Fallen franchise: The de-evolution of the Jurassic films

I had intended for this to be a review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

I saw the movie on opening night, and had planned to use the weekend to put my thoughts in order so I could post a review early the following week. But the more I tried to find a way to talk about Fallen Kingdom (and believe you me, there’s a lot to talk about with Fallen Kingdom), the more I realized that it’s impossible to fully unpack my issues with the fifth entry in the Jurassic franchise without going all the way back to the beginning.

Masie (Isabella Sermon) faces some relics of the past in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal Pictures, 2018)

So this is not going to be a review of Fallen Kingdom, although I’ll definitely be discussing that film later on. But the truth is, what we have now is a Jurassic Cinematic Universe that is 25 years in the making, in which each film builds on the threads, themes, and characters of the ones that have come before it. And just as you can’t really discuss any individual entry in any long-running franchise, such as the MCU or Star Wars, without taking into account how all of its moving parts interlock with the other films that exist in the same world, you can’t truly evaluate a Jurassic sequel without acknowledging the films that led up to it.

So instead of working on a review of Fallen Kingdom, I’ve spent the past few days rewatching all of the Jurassic movies, trying to understand why, despite major advancements in filmmaking technology and, in the case of the Jurassic World movies, A-list casting, none of them quite live up to the magic of the original.

In order to fully unpack the shortcomings of the sequels, it’s important to first understand what made the original so great and then walk through the movies that took us from such a promising starting line to where we are now. And looking back on Jurassic Park, it wasn’t just the amazing practical effects, sky-high tension, or sweeping John Williams score that set it so far above the rest, although all of those things certainly helped. It’s not even this:

I sit like this when I’m injured, too. (Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures, 1993)

Okay, maybe it’s a little bit that.

But even more than that, I think the main thing that sets Jurassic Park apart is it’s single-minded, almost obsessive commitment to its central theme, and its ability to ask deep questions of its audience while simultaneously scaring our pants off.

Loosely adapted from the science fiction novel by Michael Crichton and masterfully directed by Steven Spielberg, in 1993, Jurassic Park used its monster-movie premise to deliver far more than just the anticipated thrills and jump scares. It thoughtfully explored complex topics such as the responsibility that accompanies scientific advancement and discovery, the incomparable power of nature, and the inevitability of chaos.

Certainly, some of this thematic complexity can be attributed to the novel that served as Spielberg’s source material. Michael Crichton’s work has never shied away from the science that underlies his fantastical premises, alternating pages of heart-pounding thrills with dense techno-speak and heated intellectual debate, and Jurassic Park was no exception. In between dinosaur attacks and narrow escapes, Crichton’s Jurassic Park took deep pains to not only intricately explain the science behind its resurrected dinosaurs, but to have its characters passionately argue the moral and ethical implications of such revolutionary scientific advancement.

The only one on Hammond’s side is the blood-sucking lawyer. (Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures, 1993)

And while most of the narrative details of the book didn’t make it into the film — large amounts of the plot were altered; major characters were either reimagined, given reduced roles, or eliminated entirely; and characters who survived the book died early in the movie, while characters who died in the book found new life on screen — those thematic and philosophical elements made the transition largely intact. So although the movie didn’t follow the book in almost any discernible way, it still felt like the book.

In fact, the film adaptation of Jurassic Park was so committed to the intellectual themes and debates of the book that most of its main characters did double duty, each symbolizing a specific idea or worldview in addition to their role as, you know, a person with feelings and drives and fears.

Muldoon (Bob Peck) already knows this is a bad idea. (Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures, 1993)

From Robert Muldoon, who exemplified both professional competence and the practical limits of such competence; to Alan Grant, the personification of caution and rigidity; to Ellie Sattler, serving as a voice of reason and balance who consistently pushes back against the preconceived notions of her companions; to John Hammond, jovially embodying the optimism and hubris of advancement, and the blinders we wear in pursuit of our own goals; each of the characters in Jurassic Park brings a different, almost archetypal perspective to the table, guaranteeing a lively and nuanced debate any time two or more of them share the screen.

And then there is Ian Malcolm, arguably the most significant character in the entire franchise, because he is the one who introduces the idea of chaos.

Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) explains chaos theory to Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) while also getting his flirt on. (Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures, 1993)

Chaos rules supreme in Jurassic Park, and Malcolm spends most of his time in the film either explaining chaos theory, warning the others not to rule out chaos, or lamenting that he was right about chaos. The fact that he’s played by a charismatic and black-leather-clad Jeff Goldblum can make it easy to miss just how on-the-nose Malcolm’s character is, which was probably the point. Spielberg spends the whole movie baldly telling us what his movie’s about, but wraps his message up in such immensely palatable packaging that we never feel like we’re being lectured, even though the vast majority of Malcolm’s lines are exactly that.

And really, more than anything else, Jurassic Park is about chaos, this powerful force that doesn’t necessarily work for or against the characters, but simply acts randomly, adding a layer of unpredictability to everything they do and everything that happens to them. The dinosaurs, majestic and awe-inspiring as they may be (and rest assured, the film absolutely acknowledges the utter awesomeness of its dinosaurs, infusing every second that they’re on screen with a sense of reverence and wonder), are ultimately just the tasty candy coating to make the intellectual core of the movie go down easier. In the 127 minutes that make up the film, only about 15 of them are dinosaur footage, while chaos works its way into nearly every scene.

You could’ve sworn there were more than 15 minutes of dinosaurs in this movie, couldn’t you? (Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures, 1993)

It’s not surprising, given the novel the movie is based on. Science fiction as a genre has always been about using the advancement of technology to explore philosophical questions. Jurassic Park may not feel like traditional sci-fi, since it disguises its technology as Brachiosaurus and T-rex, but once you strip away the prehistoric trappings and the horror conventions, the question at the center of Jurassic Park is simple:

If we anticipate chaos, can we prevent chaos? 

Here’s a nifty thought experiment, for those of you familiar enough with the movie to play along. Try naming a single plan made by a human that goes off as intended at any point after Malcolm explains chaos theory to Drs. Sattler and Grant in the Jeep. I’ll wait.

Tim (Joseph Mazzello) hides from raptors. This scene is still just as terrifying today as it was 25 years ago. (Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures, 1993)


Yeah, I can’t come up with one either. In a movie populated almost exclusively by experts in their respective fields, Jurassic Park is almost shocking in its absence of a single moment in which humanity is able to outsmart nature. Instead, it is steadfast in its efforts to show that there’s no amount of expertise or planning that inoculates you from the brutal churn of chaos, and no matter how the characters attempt to anticipate, resist, or account for chaos, they are consistently outmaneuvered by it. Using Malcolm as its mouthpiece, Jurassic Park sets up its core question early on and then spends the rest of the movie methodically answering it, using the philosophies embodied by its characters to explore the concept of chaos from every possible angle. From Grant and Malcolm trying to draw the T-rex away from the cars, to Mr. Arnold’s ill-fated trip to turn the power back on, to Muldoon’s attempt to hunt the raptor that he knows is also hunting him, to Grant’s assurances that the kids will be safe in the visitor center, nothing the characters do goes according to plan, and it has absolutely nothing to do with their intelligence, skill levels, or general competency.

That Spielberg makes this deep thematic exploration work so spectacularly well on film is an impressive feat on its own, but that he manages to do it while also never sacrificing entertainment value, suspense, or pacing, all while creating believable cinematic dinosaurs that still hold up a quarter of a century later, is what makes Jurassic Park a singular artistic achievement that’s rarely been rivaled to this day.

Which brings us to… The Lost World.

The cast of The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures, 1997)

1997 was the beginning of an interesting time in digital effects technology. It had come a long way since 1993, to be sure, but not quite as far as Hollywood liked to think. 1997 was the year of the Star Wars Special Editions, with their weirdly glossy aliens, and just two years ahead of the Star Wars prequels, which could best be described as, well…

Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures, 1993

I remember seeing The Lost World in the theater with my friends, and laughing so hard I cried during the scene with the gymnastics (which, for the record, is a Very Bad Scene). I was, to put it mildly, not impressed. I hadn’t yet learned to lower my expectations for movie sequels, and I loved the first movie with my whole heart, so my disappointment was palpableand I didn’t watch The Lost World again for many years.

So imagine my surprise when I popped in the DVD recently (yes, I own all the Jurassic sequels, what of it) and found that it was… not… that… bad?

“You know what’s better than one T-Rex? Two T-Rex.” – someone responsible for The Lost World, probably. (Universal Pictures, 1997)

Look, The Lost World is not a great film. The plot is shaky, the characters are shallowly developed, and the dinosaur effects are a noticeable step down from the first movie, thanks to an over-reliance on not-quite-there-yet CGI and low-budget practical effects.

However, you can tell they tried.

The Lost World comes out of the gate swinging, opening with an innocent little kid getting attacked by a pack of Procompsognathus — effectively establishing that no one is safe. (That scene also gets bonus points for ending on a hilariously brilliant match cut from the girl’s mother screaming to Malcolm yawning.)

What follows is a somewhat contrived story in which John Hammond convinces a new group of specialists to go to Isla Sorna — his secret, second dino-island — for reasons that only sort-of make sense. The party includes a reluctant Malcolm, who only agrees to go in order to ensure the safety of his girlfriend, who’s already there. Once they arrive on Isla Sorna, they discover a that Malcolm’s teenage daughter stowed away in their trailer (???) and also that there’s a group of hunters already on the island determined to bring the dinosaurs to the mainland so they can open Jurassic Park: San Diego.

Dinosaurs in the big city! What could possibly go wrong! (The Lost World, Universal Pictures, 1997)

As I said, the plot isn’t the best.

The opening act of The Lost World does flirt with the idea of introducing a new scientific debate for this film – that it’s impossible to observe the dinosaurs without affecting them, since “whatever you study, you also change” (Malcolm claims he’s citing the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, although that’s an incorrect interpretation) – but that thread is quickly dropped as soon as things start going wrong.

Once the action starts, it becomes glaringly clear (if it wasn’t already) that The Lost World is far more of a straight thriller than a cerebral science fiction film, but it does at least make an attempt to follow some of the themes of the original. Like the first film, almost none of the characters’ plans get executed as intended (until the end of the movie, when it seems like the writers just sort of gave up). Chaos isn’t front and center in this movie – despite Malcolm being the main character this time around, he must have decided that he explained chaos theory well enough the first time, because he doesn’t spend much time on it here – but it’s constantly simmering underneath. The first major death of the film is a character we like, who just completed a heroic rescue – and gets rewarded for his efforts by being ripped in half by a pair of T-Rex, bringing back around the idea that merit has no bearing on survival in the Jurassic world.

The Lost World also, for the most part, delivers some decent suspense, although it never quite reaches the heights of the original, and embraces the dark, rainy aesthetic that worked so well in the iconic T-Rex attack from the first film. It uses its score effectively, taking full advantage of John Williams’ beautiful themes. And it made a good call in bringing Malcolm back as a main character; The Lost World doesn’t ever take the time of its predecessor to really connect the audience with the characters, so it’s nice to have at least one person there that we legitimately care about.

Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, and Vince Vaughn and Richard Schiff as Those Other Guys in The Lost World. (Universal Pictures, 1997)

Still, for all The Lost World gets right, it never completely works. The last act in San Diego is a mess, falling apart instead of bringing all its disparate threads together. A couple of main characters simply disappear once they make it off the island, and are never mentioned again. There’s the infamous gymnastics scene. In trying to recreate the quippy, gallows-esque humor of the first film, The Lost World occasionally pushes things too far in the other direction, coming across as cheesy and out of place. And, most importantly, by keeping chaos in the background and never having its characters actively engage with it, the film fails to challenge the audience with new perspectives or display any sort of thematic cohesion.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s just also not a particularly good one. It’s simply… fine. But as a follow-up to one of the most revolutionary and beloved films of the 20th century, fine feels a lot like bad, and in 1997, I was extremely unforgiving of the aggressive okay-ness of The Lost World. I think a lot of us were.

Which makes it kind of baffling that they went ahead and made Jurassic Park III.

Why. (Jurassic Park III, Universal Pictures, 2001)

The third installment in the Jurassic series hit theaters in 2001, with a far more solid premise than that of The Lost World: while parasailing off the coast of Isla Sorna (with a Costa Rican company called Dino-SOAR, which feels like a perfect dig at the crass commercialization Malcolm accused Hammond of in the first movie), a young boy goes missing, and his distraught parents hire a team of professionals to return to the island to find him – including Alan Grant, whom they more or less kidnap.

In many aspects, Jurassic Park III mirrors both the strengths and weaknesses of The Lost World, just… less successfully. Once again, most of the characters feel underdeveloped, except for Grant (thanks, mostly, to the work done in the first movie) and possibly Paul Kirby, although that may have more to do with William H. Macy’s portrayal of him than the character himself. Once again, the effects are a notable step down from the first film, only this time, both the digital and practical effects are bad (Jurassic Park III hit theaters five months ahead of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and nearly a year ahead of Star Wars Ep II: Attack of the Clones, so right in that “digital effects technology had evolved enough to get way overused, but not enough to hold up years later” sweet spot). Once again, the script sticks to a straight-up thriller narrative instead of embracing any of the philosophical or scientific nuances of the first film, but still manages to deliver some okay-ish thrills. And once again, while Jurassic Park III sticks to the chaotic principles established in the original, it fails to address them directly or present any sort of challenging new viewpoints, making it feel thematically stale.

Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Eric Kirby (Trevor Morgan), and Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) in Jurassic Park III. (Universal Pictures, 2001)

Jurassic Park III is also undeniably hokey, with a talking dream-raptor sequence, a pteranodon slooooooowly turning its head to follow its prey like a slasher movie villain, a Spinosaurus with a satellite phone in its belly that characters can hear approaching like the crocodile in Peter Pan, and a climactic action scene that is hilariously overdramatic and features a deus ex parachute. It’s like Joe Johnston watched the gymnastics scene from The Lost World and went, “yes, this, but MORE.”

WHY. (Jurassic Park III, Universal Pictures, 2001)

It’s not a flat-out terrible sequel; it’s just not a particularly good or memorable one, which is perhaps why, following its release, the franchise stalled out for the next fourteen years.

Which brings us to 2015’s Jurassic World.

At least the effects are decent in this one. That mosasaur is legit. (Jurassic World, Universal Pictures, 2015)

Up until this point, even with the declining quality of the sequels, every Jurassic movie had a few important things in common. They all had a basic “man vs. nature” conflict structure, meaning that none of them had a human antagonist pushing back against the main characters as they pursued their goals (which was, in all three movies, pretty much just survival). Sure, there were human characters who added layers of complication, but at the end of the day, the only force truly working against the main characters was nature.

Each movie also leaned pretty heavily on horror conventions, despite not being horror movies. Although they employed these techniques with varying degrees of success, all three made use of atmospheric tension, the fear of something sinister lurking just out of frame, and jump scares, and they all cultivated a persistent sense of dread, which kept the audience in suspense and the pacing churning along.

And while neither of them held up to the original, both The Lost World and Jurassic Park III each tried to stay in the spirit of that movie, not just by centering their narratives around two of the main original cast members, but by holding (mostly) true to the idea of chaos underlying and undermining every choice and action in the movie. (And, I know I keep bringing this up, but it’s a big deal, okay? — they both made great use of John Williams’ musical themes from the first movie.)

With Jurassic World, though, all of that went out the window (well, except for the music. There are some legitimately great musical callbacks in Jurassic World). This movie brought in a shiny — yet weirdly unmemorable — new cast (plus Henry Wu, who’d apparently learned nothing whatsoever in the 23 years since the failure of the first park), built a shiny new park, and decided that the rules established in Jurassic Park and carried forward in The Lost World and Jurassic Park III no longer applied. It jettisoned the practical effects of the first movie and replaced them with sleek new digital effects, and positioned most of its big set pieces during broad daylight, swinging the camera around at all sorts of impossible angles to give us the best possible views of its shiny new dinosaurs, but completely robbing the film of the intimate, grounded urgency of the original. It also got closer than any of the previous films to having a legitimate antagonist, in Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins, and left behind the tropes and structures of the first three films, casting aside sci-fi, horror, and thriller conventions in favor of going full-on disaster movie.

But, for my money, the most significant change Jurassic World made to the franchise was getting rid of chaos.

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) faces off against his *heavy sigh* trained raptors. (Jurassic World, Universal Pictures, 2015)

In Jurassic World, things go wrong, sure, mostly because there’s no one around who really understands the Indominus Rex. But the other dinosaurs? Specifically the raptors, who Muldoon insisted in the first movie “should all be destroyed” because they were too smart and too unpredictable to ever effectively manage; and the T-rex, who spent 100% of Jurassic Park being anywhere and doing anything except what the characters expected her to do?

In Jurassic World, they’re little more than tools for the humans to use.

In Jurassic Park, there’s an early scene in which the characters watch a velociraptor egg hatch, and John Hammond proudly states that he makes it a point to be present for every birth on the island, so that the dinosaurs can imprint on him and learn to trust him. This idea is later shown to be total rubbish; none of the dinosaurs on the island ever cared a lick about John Hammond, and his belief that being present for their births somehow mattered to them was all in his head. A fiction he’d spun for himself to make him feel like he had some degree of control — which is debunked later by Ellie’s line that, “You never had control; that’s the illusion.”

Yet, in Jurassic World, Owen explains how he is able to be the “Alpha” over the raptors using the exact same argument as Hammond. And this time, in Jurassic World, where chaos suddenly does not reign supreme, he’s right.

Jurassic World does make a cursory attempt to explain why its raptors are different than the originals (and Fallen Kingdom does even more backpedaling to try to make their compliance make sense, which only winds up further muddying the waters), but even if their genetic code and their environment have been altered, the underlying principle that drove the first three movies should still be intact — that there is no accounting for chaos.

Except, in Jurassic World, apparently, there is. The raptors follow orders, show affection for humans, and respond to training. The T-Rex goes where she’s supposed to, as fast as she’s supposed to, and fights the thing she’s supposed to. The breakdown of the park happens only because the new dinosaur turned out to be smarter than they’d anticipated. All of the others appeared to behave exactly as expected — implying that if humans had never decided to create a brand new hybrid dinosaur, Jurassic World, with all its plain ol’ ordinary dinosaurs, would’ve continued to run along just swimmingly, indefinitely.

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) prepares to hurl a T-Rex at the Indominus Rex. (Jurassic World, Universal Pictures, 2015)

This flies in the face of the first movie, in which Malcolm, Sattler, Grant, and Muldoon all passionately argued against the opening of the park, saying that there was no possible way to guarantee the safety of the guests, since there was no way to account for creatures that haven’t existed for 65 million years — and they made those arguments before Nedry knocked over that first domino that sent the entire park crumbling to the ground. The characters of the first movie take the idea of chaos extraordinarily seriously, but even though they know to anticipate it, they can’t prevent it.

Not so in Jurassic World, where every complication can be outmaneuvered by skillful planning, and failure means you probably screwed up somewhere along the way. Which makes the stakes feel somehow smaller, despite the grandiose scale of the action, because the movie makes it clear that these events are not random or unpredictable, but earned. In Jurassic World, where chaos is no match for skill, and survival hinges on merit, Robert Muldoon could have lived to be a hundred years old.

Jurassic World has its fun moments, and it’s probably got more dinosaur shots in it than in the first three movies combined, but remember — dinosaurs were always supposed to be the candy coating to make the underlying themes of the movie go down easier, not the whole pill. When you get rid of the scientific debate and the ethical wrangling, when you stop grappling with how to reconcile humanity’s desire for control with the reality of chaos, you’re left with just… coating.

Tasty, maybe, in the same way that some people think that licking all the frosting off a cake is tasty. But not a lot of substance.

And this all brings us back to Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film in the Jurassic universe.

MOS! A! SAUUUUUUR! (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Universal Pictures, 2018)

Much as The Lost World and Jurassic Park III tried to mimic the best parts of Jurassic Park, with mixed resultsFallen Kingdom attempts the same thing with Jurassic World, keeping popular elements of the first movie and attempting to structure a new narrative around them. This is already shaky ground on which to start, since Jurassic World had already gotten rid of so much of what made the first three Jurassic movies feel like, well, Jurassic movies.

But as if that wasn’t enough, even the things Fallen Kingdom keeps, it also discards.

Take, for example, Claire and Owen, the two central characters from Jurassic World. They’re back for Fallen Kingdom… or at least they appear to return until you realize that Claire’s personality has been totally rewritten. While Owen remains more or less the same from one movie to the next — minus, perhaps, a few IQ points — in Jurassic World, Claire is a savvy business manager who refers to the dinosaurs as “assets,” doesn’t know her own nephews’ ages and hasn’t made an effort to see them in seven years, and is shown as being professionally competent, but lacking in empathy and interpersonal skills. At the beginning of the film, she’s protective of the dinosaurs in her care out of professional competence, not moral obligation, and once things begin breaking down, her only concern is for the humans in the park. She even masterminds a plan to use one dinosaur to take another one out.

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is back for Fallen Kingdom with a softer hairstyle, sensible clothing, and a completely different personality. (Universal Pictures, 2018)

Yet, in Fallen Kingdom, Claire now runs a non-profit — one she created — to save dinosaurs from extinction. This Claire is warmer, softer, more personable and less awkward than the version in Jurassic World. People change and grow based on their experiences, but that doesn’t feel like what’s happened to Claire. She’s changed not because the Claire of the first movie would actually do any of those things, but because they needed a reason to get Claire and Owen back to the island when the characters from the first movie would never willingly make that journey (and also, possibly/probably, because they wanted Bryce Dallas Howard for three movies and thought she needed a likability makeover in order to hold the audience’s interest). So instead of writing around the characters they already had, they simply reprogrammed one of them like a Westworld host and used her to push the plot around.

(Sidebar, even after all that maneuvering, the reason they go to the island still doesn’t make a ton of sense.)

After the trip-to-the-island-to-save-the-dinosaurs-from-a-sudden-volcano storyline that makes up the bulk of all the trailers, the true conflict of the movie begins, which revolves around yet another humans-created-a-brand-new-monster-hybrid plot (this one is called the “Indoraptor”), because no one in the Jurassic World movies ever learns anything from the people who came before them. Not even Henry Wu, who, in hindsight, should probably have died in the first movie to save him from turning into the mad scientist caricature he becomes (seriously, what kind of person witnesses their creations destroy not one but two parks, killing dozens of innocent people in the process, and still thinks it’s a good idea to make yet another apex predator hybrid?).

Yes, this was totally a good idea. (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Universal Pictures, 2018)

What follows is a convoluted plot that unsuccessfully recycles bits and pieces of the earlier films — an aging billionaire with a dream, a precocious kid, raptor training, darkness and rain, along with several shots and sequences that feel like straight cut-and-paste jobs — and pairs them alongside weird additions that might feel at home in a more traditional action-thriller, but seem out of place in a Jurassic movie: fist fights, shady business deals, and, for the first time, a straight-up villain. 

Which means for the first time ever in a Jurassic film, instead of a man vs. nature conflict, Fallen Kingdom relies primarily on man vs. man.

Now, I’m not saying that changing up the nature of the conflict can’t work five movies into a franchise (just look at Fast Five, which successfully shifted the entire genre of that franchise) or that sequels always must recycle the same themes and conflicts from the earlier movies (see Fast Five again). There’s a way to honor what came before and stay true to the established rules of that world while still creating something new and different. But there’s a difference between thoughtfully building something fresh on an existing foundation, and blowing up everything that came before and then trying to piece something together from whatever scraps you happen to find.

Fallen Kingdom, sadly, feels like the latter. Not only is the villain one-dimensional and bland, and not only does his evil scheme not make much sense, but in trying to center the conflict around one guy, this film charges even further away from the idea of chaos than Jurassic World. It’s all humans plotting against one another, and humans carrying out their plans. Dinosaurs, again, wind up being used as tools, acting predictably, going exactly where the characters want them to go, and doing precisely what they want them to do. For a while, it seems like the exception might be the Indoraptor, but ultimately, predictability gets the best of him, too.

Owen (Chris Pratt) reasons with Blue the Raptor, who is utterly domesticated in this film. NGL, I really wanted her to bite his hand off in this scene. (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Universal Pictures, 2018)

It’s not that the movie forgets about its dinosaurs; plenty of dinosaurs are present in Fallen Kingdom, including a few species we haven’t seen before (hey there, Pachycephalosaurus!). It’s just that the movie doesn’t seem to care about them, which feels a little ironic in a film where one of the characters runs an organization called the Dinosaur Protection Group. They get a lot of screen time, but are used more as props and tools than as the living, willful creatures of the first movie.

It’s doubly unfortunate because Fallen Kingdom lays the early groundwork for a new philosophical and scientific question to debate and explore, namely: Do extinct animals — and by extension, any sort of genetically engineered life forms — have rights? Do they even count as living beings to begin with? What is our moral responsibility to a previously extinct species?

This could’ve been a fascinating question around which to pivot the plot and the characters, and all the pieces are there. Fallen Kingdom needed only to assemble them. It could’ve used its animal rights activists and hunters and scientists and entrepreneurs to bring all sorts of new perspectives to the table, used its dinosaurs to illustrate their arguments in exciting and unanticipated ways, and explored this issue with the same care and nuance that the first Jurassic Park used to dig into the idea of chaos theory.

It’s like a live-action Monsters, Inc., if Sully was a genetically engineered monster hybrid. (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Universal Pictures, 2018)

But Fallen Kingdom, it turns out, is about as concerned with scientific debate as it is with character consistency. While there is plenty of glitz and spectacle and disaster-movie caliber actionthere’s very little thoughtfulness in this Jurassic venture. This isn’t a film that’s interested in paying homage to its legacy; unlike the previous four movies, this one doesn’t even use any of Williams’ musical themes, save a few quick three- or four-note motifs here and there. Much like the volcano of the first act, all Fallen Kingdom appears to want to do is wipe out the past and do its own thing.

Which could still have worked, even with the significant distancing from the rest of the franchise, if the movie was at least good. But the pacing is clunky, the plot rotates between totally nonsensical and utterly predictable, the writing is sloppy, and the entire ending rests on the audience caring about a subplot that was never properly set up in the first place. And while Fallen Kingdom does contain some fun action scenes and truly gorgeous shots, as well as a welcome return to horror conventions and a couple new characters who are pretty delightful (albeit underutilized), nothing about it lives up to the promise of Jurassic Park or even Jurassic World. It somehow managed to follow up a movie that lacked substance with even less substance. 

Franklin (Justice Smith), Owen (Chris Pratt), and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) seek shelter from stampeding dinosaurs and an erupting volcano in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. (Universal Pictures, 2018)

Still, I have some hope. If there’s one thing Fallen Kingdom did well, it was set up the premise for the third Jurassic World movie, and it’s a truly interesting one. Something we haven’t seen before. Something that, if the filmmakers are able to resist the urge to continue de-intellectualizing these films and if they can halt the franchise’s gradual descent into generic disaster movie territory, might even be great.

I hope that movie is innovative. I hope it’s exciting. I hope it gives us things we’ve never seen before, things we’ll still be talking about 25 years later. I hope it challenges our thinking and appeals to our humanity. I hope it’s scary, and thrilling, and tender, and hopeful. I hope it’s filled with awe and reverence, chaos and questions.

In short, I hope feels like a Jurassic movie.

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