Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B.D. Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum

Director: J.A. Bayona

Writers: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow

I think what surprised me the most about this film was how much the trailers gave away and yet how little they prepared me. After watching the adverts I was able to predict beat for beat how the events were going to unfold and who was going to end up where doing what right up to the third act, but even now I am still astonished by how fundamentally ridiculous and derivative it all was. After the first Jurassic World, which I enjoyed and felt brought something new to the franchise while still remaining true to the original’s spirit but still fell short of the standard, I wasn’t expecting anything amazing. Even then, I still cannot wrap my head around what I saw. Fallen Kingdom is somehow both unremarkable for how dull and banal most of its story and action is and also mindboggling for the utter lunacy behind some of the choices that were made. This is an Attack of the Clones level of ineptitude I’m talking about here where it doesn’t seem possible for a movie to be this insanely stupid and still be so lacklustre.

Picking up after the events of Jurassic World that led to the closure of the park, the lives of the dinosaurs are now threatened by the impending eruption of a formerly inactive volcano on the island. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), now running an organisation lobbying for the protection of the dinosaurs, is about to lose hope when she is approached by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the prim, proper, and seemingly earnest businessman who always appears in these kinds of movies. He runs the organisation responsible for resurrecting the dinosaurs, owned by Dr. Hammond’s former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and they are putting together a rescue operation. They need Claire’s help to track the dinosaurs and bring them back safely, especially Blue, the intelligent and last living velociraptor. In an eye-rolling twist, Claire realises that the only person in the world who can rein Blue in is the last person in the world she wants to see, her ex-boyfriend and Blue’s former trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Owen has no interest in joining their operation but, after speaking to Claire and realising that there’s no movie if he sits it out, he agrees.

Things are a-go and Claire assembles her team, which as well as Owen includes Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), an IT technician who screams whenever anything moves, makes a sound, or exists, and Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a dino vet who has never actually treated nor even seen a dinosaur in the flesh. They tag along with a mercenary troop led by the gung-ho Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) and head for the island on the day that the volcano is scheduled to erupt. Here they must contend with rampant dinosaurs, scorching lava, and double-crossing mercenaries serving some ulterior motive. After nearly drowning in a pod, shot in a single take from within the spherical trap as it gradually fills up with water (the best action scene in the film), Owen, Claire, and the comic reliefs realise that they’ve been had and must stow away on the departing cargo ship to escape. One tedious, drawn-out scene later, they reach their destination and there learn the insidious reason why these dinosaurs were saved from their doom.

The remainder of the movie takes place in a Gothic mansion like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe novel with thunder and lightning all through the night and secrets around every corner (which might have been fine if I weren’t there to watch a dinosaur movie) and what we get is this tiresome and underwhelming game of cat and mouse (or, rather, dinosaur and human). As Claire and Owen work to liberate the captive creatures they cross paths with a seedy, villainous character played by Toby Jones (because they’re always played by Toby Jones), Lockwood’s young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), the obligatory kid who gets herself into all kinds of trouble but never comes to any harm, and another generically evil, blandly-designed, genetically-engineered dinosaur. It really bothers me how both Jurassic World movies have featured lab-designed dinosaurs as their big bads but have neglected to push the boundaries of what’s really possible, opting instead to make both of them barely distinguishable variations of raptors and T-Rexes. If you’re going to invent your own dinosaur, then get creative! Give them triceratops horns or a stegosaurus spike tail or pterodactyl wings or laser eyes or something! Anything!

Anyway, that’s the least of this movie’s problems. After the conclusion to Jurassic World with the escape of the dinosaurs and the collapse of the park provided the set-up to many interesting possible directions, Fallen Kingdom takes so many steps backwards it winds up retreading the territory they’ve already explored in the other films. The very idea of a nefarious organisation sending their team of idealistic, naïve characters to an island of dinosaurs to serve some secret scheme is straight out of The Lost World, except this time there’s a volcano. The movie is filled to the brim with scenes and images copied and pasted directly from the previous Jurassic Park films including the kid hiding from the dinosaur in an enclosed space, the predatory dinosaur falling through the glass, and the human villain getting chomped by the T-Rex. I know that there are certain things that we except to see in a Jurassic Park film the way we do with Star Wars and the Marvel movies, but there has to be some variation and progression. By revisiting the same plot in the same way and following the same beats, all this movie is demonstrating is that the characters in this universe are incapable of learning from their own mistakes. Fallen Kingdom even rips off its direct predecessor by splitting up Owen and Claire just so we can watch them argue about everything all over again before inevitably getting back together.

There is only one thing I really admire about this film and that is its willingness to confront the moral argument at the heart of the Jurassic Park films. What I love about the original 1993 film is how well it captured the sense of miraculous wonder that came with seeing living, breathing dinosaurs for the first time, allowing you to care for the creatures while still fearing them for all the chaos and destruction they could cause. The film acknowledges how dangerous it is for science to try and tamper with nature and the subsequent films have done nothing but confirm and reinforce the idea that bringing these dinosaurs back to life was a mistake. Time after time after time human attempts to control and interfere with them have failed as the beasts have consistently proven that they cannot be contained and that there is no place for them in a world where they are no longer the dominating species. Thus, faced with the prospect of a second extinction of the dinosaurs, Fallen Kingdom debates the question over whether they should be allowed to live or die. But then it bungles that debate in the most inept, outrageous way imaginable.

Before the plot gets started we sit in on a hearing held by Congress on whether they should act to save the dinosaurs or not. In this scene Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is invited to testify and he argues in favour of extinction. He reasons that the dinosaurs had their time on Earth a long, long time ago and that bringing them back to life was a mistake that has blown up in humanity’s face more than once. This imminent volcanic eruption is an act of God and it strikes Dr. Malcolm as nature’s way of correcting itself. Therefore let nature take its course. Let the dinosaurs die. In a movie that’s supposed to have me root for Claire and Owen’s team and their goal to save the dinosaurs, it doesn’t speak well that in less than five minutes of screen-time Dr. Malcolm won the moral debate hands down. Not a single thing that happens in this movie convinces me that these creatures deserve their chance at life, especially not after Fallen Kingdom makes its case with a plot twist and a resolution that defies any sense of logic, reason or sanity. Never before have I been so horrified by the catastrophic implications of what is supposed to be an uplifting, optimistic ending.

Fallen Kingdom is a formulaic, characterless Hollywood sequel that stomps along with the same sense of purpose as a soulless, genetically-engineered dinosaur. There is nothing at all to emotionally invest the viewer in the events of this film. There is no sensation of majesty or wonder about the dinosaurs because the movie never makes any time for it. There is no suspense in any of the action or story because the movie advertises everything it’s about to do and then explains it all after the fact anyway. It’s not even as good as The Lost World (which is already a low bar to set) because Bayona’s direction, while competent, isn’t a match for 1990’s Steven Spielberg. There is also no affection, humour or wisdom in any of these characters because there is no feeling in anything that they do. The one and only character who exhibits any shred of humanity in this film is the one who has just had enough of it all, the one who feels that everything has run its course and that there’s nothing more to say or do. I don’t want to walk away from a Jurassic Park movie agreeing with the guy who thinks that the dinosaurs should be left to die so that the rest of us can move on with our lives but here we are. That is how badly this movie dropped the ball.


Dad’s Army

Cast: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Courtney, Michael Gambon, Blake Harrison, Daniel Mays, Bill Paterson

Director: Oliver Parker

Writer: Hamish McColl

The transition from television to film is difficult to pull off, especially for a sitcom. Most of the great classic sitcoms that I can think of, such as Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses, revolved less around story than they did around characters. Those shows got their greatest laughs from simply having their characters interact with one another and having them respond to whatever situation they were in. The plot only existed to get them from point A to point B and was usually kept minimal to allow more room for the comedy. It’s tricky to see how such a format can work for film where audiences tend to expect a more cinematic experience. In other words everything, from story to humour to action, has to be bigger. Thus the question is whether a cinematic version of Dad’s Army (a show that I am admittedly only partially familiar with from occasional glimpses on the BBC) can retain its wit and charm through such a transition.

In 1944, with their victory of the Second World War in sight, the British army is making final preparations for the invasion of German-occupied France. The Home Guard at Walmington-on-Sea, led by Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones), is placed on high alert when British intelligence discovers that a German spy is operating within the area. With the aid of his second-in-command Sergeant Wilson (Bill Nighy), the task of uncovering this spy falls onto Mainwaring who relishes the chance to make an actual difference in the war effort. Amongst the men under his command are Lance Corporal Jones (Tom Courtney), Private Walker (Daniel Mays), Private Pike (Blake Harrison) and Private Godfrey (Michael Gambon). Morale is suffering amongst these men until they are visited by the beautiful and glamorous Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a journalist working on a story about the Home Guard.

Unfortunately Dad’s Army does not pull off the TV to film transition. The main issue is that the film simply isn’t very funny. There are a few laughs here and there but regrettably much of the comedy gets brushed aside in order to make room for the story and action. I get that since the film is set during the Second World War, perhaps the filmmakers wanted to embrace the more cinematic aspects of that period in order to provide an all-round more entertaining film. Maybe if the story and action had been a bit more compelling and thrilling or had been better employed in service to the comedy they might have succeeded. What they’ve made instead however is a stale, disjointed film with occasional comedic highlights. The best parts for me were the scenes when Mainwaring and his men were all together dysfunctionally performing one of their drills. Any time the film chose to focus on the spy story or one of the romantic sub-plots it just ground straight to a halt for me. The comedy in those scenes did not do anything for me because I simply wasn’t interested in what was happening.

The characters were overall very well cast and I can only imagine how hilarious they could have been had they been given a funnier script. Jones for instance has exactly the right sort of pomposity befitting a man like Mainwaring, a proud and conceited figure who gets carried away with his delusions of grandeur. Gambon in particular shines as the clueless Godfrey, providing the film with its one consistently hilarious performance. Every joke the film provides for him is executed splendidly with an undeniable charm on the actor’s part. I like that the film chose to diverge from the show in one important respect by expanding the roles of the women, including Mrs. Mainwaring who famously remained off-screen throughout the show’s entire run. Although the film was not entirely successful in actually portraying them all as interesting or funny characters, it was still a fair effort (although I will say that there is one particularly amusing moment involving the women that takes place during the film’s climax). All in all however Dad’s Army is essentially an exercise in how lost a great cast can be without any decent material.

While there are definitely some great comedic moments in this film, they are too few and far between. There were far too many instances when the film got caught up in its tedious story and I found myself wondering when the comedy was going to return. What little I have seen of the original show has displayed an uncanny and consistent sense of wit and charm to its humour. In this film we only get occasional glimpses of that same quality. It raises the question of whether this film should even have been made in the first place when there already is an acclaimed and beloved TV series that got it all right the first time. It is not affront to the show or what it stood for, it is simply a pale imitation that delivers the odd chuckle.