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The gleeful misanthropy of ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

By Luke Goodsell
Chaos saves the dinosaurs in this latest franchise instalment

It’s been 25 years since Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park established a seldom-matched sense of wonder for cinema’s nascent digital age, and the screen’s hottest leather-clad mathematician issued the iconic line “life finds a way” – words now repurposed as a lazy marketing tagline for an era of less awestruck audiences lining up for their risk-averse family meal deal. Yet after four sequels, including 2015’s slipshod but enjoyable (and wildly profitable) Jurassic World, the unpredictability that Jeff Goldblum’s character was alluding to seems finally to be taking hold. With its promise of an all-out, global dinosaur invasion and a side order of human cloning, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom might be the first film in the series that breaks the mould of its predecessors, ditching the tenuous social concern of Michael Crichton’s cautionary original in favour of a gleeful contempt for humanity’s failings. This is a movie that more or less wonders: what if our ancient reptiles deserve another shot at reigning over the planet? To flip Christian Slater’s enduring Heathers aphorism: chaos is great – chaos is what saved the dinosaurs, darling.

Not for nothing does the new film open on a shot of a sub emerging from the watery darkness, like a UFO setting down to Earth. In the wake of the previous movie’s carnage, Jurassic World is once again dissolute and deserted, Isla Nublar overrun with unattended dinosaurs facing extinction from a volcano that threatens to erupt. Dinosaur rights activists are protesting the neglect, and the park’s corporate keepers are about to launch an effort to ostensibly rescue the abandoned animals and relocate them to a nearby, safer island. So far, so Lost World. But unbeknownst to the park’s legacy figurehead, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the ailing partner of John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough, who cameos as an oil portrait), inside company players have dispatched former manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) on a more sinister errand. Their mission is to track and capture the deadliest beasts for weaponised genetic experimentation. There’s a sizeable stretch of generic, island-bound action, some probably very cynical Hollywood diversity casting – which Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda, playing hotshot millennials, manage to mostly rise above – and the kind of eye-rolling exposition that speaks to the warmed-over quality of Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s screenplay. “Save the dinosaurs from an island that is about to explode? What could go wrong?” quips Pratt at one point, which might have passed for wit two decades ago, but now reeks of screenwriting autofill.

The writers even get some clumsy pot shots at Trump, because of course: a rapacious hunter, slimily played by the great Ted Levine, labels Pineda’s assertive young medic a “nasty woman”, while the film indulges the standard blockbuster irony of lambasting unchecked capitalism while itself operating under the auspices of a colossal multinational. And just to be sure we understand the creators’ vigorous allyship, the camera is careful to regard, in lingering close-up, Bryce Dallas Howard’s sensible utilitarian footwear, in clear response to a performative male feminist’s objections to her prior choice of heels in which to run.

At the same time, there’s a deliciously darker thread that, whether by design or otherwise, consistently undermines the movie’s lip-service to humanity. During one scene, Lockwood’s scheming aide Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) taunts Howard and Pratt’s imprisoned good guys: “You two are the architects of the new world,” he sneers, referring to their complicit role in developing and fostering the genetic dinosaur tech that’s now fallen into the wrong hands. The movie brushes aside the remark for perfunctory heroics, naturally, but the line lingers: in a world gone awry, well-meaning do-gooders are as much to blame as the obvious villains.

This bleakness truly blossoms in Fallen Kingdom’s irreverently pro-reptile back stretch, an hour or so of cheerful B-movie mayhem in which Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) effectively reconnects with his horror film instincts. While the movie’s opening half is competently maintained with some nice imagery – a dino stampede from cascading lava, a sad brachiosaur wailing into a crimson smoke cloud of doom – there’s nothing in the action as ingenious as even Spielberg’s most workmanlike, carnie moments. By contrast, once the dinosaurs arrive at Lockwood’s creepy, sprawling forest manor-come-animal dungeon, Bayona cuts loose, staging a giddy centrepiece – an auction of caged creatures for an assembled cabal of grotesquely rich buyers – that fuses the movie’s goofball anti-capitalism and chamber of horrors to satisfying effect. The sequence also galvanises the film’s empathy for the dinosaurs: while Toby Jones’ comically absurd investment-broker MC whips the crowd into a fervour, the howling animals are prodded and tasered for entertainment, as Universal Horror lighting cuts the shadows around them (there’s no doubt that the creators saw director Bong Joon-ho’s Okja.) Indeed, Fallen Kingdom’s penultimate sequence functions as an over-the-top horror picture, as scores of expendable rich dudes get chomped and chewed and a genetically spliced super predator stalks its prey like a gargoyle among the gothic spires. Bayona also plays it as operatic children’s nightmare: the Indoraptor’s attack on Lockwood’s presumed granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), with its rapping claw-on-the-floorboards chilliness, is the kind of imagery that will fuel years of bad dreams, long after the movie is forgotten.

It’s also Maisie that holds the key to the movie’s ultimate sympathies. That this neglected little girl feels more kinship with her reptilian housemates than the adults squabbling around her points directly towards the film’s mischievous, you-asked-for-this kiss-off: a dinosaur-cheering rampage underlined by a theme-hammering reappearance by Goldblum’s Dr Ian Malcolm, who drops by to wearily remind everyone of the consequences of their actions and the fact that “God’s not part of the equation.” Appropriately, the film’s final image is of a raptor gazing ominously over a landscape that’s practically the spitting image of the idyllic, and much regurgitated, suburbia of Spielberg’s E.T. Meddle with nostalgia enough, the film may as well be saying, and the future will come back to haunt you.

Luke Goodsell

Luke Goodsell is a critic and editor who has contributed to the ABC, SBS and the Melbourne International Film Festival.

@timebombtown

© Universal Pictures

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