Monday, July 16, 2018

Film Review: JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM by Mike Sullivan

JURASSIC WORLD was the consummate summer movie and by that I mean it was disposable in just the right way. I saw the film three years ago, enjoyed it and never bothered to sit through it again. I wasn’t even sure why I liked it in the first place. I know B.D. Wong is in it and -- because LAW AND ORDER: SVU loudly blares throughout my house with an alarming frequency that suggests to anyone passing by that I’m a 78 year old shut-in whose pets scavenged the last bit of soft tissue off my body three weeks ago -- the idea of Wong talking about something that isn’t a rape kit to someone who isn’t Diane Neal or Richard Belzer was so exhilarating to me. And considering that Wong escapes via helicopter at the end of JURASSIC WORLD, it’s heavily implied that his character Dr. Wu will return in FALLEN KINGDOM. Which means more of the pained hesitancy of Wong and his talent for reciting all of his dialogue as if he’s forced to tell you he only pretended to wear a condom that night.

But even though the promise of Wong is what got my ass in the seat, the immediate stupidity of FALLEN KINGDOM not only got me to stay, it’s what reminded me of why I liked JURASSIC WORLD in the first place. FALLEN KINGDOM is JURASSIC WORLD remade by a twelve-year-old who never saw the movie but pieced together the film’s storyline from a series of collectible JURASSIC WORLD tumblers his aunt bought him at McDonald’s. It’s disjointed and dumb. So fucking dumb. At one point Ted Levine -- playing a mercenary -- stumbles across an unknown species of dinosaur in a cage. In spite of the fact that Levine is aware that his boss is an evil industrialist whose business model is based around taking dangerous genetically modified monsters and turning them into even more dangerous genetically modified super-monsters, Levine shoots two tranquilizer darts into its neck, enters its cage and tries to yank out its teeth. Dumber still, as Levine struggles with the extraction, the dinosaur turns to the camera. Yes. That’s right, it turns to the fucking camera and reacts as if Dwight Schrute wandered into the filming of its confessional interview and started talking about black bears. And yet this is far from the dumbest moment in something that plays like it’s just two fart jokes and a Lindsay Lohan reference away from becoming a full blown parody movie.

Taking place three years after the events of JURASSIC WORLD, FALLEN KINGDOM opens with a reveal that a volcano is about to erupt on Isla Nubar effectively wiping out any remaining dinosaurs living amongst the ruins of the Jurassic World theme park. This is great news and instead of treating this strange twist of fate with a sense of relief, the world loses its mind. Apparently it’s inhumane to allow these dinosaurs to die, but why? Why is it a bad thing that Mother Nature is cornering these monsters at the nearest windmill and then setting it on fire? These are dangerous genetic mutations that were created in a lab and have killed countless people. If that bald, Laura San Giacomo-looking-thing from Vincenzo Natali’s SPLICE escaped from its barn and somehow got itself trapped down a well, would we fill the well with concrete or spend 58 man-hours attempting to free this thing just so it can forcefully inseminate Canadian treasure Sarah Polley? Also, why is it a big deal if these things die? Again, they were all created in a lab. Countless scientists have the genetic codes to replace any brontosaurus, t-rex or raptor that may be destroyed in the incident. Killing these things is about as a pointless as asking someone on the internet to take down that embarrassing photo of you after it was turned into a meme that went viral. Luckily, Jeff Goldblum -- returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm in a role that seemed far more substantial in the trailer -- has convinced a senate subcommittee to just allow nature to take its course by looking into the camera and making a clumsy reference to the original JURASSIC PARK in that trademarked Jeff Goldblum way; which is to say a stoned Humanities professor’s digression filled reaction to the existence of hot yoga. As a side note, does Jeff Goldblum understand why people are laughing or does he watch his appearances on talk shows or on Tim and Eric produced programs with a sense of bemused incomprehension? He reminds me of Christopher Walken in that his public persona is now reduced to a sarcastic impression of other people’s sarcastic impressions of him (By the way, welcome to your future, Christoph Waltz). 

At any rate, just as science’s greatest mistakes are about to be erased from existence once again, we’re reintroduced to the main characters from JURASSIC WORLD. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt reprise their roles as “Basically Olive Oyl, if Olive Oyl was dumber, whinier and far more dependent on Popeye” and “Han Solo, if he was played by John Ritter,” respectively, but the characters have changed. I don’t mean they’ve grown over the previous movie, I’m saying they seem like totally different characters. As if the producers were certain Howard and Pratt weren’t coming back, told the screenwriters to create new characters in their stead and never bothered to change anything once the actors returned to the project. For example, considering that Howard’s character was responsible for creating the Indominus Rex -- a whirling dervish of genetically enhanced evil -- and witnessed firsthand the death and destruction these monsters can wreak, why is she now an activist for dinosaur rights? Meanwhile, Pratt’s already thin character is reduced to a Henley shirt draped around a smirk. Yet, as different as the characters may be, they’re still incredibly stupid. Both Pratt and Howard are easily conned into thinking they’ll be helping to relocate Blue -- Pratt’s favorite trained raptor -- and the rest of the endangered creatures to a nearby island. Even though the person feeding them this honeyed lie is an oily millionaire (Rafe Spall) who looks like he just finished breaking a golf club over his knee when that cad Rodney Dangerfield wouldn’t stop asking the people around him if they stepped on a duck. Of course this scenario ends exactly where you expect with Spall and his band of mercenaries (led by Levine) betraying Pratt and Howard and leaving them for dead on an island that’s gradually becoming volcanic ash. Even less surprising is that Blue is about to become an unwilling participant a sort of advanced raptor genome project. What is unexpected is where FALLEN KINGDOM goes after this. 

To start with, there’s an unsubtle animal rights message interwoven into this sequence with slo-mo shots of CGI dinos overwhelmed in lakes of magma. The film is trying to make a point about animal cruelty but it’s like trying to make a point about our broken penal system by showing closed circuit camera footage of the prison-shanking of Jeffrey Dahmer set to the strains of an acoustic cover of "Easy to be Hard." Technically, in both cases we’re presented with something that’s terrible, but this terrible thing is happening to something that knows what human brains taste like, so whatever point you were trying to make is lost. This moment also marks a turning point for FALLEN KINGDOM in that it’s the first time the film sheepishly reboots itself and turns into a transparent discourse against animal poaching. If things weren’t duh-inducing before, they are during this stretch of the film as we’re introduced to Toby Jones, slurring his dialogue through enormous Chiclet sized caps looking like a broken-down middle-aged version of Bob’s Big Boy and basically playing a broader version of a Captain Planet villain. The film also reintroduces one of the most moronic plot threads found in JURASSIC WORLD: the weaponization of raptors. It’s not clear why any of the characters think this is a good idea. Apart from some of the smaller details like, the fact that dinosaurs aren’t bullet proof or the question of how these things are getting corralled back into their cages after they rip apart their target, why are they so confident these things aren’t going to turn on their human masters yet again? It’s happened four times already in this film universe. Even in a world without dinosaurs, animals regularly attack and kill their trainers and these are animals that are just being trained to stand on their hind legs or wear a hat without batting it off in disgust. Still, these fucking dum-dums want a drone they have to feed and clean up after, which is why we get the Indoraptor -- a super-intelligent, genetically enhanced version of a raptor that reminded me of the pipe-smoking, British accented raptors that appeared in a JURASSIC PARK parody on an episode of THE CRITIC. This thing understands locks, quietly opens windows and even understands pranks. And with the introduction of the Indoraptor, FALLEN KINGDOM reboots itself a second time by not only becoming a dinosaur themed slasher movie featuring the Indoraptor, it’s also a secret, DIE HARD sequel starring Blue. Watch as Blue reluctantly crawls around in confined spaces, runs away from an explosion in slow motion and defeats the Indoraptor by picking him up over his head and impaling the creature on the horns of a stuffed and mounted dinosaur. It’s kind of amazing the film didn’t cut back to Blue making some kind of quip like, “Hope you got my point” in dinosaur gibberish.

Amazingly, I haven’t even scratched the surface of how idiotic this is. I haven’t mentioned James Cromwell’s character -- a wheelchair bound partner of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond -- a character the franchise never mentioned until this movie. Or Isabella Sermon, whose character isn’t just unnecessary, she’s also wrapped up in one of the most superfluous plot twists in film history. Nor have I mentioned how the movie can’t make up its mind whether we should pity, fear or laugh at dinosaurs. FALLEN KINGDOM is a tonally awkward mess that feels like three separate sequels were edited together into one ridiculous movie but goddamn if it isn’t entertaining. Partly it’s because the film is top-heavy with character actors. Apart from Levine, Jones, Wong and Cromwell, we also get Geraldine Chaplin in an admittedly thankless role as Sermon’s doomed nanny. But mostly it’s because director J.A. Bayona (also responsible for 2007’s THE ORPHANAGE) keeps things moving and even manages to wring some surprisingly tense moments from a movie that grows increasingly goofier as it barrels along. Bayona also mercifully forgoes the dimwitted meta-bullshittery that plagued JURASSIC WORLD, which is strange considering that Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connelly returned to script FALLEN KINGDOM. Like watching a drunk friend headbutt a steel-bladed fan for reasons that will always remain lost to the alcohol, this movie is stupid and it will probably make you cringe, but you’ll enjoy yourself watching it more than you’d ever care to admit. Besides, Wong survives to see another sequel yet again. So, guess what JURASSIC WORLD 3: A MAMMOTH CHRISTMAS? You’ve already got my money.