Kingdom is fine but familiar
It’s odd, but whenever a Jurassic Park-type movie is about to be released, more than a few people ask if I like these sorts of films. I guess the assumption is that as a critic I wouldn’t enjoy such fare. My reply is, “Dinosaurs chasing and eating people? What’s not to like?” It really is that simple. I’m not expecting any sort of groundbreaking social commentary in movies like this – give me a reasonably intelligent reason for Tyrannosaurus rexes and their ilk to be running around and chomping down on one foolish bad guy after another and I’m pretty happy.
That being said, Universal Studio’s latest dino-fest, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, shows that the franchise may be running out of steam. Many of the situations our heroes find themselves in seem a bit too familiar, and with a running time of more than two hours it takes far too long to get to where we are predictably going. And while there has been an argument made that in our superhero, special-effect-laden movie age there are no more movie stars, the sense of enthusiasm and conviction Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard bring to the affair help salvage this popcorn entertainment in the end.
Picking up some three years after the cataclysmic conclusion of the previous entry, the dinosaurs on the would-be tourist attraction Isla Nublar are being threatened by a volcano that’s decided to do what volcanoes do, namely spew lava and create all sorts of environmental chaos. (That Kingdom is being released while the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is doing its thing is the sort of synergetic advertising you just can’t buy.) None of this sits well with animal activists in America who reason that since we brought the dinos back, we ought to save them. A congressional committee is formed to deal with this matter, providing Jeff Goldblum to return as Dr. Ian Malcolm to say “I told you so” as only Jeff Goldblum can – a moment fans of the series will surely love.
Claire Dearing (Howard) leads the expedition back to Isla Nublar, encouraged by billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), former partner of John Hammond, who first came up with the cockamamie idea of mixing tourists with dinosaurs all the way back in Jurassic Park. He’s arranged to have them shipped to a private island to be preserved, an effort Owen Grady (Pratt) gets behind. Too bad that once they get to the island, they realize that a group of bad guys from central casting are rounding up the most dangerous and manageable of these creatures to ultimately be sold off as weapons.
Now, obviously, much like its predecessors, you’re not supposed to employ too much logic to this affair, though plot-wise this is the flimsiest of the bunch. However, director J.A. Bayona brings an ominous, visual look to the film that sets it apart from the other entries and emphasizes the horrific elements. He also has a sense of humor, as is evident in the way he introduces Dearing’s choice of footwear for her ensuing adventure, a sly comment on her being stuck fleeing in heels during the previous film.
While Kingdom does its best to justify its existence with its myriad of social concerns (the ethics of cloning, genetic engineering and animal preservation), they come off as convenient character motivators rather than legitimate concerns the filmmakers want to address. The thrills are well-done but predictable, yet the final act in which the dinosaurs are prowling around a mansion and its estate is silly and fun.
Bayona makes no bones about the fact that another entry in the series is coming. As long as viewers continue to line up for these movies, screenwriters for the Jurassic franchise will find a way to keep them going. Extinction is unlikely; however, let’s hope a bit of narrative evolution is in the offing.
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