Film · Review

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review – Spectacle without signifier

No thanks.

It probably should have been a bad sign when the trailers were hyping the fuck out of this one specific sequence. What if you were on the dinosaur island and a volcano blew up? Well, the film’s answer to that is disappointingly simple: you get off the island. Then you realise that it’s just going to keep going, a muddled mess of disjointed incident until it stumbles its way to a conclusion that I think is supposed to read as something sort of groundshaking. But, like almost everything in this joint, is constructed with so little conviction that it feels like a shrug.

Hell, even the circumstances that take them back to the island are laboured. Although that’s a fairly bad term in this instance, it makes you think that the movie is doing some heavy lifting to wrangle all the plot points into place. It doesn’t, there’s a gesture at the concept of animal rights maybe? Bryce Dallas-Howard has become a pro-dino activist who arrives late, bringing coffee into the office for her staffers, catches a call with a US senator then helps the youthful volunteers paint placards to protest the vote that is literally being televised live on their office television.

Meanwhile, Chris Pratt has constructed a tiny model of a timber frame house that that sits in front of the full scale replica that he is erecting in an empty field. The senate has voted that the island’s reactivating volcano should be left to kill the creatures that remain. Dallas-Howard tries to convince him to join her on a billionaire’s quest to save however many he can before time runs out. He says no.

Later, when she climbs into the plane waiting to take her on the journey, guess who’s waiting for her; napping in the back seat?

The entire screenplay is shot through with this sort of slapdash laziness. It is hard to feel for these people when they are so transparently cards being shuffled through various configurations. Chris Pratt seems to have had his natural charm vampired outta him. Bryce-Dallas Howard is once again reduced to a shrieking, inept companion. Jeff Goldblum appears in a single scene, he manages to convey more humanity and weight during it than just about anyone in the film besides.

And the reason is that the series has lost its core. Not just with the volcano, the destruction of the park itself. Not only in the script which exists purely to set up and resolve barely connected sequences of dino peril. It’s not these flimsy characters either, them that exist to laboriously drag the story into position with little regard to how nonsensical their every action is. I mean, sure none of those help, it could definitely be a better movie.

But there’s this vapidity at its centre. There’s nothing there. I don’t understand why this is a story that needs telling. I don’t understand what this has got to say about the world. It has its pretensions at doing so: animal rights, arms dealing, I’m trying to think of a third but the film is literally divided between two major locations and its two major moralisings. They are never properly confronted though, never interrogated, they exist painted atop of the canvas of the movie, the filmmakers’ commitment to these causes as transparently unreal as the dinosaurs that share the screen with our heroes.

Like, there could be a dialogue about what animal ethics consist of when contextualised against a species defined by its naked antipathy towards humans. Should we try to live and let live when faced with a scaly walking row of teeth that ain’t particularly concerned both human morality? What about cloning, genetic modification? These tell tale signs of the eugenics-y future that we seem to be growing slowly towards alongside our understanding of what essentially makes a person. Could there possibly be a more cutting indictment of the weapons trade than Toby Jones as a besuited auctioneer, hawking his wares to a bearded mafioso?

None of it is remotely insightful or interesting. None of it coheres into a singular whole. None of it has the conviction or the confidence to be defining. It presents a stoned undergraduate’s revelations and yet struts around in its longcoat announcing how truly important it is. To the sober in the room it appears perhaps either condescending or embarrassing. That said, have you read producer/writer Colin Trevorrow’s comments about The Book of Henry and its relation to the #MeToo movement? Condescending and embarrassing is totally on brand.

It fails even at the basics. The dinosaurs aren’t good. How do you fail at dinosaurs in this movie? They’re the one thing that’s a given. But the film never approaches them with an opinion, never stakes its ground. They are merely props for the characters to manoeuvre around, complications arranged for them. There’s a sequence on a boat where they need to drain the blood from an unconscious T-Rex. It is unnecessary and out of place, it slows down an overstuffed film with five minutes of meaningless padding and it don’t say nothing about the animal at its centre.

Because it’s one of the bad ones. Because they set up a good friendly dinosaur and now that’s all that they are allowed to be. Aligned with our heroes or against them.

It sucks a little because the sequence itself mostly works. J. A. Bayona ain’t a bad director. If you take so many of the setpieces here, individual moments of tension, surprise, terror; they work. He can put together a scene nicely when there ain’t nobody that’s gotta read any of this tiresome and humourless dialogue. A judging by his past efforts he can fit an entire film together when the script is in place. It’s a shame that here he’s having to fight the material all of the way.

But the material is so fucking bad though. It’s so fucking bad. It is boorish and misogynist and nonsensical. It is lazy and it is insulting.

Bad movie, no thanks.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is currently screening in UK cinemas.

One Star
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

 

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