The latest installment, starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, fails to progress the beloved franchise to the next generation.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead! Do not proceed if you haven’t seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom!
When I was in the second grade, I proudly declared my chosen profession to be paleontologist. I was fascinated by dinosaurs, obsessed with the idea that these living, breathing creatures once walked the Earth. At the age of seven and a half, I wrote my first novel -- Dinosaurs Galore (currently out of print) -- complete with full illustrations, glitter and feathers.
I read Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park novels by age 10 and can't really remember a time before I'd seen the films, though I was only old enough to see the third one in theaters. (Thanks a lot, Dad). So, while my paleontology career didn't pan out -- I wasn't quite as gung-ho on studying dinosaur poop as Laura Dern -- it's safe to say my investment in the Jurassic Park franchise goes beyond the handfuls of dinosaur-themed jewelry I still own.
That being said, my disappointment over 2015's Jurassic World was only eclipsed by this year's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom -- and this is coming from someone who actually enjoyed (and will passionately defend) Jurassic Park III.
Like the dinosaurs abandoned on Isla Nublar to face a volcanic eruption that threatens to swallow up the island and all of its prehistorical inhabitants, this era of Jurassic films has left its higher caliber predecessors to drown in the thick molten lava of endless action sequences and underdeveloped characters. And, despite a mixed reaction from critics -- including a favorable review by ET's John Boone -- as a life-long fan of the franchise, I no longer see it competing with other Spielberg classics like Jaws and E.T., but rather the likes of Kong: Skull Island and Rampage. Entertaining, sure. Memorable, no.
With Fallen Kingdom now in theaters -- and a third Jurassic World movie scheduled for June 11, 2021 -- here is my breakdown of the film's biggest flaws and how I think the Jurassic team could still restore the franchise to its former glory:
Remember the Humans
Sure, it’s about a park filled with prehistoric creatures, but the heart of the original films were Dr. Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), well-developed leads that viewers could recognize and relate to. These were characters with real ambition, motivations and passions, who took strong stances and exhibited emotional depth.
Grant and Sattler have a history as paleontologists, so their passion for the dinosaurs, as well as their healthy fear of them, stays consistent throughout their time on the island. Their investment is well-documented from the start, as is Malcolm's signature skepticism, which explains his insistence on shutting down the park. In the second installment, The Lost World, Malcolm's heart is tested when his girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), and daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Chester), are put in peril on the island and he has to weigh his well-honed survival instinct against his desire to protect his loved ones.
Audiences don't have that same connection to Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing or Chris Pratt's Owen Grady. Though the actors' performances aren't without merit -- and a few laughs along the way -- the characters aren't fully fleshed out, making their fates practically meaningless.
In Jurassic World, we met Claire, a corporate workaholic who views dinosaurs as a product to sell rather than living, breathing creatures. Her actions lead to the destruction of the theme park and the deaths of many. Cut to Fallen Kingdom, where Claire is suddenly the leader of the dinosaur version of PETA, desperately trying to protect an endangered species from a second extinction. Her tearful, starry-eyed view of these creatures rings hollow, since viewers have had no time to truly see this transformation.
Now it's time to make a statement that will truly upset some fans: Chris Pratt being Chris Pratt is not enough to create a well-rounded lead. After seeing both Jurassic World films, I am left with no sense of who Owen is and what he stands for. Sure, he can rock a leather vest, which certainly earns him some respect. And yes, he makes well-timed jokes -- there's one scene in Fallen Kingdom involving encroaching lava that's particularly funny -- but he has no backstory to speak of, except that he's ex-military and has trained velociraptors to obey his commands.
Not only that, the relationship between Claire and Owen -- which culminated in a passionate kiss at the end of the first movie -- is at a total standstill once again in the sequel, with no real moment of true connection. (And no, falling asleep on someone’s chest doesn't count.) What they've been through clearly isn't enough to bring them together or painfully rip them apart -- so why is the audience supposed to believe that they've grown from their experiences at all?
Fallen Kingdom ends with Owen, Claire and the young girl Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who they've "adopted", driving off into a world inhabited by both dinosaurs and humans. The third Jurassic World installment needs to take the time to develop the relationships between these three to make us care about their modern family unit and their survival as dinosaurs reclaim their place at the top of the food chain. If Owen has commitment issues, have them play out in a life-or-death situation. If Claire is struggling to find her purpose, show those frustrations. These three could easily mirror Malcolm’s family from The Lost World, provided we see some connection between Owen and Claire.
Don't Blow Up, Build Suspense!
In place of that character development, the Jurassic World movies opt for non-stop action, scene after scene of relentless dino attacks, explosions and jump-in-your-seat frights. Gone are the days of staring at a glass as the impact of the T-rex's footsteps reverberate in the water, or watching in horror as Moore's Sarah freezes in place while the glass of their dangling caravan slowly cracks beneath her fingertips.
I still remember holding my breath as the velociraptors crept around the kitchen in search of their two young prey in Jurassic Park -- a scene that forever cemented the species as my all-time favorite dino -- and the horrific satisfaction of watching Wayne Knight's Dennis get attacked by a dilophosaurus inside his Jeep. These are the moments that make Jurassic Park special, scenes that were carefully built on suspense.
Within 10 minutes of arriving on Isla Nublar in Fallen Kingdom, Claire and Owen track a dinosaur, are betrayed, see a volcano erupt, escape another vicious dino, are part of a stampede, jump from the island into the ocean, get stuck inside a Gyrosphere, fight their way out and rush to get back on a boat before the island is destroyed. That could be the plot of an entire film -- and it happens in 10 minutes, losing any sense of suspense as the characters leap from one disaster to the next.
Too much focus has been put on shock factor, which, while exciting in the moment, doesn't stick with viewers in the long run. Instead of taking time to pick certain moments to make truly memorable, these films seem keen to pack in as many "epic" battles as possible. No one will remember the tenth time a T-Rex appears of nowhere to save the day and bite the head off whatever predator is attacking the group of humans.
The set-up this film provides for the next installment is not particularly encouraging in this department. How can a movie pick its moments when its focus is on dinosaurs taking over the entire planet? One way, is by working to elicit familiar feelings of dread, anticipation and awe-like respect for Mother Nature in isolated moments, instead of trying to make something bigger! More expensive! With even more dinosaurs! Trying to cover too much ground, like the free-for-all playing field teased at the end of Fallen Kingdom, can only result in purposeless chaos.
Don't Rely on Jurassic Park Nostalgia
Fallen Kingdom relies heavily on familiar imagery, such as a velociraptor -- or indoraptor, as it were -- turning a door handle, a dinosaur's shadow creeping up behind an unsuspecting victim, or B.D. Wong's ageless face. The Jurassic World team even attempts to bring back the beloved spirit of John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough) in the form of his never-before-mentioned business partner, Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell). But even the guy from Babe isn't enough to capture Hammond's magical presence.
Then there's Goldblum's Dr. Malcolm, brought back as a ploy to entice OG fans. As an OG fan -- and a fan of Jurassic Park's sweaty shot of a young Goldblum sprawled out with his shirt unbuttoned -- I'm disappointed that Dr. Malcolm spends less than two minutes on the screen, during which time he babbles in supposedly deep riddles like, "Change is like death, you don't know what it looks like 'till you're standing at the gates." (Certainly no “Life finds a way.”)
There's another character that’s a better fit to bring back anyway: Laura Dern's Dr. Sattler. She is already beloved by Jurassic fans and would fit easily into this world the way Dr. Malcolm couldn't. While he's constantly trying to stay out of that world, Sattler's whole life and career have been spent getting closer to dinosaurs.
Both Dern and Pratt have agreed to the much-needed return of Dr. Sattler, so why not make it a reality? Though Sattler makes a cameo in Jurassic Park III, she hasn't been in the field since the first movie. Instead, she was last seen living a domestic life not entirely worthy of the badass who limped through a field of blood-thirsty carnivores. Come Jurassic World 3, Owen and Claire could use someone older and wiser with a background in the creatures they're both battling and saving. Not to mention, five films deep, we could use more than one female lead per movie.
It’s no secret that any future Jurassic film will make serious money, so don’t worry, Chris Pratt, you won’t have to solely rely on the Avengers to pay for your fitted Henley shirts. But in order to restore the franchise to the caliber of the originals, the creators need to appreciate what made the first films so iconic. It's not impossible -- this new generation has stunning CGI and a strong cast -- but for me, the Jurassic World films prove that, like life on Isla Nublar, fates are fragile if you don’t respect those who came before you.
Agree? Disagree? Want to talk about why it’s completely ridiculous that velociraptors have been turned into the dinosaur version of Golden Retrievers? Tweet me at @rachelmcrady.