In 2018, the Wheels Came Off the Jurassic Franchise
It turns out there’s such a thing as too many dinosaurs.
The trailer for the most famous dinosaur movie ever made barely features any dinosaurs.
Jurassic Park advertises its main attraction in tantalizing half-second glimpses — a foot, a head, an eye. This is partly because there’s not much to show; the 126-minute film only features dinosaurs onscreen for a grand total of 15 minutes. But the restraint also speaks to the movie’s ethos. Dinosaurs are strange beasts capable of instilling awe and terror, an effect that’s lost if they keep showing up like a wacky sitcom neighbor.
Twenty-five years later, the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom trailer featured dinosaurs out the wazoo. They fight, they stomp, they stampede past our heroes. “It’s the cinematic equivalent of a parent saying, “Oh, you liked that cigarette, huh? Let’s see how you feel after you smoke the whole pack.”
But Fallen Kingdom’s trailer suggests it’s interested in more than spectacle. As the dinos promenade across the screen, Jeff Goldblum monologues: “Do these animals deserve the same protections given to other species? Or should they just be left to die? These creatures were here before us, and if we’re not careful… they’re going to be here after.”
These are intriguing questions that completely fail to materialize in the final product, most of which features Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard trying to look agape at CGI creatures they can’t see. The dinosaurs of the abandoned Jurassic World theme park are stuck on Isla Nublar and are about to be killed by an erupting volcano. In his single scene, Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm advocates letting them die; we’ve meddled with the natural order, and if we don’t seize this opportunity to correct biological history, humanity could be knocked off the top of the food chain.
But our heroes, including raptor trainer Owen Grady (Pratt) and Jurassic World apparatchik turned dino rights activist Claire Dearing (Howard), want to save the dinosaurs from their grisly fate. Meanwhile, the villains, led by mercenary Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) and requisite sleazeball business guy Eli Mills (Rafe Spall)… also want to save the dinosaurs, but as part of some cockamamie scheme to sell them as living weapons to customers who presumably dislike the impersonality of firearms. To say the issues Dr. Malcolm raises are thrown out would be an understatement; they get pitched into the volcano.
Wheatley and Mills play nice at first, recruiting Owen, Claire, and their stock-character friends for what they pitch as a merciful rescue. This is relatively effective; there’s some eeriness to the ruins of Jurassic World, and the race against the exploding clock is entertaining enough. But then the baddies show their true colors, and the movie shifts to an estate that inexplicably resembles Resident Evil’s Spencer Mansion. Here, our heroes must disrupt a villainous dinosaur auction, which is exactly as silly as it sounds.
Fallen Kingdom was presented as a perilous rescue mission set against an exploding volcano and the question of whether it’s even right to save these critters, but to say it didn’t play out as advertised would be an understatement. No, this is not a shocking exposé on the fact that trailers are sometimes misleading, but the bait and switch spoke to the fact that the Jurassic franchise had lost sight of what it was doing. Jurassic World was a bombastic bore, but you could see what it was going for: Jurassic Park, but bigger. But then, despite Jeff Goldblum’s pleas, we just couldn’t let it die.
This would be forgivable if Fallen Kingdom was any good, but the question of whether a random smattering of dinosaurs are fated to guard the compounds of oligarchs or live on a nice dino-farm upstate just isn’t a compelling conflict, especially once it’s buried under the crushing weight of franchise bloat. Jurassic World introduced a genetically engineered super-T. Rex, so Fallen Kingdom had to introduce a genetically engineered super-raptor. Still not enough for you? How about a human clone? Does that make you think? Never mind, we’re moving on.
Fallen Kingdom shotguns ethical dilemmas at you, but doesn’t stop jumping between muddled set pieces long enough to explore them. Maybe no one’s watching Fallen Kingdom for deep thoughts, but then why even bring them up? It’s just exhausting, and at odds with the nonstop spectacle, paper-thin villains, and heroes whose motivations shift on a dime that should have been put towards a screenwriting textbook. It all feels like a few different drafts were stapled together.
In 2014, co-writer Colin Trevorrow said he envisioned a movie that could “arc into a series that would feel like a complete story,” setting up future films that explore a world where humans and dinosaurs co-exist. At the end of Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs escape the evil auction and foreshadow exactly that. It’s a cheap sequel tease considering the movie dodged all its questions about why we even continue to make prehistoric killing machines, but dinos wandering city parks is still a fun premise. Then, when Jurassic World Dominion arrived in 2022, it shoved that idea aside to focus on, for some reason, an evil plot involving genetically engineered locusts.
That was disappointing, but not surprising; Rise of Skywalker had recently smacked the panic button and discarded much of what its predecessor had teed up. You’d think franchise with larger budgets than some countries would plan out their futures with more forethought than a drunken freshman, but Fallen Kingdom was instead the ultimate example of our latest and dumbest trend: blockbusters making everything up as they go along. The result was slapdash, ridiculous, and just not very fun, which is a sin when dinosaurs are involved.