by Mark Ahn
The Plot in 150 characters (in honor of the domestic millions of dollars made opening weekend): Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard try to figure out what to do with the leftover dinosaurs from the previous movie. Save them? Kill them? Sell them?
Jurassic World might be, it did try to push off into new directions with enough tether to the previous stories, and for the most part, was successful in delivering something entertaining. Where would director J. A. Bayona (The Impossible) and co-writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly take us now?
Fallen Kingdom moves in the direction of pushing humans and dinosaurs even closer together, but the novelty of seeing a dinosaur stalking around in a human environment was already explored in The Lost World and in Jurassic World. For the collision of human and dinosaur to be compelling, then we have to empathize with both the humans and the dinosaurs, and Fallen Kingdom tries but doesn’t reach that point.
One of the obstacles to that empathy is that it’s hard to care about the human characters. Our protagonists are Claire (Howard), the cutthroat executive from the previous film, and Owen (Pratt), who is likable but more of a catch-all hero who can rescue humans in danger. Claire’s character was the least sympathetic from the prior movie, so to make her relationship with Owen be the foundation of empathy for the humans doesn’t totally work, nor is there enough time to develop chemistry to manufacture any more. We’re not immediately rooting for them to be rescued or saved, despite our nominal familiarity with them.
What Universal Soldier tries to do and what the original Jurassic Park definitely does is to make the artificially created thing worthy of our empathy. We like the T. Rex because it’s terrifying AND we’re simultaneously in awe of what it is. Even if we don’t want it to eat the heroes, we understand exactly why the T. Rex acts the way it does; it’s within the nature of the thing, and it’s the fault of the heroes for not understanding that. In Fallen Kingdom, by making the dinosaurs a product of overt human manipulation, the stakes are lower because bad people are in trouble from the bad monsters they’ve created; there’s no sense of respect for the things they’ve created. Fallen Kingdom takes away the awe of the dinosaurs and doubles down on the terror, and there’s something we lose because of that. Making a dinosaur into just a monster reduces it to something less.