Do not go to see this film. Let me qualify: do not spend money seeing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom unless your desire is to make two hours and ten minutes of your life feel more like four or five. It is a perfect proving ground for testing the relative perception of the passing of time. This review should end right here: it makes the first Jurassic World look like Jurassic Park in comparison. In case you do not believe me – and why should you, unless you have read some of my other stuff and happened to like it, or, more likely, you know me personally and happen to think my opinion on film is somewhat worthwhile? – I guess I can give you a review. But I’m not going to like it.
To make such a claim, that Jurassic World 2 is bad, it is important to know what that means. Since it is impossible for us, humans, to know something in itself (or at least as far as I know), the best way to understand the nature of things, in this case whether or not something is bad, is to put it in dialectic with its opposite, in this case whether or not something is good. So how do we know if something is good? This is generally an axiological question, specifically one of ethics, but could also be an aesthetic one – particularly since we are going to be discussing a work of art – and can even jump philosophical branches to become a metaphysical question. I believe the best way to answer this question is by tackling all three facets of the question at once: existence is good. The logical conclusion to this would be that all existence is the good. I am referring of course to that which the Christians and Jews call God, the highest good from which all that exists comes. This is a particularly Augustinian view, and one that ties the questions “what is good morally?” (ethics), “what does it mean to be a good thing?” (metaphysics), and “why do I judge things as good?” (aesthetics) together. It is important to note that when I refer to existence, I do not only mean matter and energy, but also form. This is the crux upon which the metaphysical and axiological questions are tied together: part of man’s form is to act properly, which might mean showing compassion to one another in the same way that acting properly as a dog might mean barking at the mailman. The man is called good because he is close to that perfect form of Man, just as the dog is called good because it is close to that perfect form of Dog.
Alright, I know that was a long aside and you are probably wondering what in the heck all this has to do with Universal’s latest blockbuster monstrosity – I get it. What it comes down to is that to figure out if a film is good, we have to figure out what a film is: what is the Form of a film? So I do not lose any more readers, I will answer this one by simply choosing four aspects of filmmaking that I happen to think describe what a film is the best. The first aspect is production. This encapsulates a huge variety of things, but what it ultimately comes down to is how the pictures look on the screen and how they are tied together with sound. The second aspect of a film is the plot. This one is pretty self-explanatory and includes things like how the film is structured, does the story make sense, does it build an emotional arc, and generally things Timothy Lawrence does not want to hear about. Acting and character development make up the third aspect. While these are in some ways two separate things, they come together to form the emotional heart of the film, drawing the audience’s empathy and sympathy. Finally, the fourth aspect of filmmaking is theme. What is the film about, and and what questions is it exploring? It is these four things that I will discuss to prove to you why Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is “a bad film.”
Production is probably where Fallen Kingdom fares best. It is also the area I am least qualified to judge, so I will keep it brief. There was nothing particularly negative about the cinematography, sound design, soundtrack, and VFX that stood out to me, but that’s because none of those things stood out, period. This should not be the case for a blockbuster that is part of the Jurassic Park franchise (though, sadly, it is not the only offender within this franchise). Most of the shots are fine. The music is fine. The CGI looks good. The editing is fine. The stunts are … well, not really there. Chris Pratt flops around in front of some lava, people run when dinosaurs chase them, dinosaurs eat people, but there is no sense of danger or excitement. It’s boring. And that’s a really sad thing for this kind of film.
As for the film’s plot, this is where things start falling apart. The structure is very odd. It is difficult to tell how many acts there are. I think it is three acts, with each successive act becoming longer than the last, which is atypical of blockbusters. A structure like this could work, but in Fallen Kingdom it only serves to make the third act interminable. The pacing in the first two acts is not a problem, things are moving along at a decent pace, but the third act undoes all of this. The first two acts are your typical Jurassic Park/World fare: we meet the main characters in America, they are told about these dinosaurs on this island, they go to the island, and are chased by the dinos, but the third act tries to become its own film with dinos set loose in John Hammond’s buddy’s estate. This is an okay idea on paper; the problem is that Fallen Kingdom tries to have its Jurassic cake and eat it too, cramming a standard Jurassic plot and its own thing into one movie. It just does not work at all.Pictured: low stakes
The third aspect, character development and acting, only serves to bring the movie down even more. None of the characters changed. At all. Life-changing things happen to them, but they do not change, with the possible exception of a couple secondary characters who are not the main focus of the film. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) fall in love (again?) and end pretty much exactly where they ended in the first movie (and still are not officially a couple). The film’s main bad guys are just that: bad guys. Mills (Rafe Spall) is greedy. Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) is an ignorant, brutish alpha male who is also greedy. They start and end the same way, but at least for Mills the audience does not know he’s bad until about a third of the way through the film (even though you probably guess that he is as soon as you meet him). And since none of the actors or actresses are given any solid material to work with (and Bayona, I imagine, did not give them much direction), they are all turning out career-worst work. Because of this, it is not an emotionally affecting movie. Not only do I not connect with the characters and feel what they are feeling, but there is not even an urgent sense of danger, in a movie where death is waiting around nearly every corner beginning in the second act. This is partially the fault of stale production and a poor script, but strong characters and solid acting can overcome these hurdles. Instead, we are left with a limp noodle of a film.
Finally, we get to theme. If all of the above had been good, it would not matter that much if Fallen Kingdom was not really about anything. A big summer blockbuster does not need to ask any big questions, or show any struggle that cuts to the core of human existence (though they probably do this in a tangential way and certainly in a metatextual way: is escapism good for the soul?). This second installment of Jurassic World is not competent enough to get away with “just being fun,” and one would hope it is at least trying to do some interesting things. And it is, but it doing them so poorly that it actually detracts from the film even more. The question posed at the beginning of the film is: do dinosaurs deserve to be saved from (a second) extinction? This is not an extinction caused “by deforestation or the building of a dam,” to quote Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park – rather, Isla Nublar is now volcanic (somehow) and the dinosaurs will be wiped out by the eruption. And the entirety of the film is the working out of a conclusive “yes” to that question. This is problematic for two reasons. The first reason is that it is a silly, ridiculous question that has no bearing on reality. These dinosaurs are a creation of man, not God or nature, and, considering the danger they have posed and continue to pose to humanity, there is no reason to risk human life in saving them. The second reason is that answering a question, particularly in such a direct way, does not make for good art. The best art struggles with difficult questions, playing them out for you, but never answering them for you. To put it simply: “show, don’t tell.” Not only does the movie tell us, yes, the dinosaurs deserve to be saved from extinction because they are living things too, but it goes further to say that dinosaurs deserve to be saved from extinction at the expense of man’s well-being by having a little girl (who turns out to be a clone – a damn good one too – just like the dinosaurs) release them into the wild to save them from dying. Her reasoning is that she and the dinos are the same because they were both clones. Bullshit. She is a human being that will grow up to contribute to the world (if all goes well), raise a family, love others, and hopefully show compassion to other humans. The dinosaurs will, at their best, become a nuisance for whatever ecosystem and people group they decide to cohabitate with, and, at their worst, will become monsters killing innocent human life. Fortunately, we have the prestigious Dr. Malcolm to give us some nice voiceover at the end explaining that humans deserve to go extinct because they meddled with nature and nature is evolution and evolution is big change so that’s natural and and and… it’s a Jurassic World now baby.
Hopefully that was enough to convince you. If not, I apologize that I did not manage to persuade you and hope you do not go to see the film anyways. If what I described sounds good to you, well, go see it I guess. Most likely, you are probably a member of PETA and will enjoy what the film
forces down your throat has to say.