One of the things that makes George Romero’s zombie films great is that each one adapts to the age in which it was made. Romero had the ability to understand the issues facing each generation and make a film that dealt with them.
The last place I expected to see that happen again was in a Jurassic Park movie.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the latest installment in the saga of misguided dinosaur related activities, has been released to mixed reviews. To be sure, it’s not a perfect movie. It may not actually be a good movie. But it is a damn near perfect reboot of the series and it is a movie that reflects our times. Like the Resident Evil franchise before it, it is deceptively powerful and realistic.
Fallen Kingdom starts some time after Jurassic World ended. There’s an island full of dinosaurs, but the volcano on that island is suddenly about to explode. There’s a beautifully shot scene where a bunch of impossibly shady people are in the park hunting for the remains of Indominus Rex, the big bad dino from the last movie. After some people get eaten, we shift gears.
The U.S. government is scrambling to figure out what to do about the dinosaurs on the island that is about to destroy itself. Do we leave it alone? Do we move them? Whose responsibility is it? Whose problem is it? These animals are endangered and we have to protect endangered species. But this endangered species was created by us, and not any higher power, so do we owe them anything? Doesn’t that make it okay to let them die? They’re unnatural. Besides, they would completely up-end the balance of the world and destroy humanity!
Right from the get-go, Fallen Kingdom is heavy. Jurassic Park was a movie made at a time when things could be as simple as black and white, good and bad, playing God wrong!
Fallen Kingdom was made now when we have to deal with a new concept: Nuance. This movie starts after the deed is done. Dinosaurs have been made, whether that’s right or wrong is immaterial. We now have to deal with the consequences. And it’s a thorny issue. These are living creatures that represent real progress in many fields of science. There is no easy, quick fix. Any answer is going to require soul searching and quite a bit of discomfort.
Any American reading this can relate to all of that. The deed is done. All that remains is to determine what we’re going to do about it.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has switched gears from uptight, driven-to-a-fault business woman to dinosaur rights activist, using all the charm and business acumen she gained to get government officials on their side to help save the dinosaurs somehow. She thinks she’s making headway when news comes in: The U.S. government is washing its hands of whole affair and will let the dinosaurs die.
But Claire gets her chance when she receives a call from Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the business representative of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Lockwood, who was a colleague of the first film’s John Hammond, believes the dinosaurs should be saved and has a location for what is essentially a nature preserve all planned out, where the dinosaurs will live and no tourists will be allowed. All the technology to track the dinosaurs to save them is still on the island and can be activated by someone who worked there, like Claire. Mills also seems quite keen on making sure that one particular dinosaur makes it off the island: Blue, the velociraptor that is pretty much everyone’s favorite character from Jurassic World.
This necessitates bringing in the required-in-an-action-movie douche bag with a heart of gold, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Grady has decided to move out into the middle of nowhere and build himself a cabin and when Claire approaches him to help, he doesn’t seem keen on saving the dinosaurs. Nature just needs to play itself out here. The world wasn’t ready for them then and they’re still not now. But Claire plays on Grady’s attachment to Blue to get him to come along.
Also in the mix is Zia Rodriquez (Daniella Pineda) as a paleo-veterinarian, which makes sense would be a thing if you live in a world where dinosaurs exist and probably the character in the movie with the biggest cajones. There’s also our computer guy, Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), who is mainly there for plot convenience and comic relief. That’s not to say he doesn’t do a good job of it, he is very funny.
We get to the island to find out that several species have already been captured by a group that has clearly been on the island for a while, despite what Lockwood and Mills said. The group is headed by Ken Wheatley (played with nasty relish by Ted Levine), a guy that is so clearly the archetypal White Hunter that not only do you think it when you see him for the first time, Grady actually comments on it.
Dearing and Webb manage to get the tracking system back on-line and Grady goes out to find Blue. He finds the dinosaur (yay! I mean, we knew he was going to find her because of the advertisements but I was still happy to see her), but they get ambushed by Wheatley, who grievously wounds Blue and leaves Grady for dead (lucky they have a paleo-veterinarian along!).
Grady, Dearing and Webb reunite and run for the boat that is taking the animals off the island. Of course they make it because they’re the heroes and we’re only half way through the run time, but then something happens: The movie gets horribly bleak.
Our heroes are savoring their escape when they look back and see a brontosaurus on the dock calling after the boat. Even the illegal animal hunters stop and see lava envelope the animal. The camera barely looks away as we watch through the smoke as the animal falls into the lava and dies.
I’m not gonna lie, I started sobbing so hard it freaked out the kid sitting next to me.
This is where we see the vast difference a few decades can make. In the first movie, “life finds a way.” The dinosaurs were triumphant and if they died because of our neglect, it was off screen and lamented wistfully by wise but misguided people who really meant the best.
These days, these things we created are dying because of our deliberate and determined neglect. There’s no looking away. You face the consequences of the decisions you make. You look at what you’ve done. Our decisions hurt living beings that had no say in the situation they’re in. And facing up to that is the only way to fix it.
I also think that it’s no small coincidence that the people who witness this destruction, the hunters, are the ones who profit the most off it and who are not the people who would actually be touched by it, as is really what has happened to pretty much every animal that is going extinct right now.
Rodriguez manages to save Blue’s life after an incident with a T-Rex that is actually pretty funny and when the dinosaurs come ashore, the movie takes a weird, seemingly nonsensical turn: The animals are taken to Lockwood’s oddly and purposely Gothic estate and put in an underground lab.
There’s a lot of “WTF?!” in the movie shifting to that location, but tone wise it does make sense for the movie. The way the movie until this point has a definite horror vibe. The use of light and dark and the creeping dread that surrounds the appearance of many of the dinosaurs (as opposed to the action style “oh there’s a noise! AH! THE DINOSAUR JUST JUMPED OUT AND IS EATING MY FACE!”) is exquisite, and the emphasis on the decay of the surroundings on the island is masterful. It’s a horror cliché, the moment when Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie is walking around the lab she just discovered, turns her back on the bars blocking a big black space from which emerge claws that slowly glide forward and brush her ponytail.
It starts to make sense when we see the return of Dr. Wu (I LOVE B.D. WONG SO MUCH!) and that he and Mills have engineered the creation of a hybrid of the dead Indominus Rex and Blue, who had shown extraordinary levels of intelligence and the ability to bond with people and obey commands and that’s why Wu and Mills wanted her specifically. Mills intends to sell this creature, along with all the other dinosaurs he saved, on the weapon’s black market. Lockwood is livid when he finds out and when he tries to put a stop to it, Mills murders him.
A lot of people started rolling their eyes at this point. Selling dinosaurs as weapons. It’s stupid. And it’s lazy writing. And it’s unfeasible. That wouldn’t happen if dinosaurs were real.
*pauses to pull out the soap box she used when talking about the Resident Evil franchise*
Hate to break it to you folks, but this part of the movie is 1000% accurate. If dinosaurs existed, this is exactly what we would be happening with them. They would be created by corporations to be weaponized or pharmaceutical companies to create a new brand of snake oil.
PEOPLE SUCK AND THEY CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS BECAUSE THEY DESTORY THEM.
The thing I like about this film is that it has no illusions about people being good. Humans like to look at situations like the one in the movie and say, “that would never happen, people aren’t like that. I would step up and do something about it.”
That means you’re not paying attention to the world around you. It is happening. All of it. Right now. We let it happen every day. The internet has been weaponized for crap’s sake. What would ever make you think something as awesome as dinosaurs wouldn’t be?
This is why I particularly love the fact that they brought Old Dark House elements into this movie. Fallen Kingdom basically turns into a 50’s sci-fi/horror hybrid (with better special effects) after we leave the island. Basement laboratories hold secrets, white hunters bring specimens, people’s best intentions are betrayed for the benefit of another, families have skeletons in their closets and the truth will come to light by the monsters we’ve created.
This brings the philosophical concepts of this movie, and this franchise, full circle. It makes the underpinnings timeless. Whether in a musty old mansion or in a near future where humans have achieved genetic mastery, people have always been greedy and manipulative and violent and selfish and callous. It was as true in the days of Bela Lugosi creating exploding spiders as it is in the days of millionaires destroying our environment for another million they won’t even realize they have.
The movie makes us face the consequences of this again when the ventilation system to the dinosaur holding area is contaminated with poison. The choice has to be made all over again: Do we let them die or save them? This time the choice falls to our heroes. The deaths of those animals will be on their hands, as will any people who die as a result of letting those dinosaurs out. It’s a no-win situation for a person with a good heart, and we feel every second of it as the camera focuses on the dinosaurs starting to suffocate to death and fighting desperately against the door holding them in. Which do you choose?
In this case, the question is resolved twice. Both answers, though opposites, are legitimate because, in the world we live in now, we have to accept that there are no easy answers and that seemingly directly opposed ideas both have merit.
Answers are not black and white. They’re as complex as the problems that created them and humans need to face that in order to move forward. Otherwise we will be stuck in that Old Dark House, bedridden like Lockwood, stubbornly refusing to see our assistant twisting the beauty and wonder we create because it will make our lives hard.
On the surface, the Jeff Goldblum’s cameo as Dr. Malcolm is gratuitous fan service, but listening to Malcolm’s testimony before the senate is to be given a dire warning that is as true in a world without dinosaurs as it is in a world with dinosaurs.
Dismiss this movie as pure, sloppily written popcorn fare all you like. It crushed my soul as only a movie that speaks to the world I live in can. I never thought a movie with dinosaurs would make me soul sick and I give the creators of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom more credit and admiration than I can articulate for doing just that.