts to fend off the Indoraptor in a situation that doesn't seem forced, e.g. the hybrid and the Stiggy getting trapped in the same complex, or even Owen luring it over as backup (which is stupider but, given how he got it to bust him and Claire out in the movie itself, isn't entirely unreasonable). As for the Indoraptor itself, I feel like they could have done a bit better with its design, as even underneath the paint job and altered proportions it's still more or less "Indominus 2: Genetic Boogaloo", as I have called it at least once. Still, it has its own appeal as a monster design and, if it weren't for the presence of similar-looking creatures in previous installments of the series, it would certainly have made an impact as a monster. It's almost wolf-like in movement and mannerisms, even werewolf-like, which is intentional given the vintage horror movie homages the production team was going for. The way it menaces Maisie - who has her own set of plot-related craziness to her, but that's a can of worms I'd rather not open - makes you worry for her life, and even fear for Blue when she engages it in battle. I know I'm one of those who actually prefers antagonistic Velociraptors (the inaccurate variety from the films, not the smaller and fully feathered real-world version which I would absolutely take home with me if I could find a way to retrieve it from Cretaceous Mongolia and have it housetrained and okay I'll stop now), but Blue as always is awesome, and after seeing her actually manage to hold her own in her fight against the Indoraptor if only for a short while, there's no denying that anymore - even if that scene with her outrunning the explosion in the boiler room is a bit over-the-top even by the standards of this movie. There is of course no way a spectacle-driven, plaid-speed-paced romp like Fallen Kingdom could surpass the bar set by The Big One and the legendary kitchen scene, but on its own merits, the Indoraptor is a wonderfully serviceable and formidable threat that I just wish could've gotten more screentime and room to develop as a character, rather than just remaining as an unhinged killing machine that exists just to terrorize everyone before exiting the film (the same is true for all the dinosaurs here besides Blue, really, which is sad because, again, I much prefer when films develop monsters as characters rather than mere plot devices). With a little more design work to make him stand out more among the other critters in the franchise and more time to explore his nature, he could easily have become almost as iconic as The Big One as movie monsters go, or at least as much as the I. rex, though the latter bar is admittedly a good deal lower in the wake of how the movie industry has, ahem, evolved.
With that thought in mind, I will now spell out the biggest problem I had with this movie: the fact that it was trying to do so much in such a short space of time. Humorously and ironically, I know almost enough about the issues with my own writing to recognize the signs of that, with significant events being spaced too close to each other, too many characters at once (though admittedly, Zia and Maisie are a treat to watch, Franklin a bit less so but far from unbearable for my taste), and at least one questionable decision on the part of everyone at some point or another, up to and including the writers. There are a lot of things I liked, but not enough time for me to let them sink in, like I was being bombarded with one spectacle after another. It feels like overkill more than anything, and alas, far too many films in recent years have tried to shove that method into people's faces as though trying to say, "Here's your action, here's your fanservice, here's your whatever the whoopity-freaking-doo you consider entertainment, are you happy now?!" (Well, not quite as vitriolic and sarcastic, but you get the idea.) If the filmmakers and the owners of the franchise rights had been willing to accept four movies in the newer series rather than just three, and let Fallen Kingdom be broken up into two separate, slightly slower-paced movies, the problems with each individual portion would likely not have been as significant, and audiences would not have noticed them so readily. Sadly, though, the rapid-fire, dozen-blockbusters-a-year rush-job environment of the modern movie industry was not kind to this film, which is a crying shame. We need more movies that are more relaxed and subdued half the time, the way the original JP film was, and while audiences may have to take the time to once again get used to movies like that, I think it would be a welcome change of pace from the current influx of chaotic, nonstop slugfests and pyrotechnic displays we've become so familiar with.
In tl;dr form, it is with a heavy heart that I have to say that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is, in fact, the worst film of the entire Jurassic Park franchise, even more so than JP3 - though don't get me wrong, as with JP3, I still very much enjoyed it as its own movie, as clumsily handled as it was at times (though even then, the movie itself isn't entirely at fault for it). There's a difference between a movie being the low point in its franchise and a low point among movies in general, a difference which a lot of reviewers need to understand before taking an undeserved dump over movies that could've been so much better if Hollywood had worked just a bit differently. You have to actually try to make a work of entertainment media I consider genuinely terrible, and it was actually a relief to me that even the lowest points of Fallen Kingdom still ranked somewhat midway between "meh" and "shakes hand eeeeehhhhhh" from my own subjective standpoint. I truly hope that the next and presumably final JP film will turn out for the better, especially given that Alan, Ellie, and Ian are all slated to have major roles in it, but I'm not going to dismiss Fallen Kingdom off the bat just because of the issues I have with its writing. If nothing else, it's a perfectly decent popcorn flick with prehistoric monsters in it - and hey, that was pretty much what everyone was there for, wasn't it?
96 - 100: A+
93 - 96: A
90 - 92.9: A-
87 - 89.9: B+
83 - 86.9: B
80 - 82.9: B-
77 - 79.9: C+
73 - 76.9: C
70 - 72.9: C-
67 - 69.9: D+
60 - 66.9: D
Below 60: E
World Building: 7
Music and Sound: 8
Final Grade: 78 (C+)