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Categories: Features

We count off the various reasons why Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom failed to strike a chord with audiences and critics alike.

It’s Pure Formula

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t just a bad Hollywood movie, it’s a movie so bad that it recontextualizes your entire understanding of where Hollywood is right now.

It’s difficult not to notice how formulaic, perhaps even algorithmic, screenwriting has become in big Hollywood studio filmmaking. Patterns form quite clearly in not just structure and characters but general themes and trends. The typical sequel cycle in Hollywood takes three years, you can do it in two but it seems advisable to do it in three if your sole object is to just keep making sequels. Fallen Kingdom fits neatly into the 2015 cycle, coming back around again that summer with Ant-Man and the Wasp, Mission Impossible: Fallout and Avengers: Infinity War. (Each released a matter of days away from the exact three-year anniversary of their predecessors.)

Of those films, the one most comparable to Fallen Kingdom would be Avengers: Infinity War. It’s the highest grossing film of the year so far, compared to Fallen Kingdom’s current #3 spot, and it’s highly unlikely to be dethroned.

The film which Fallen Kingdom bears the most striking resemblance to, though, would be Star Wars: The Last Jedi. An example of a film that went down the two year route instead. (It remains to be seen how effective a strategy that will be in the long haul as many people attribute Solo: A Star Wars Story’s poor performance to fan backlash over a muddled sequel to The Force Awakens.)

The Last Jedi, at first, appeared to be part of 2017’s theme of villains. (Specifically, the hero becoming a villain. Albeit for a brief, or even meaningless, amount of time; such as in Transformers: The Last Knight, The Fate of the Furious or Justice League.) But Fallen Kingdom really reveals how The Last Jedi was the first in 2018’s new mantra for blockbusters. Wherein the fictional universe of the franchise would be totally upended or “nuked”; setting up another sequel that will be, potentially, entirely different from any that’s come before.

When viewed like this, so many of Fallen Kingdom’s more baffling decisions begin to make sense; such as the film’s need to continually punctuate itself with unwanted plot twists.

The two films are even shot quite similarly, with, impressively robust, dynamic camera movement often being overshadowed by an emphasis on shot-by-shot construction of a scene and an, almost total, aversion to shooting coverage.

Beyond that though, the corporate formula is pretty clear. The more important a property is to a film studio, the more influence the studio will exert over the films made under the banner of that property.

The Jurassic Park films are a big deal for parent company Universal and you can see the gears turning. From the establishing exposition, by BBC News report, in the opening few minutes (à la Universal’s, infamously formulaic, misfire The Mummy from the previous summer) to the censor-board-friendly lack of sexual activity from highly sexualised characters. There’s a particularly tasteless bit of last-minute calculation which simply turns down the voice audio momentarily to mute the F-word out of a sentence rather than just re-dubbing the line. The character doesn’t even say it on camera. 

An Error of Comedies

Another aspect of repetitive Hollywood formula, that’s important enough to be its own point, is the film’s overall handling of genre and tone. People often lament the death of the straight comedy film, which has been dying a very swift death over the course of the past decade. The oddest thing about this being that it’s not because audiences don’t want to watch comedies anymore, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Most of the successful films that major studios produce now are comedies, the audiences need for levity simple assimilates most other genres.

Fallen Kingdom can still be called an action film, it can still even be called a horror film. But, first and foremost, it’s a comedy. Specifically, Hollywood’s new favourite type of comedy: a comedy of errors. So beloved by producers because of how easy it can make screenwriting when the main motivation behind your plot is every character making one unbelievably stupid mistake after another.

The problem being that, in what is also meant to be an action film and a horror film, this really deflates the tension.

Underwhelming Villains

There isn’t a villain in the film who’s motivated by anything other than money, which is fair enough if you’re going to weave that into the story, but they never really do anything that evil. For the most part, the antagonists’ main function seems to be keeping the protagonists alive. For no reason. They capture, or corner, them multiple times throughout the film but never do anything about it. And this isn’t just the main antagonists of the film, it’s all of the nameless henchmen too.

They have an unmistakably Stormtrooper-ish ineptitude to them (one which makes the Stormtroopers, themselves, quite amusing because of their masks and pristine uniformity) but, for all of its grandiose nature, the Jurassic Park films take place on something comparable to our Earth. So all of these people, that you see perishing in these gruesome ways which are played for laughs even though they all seem to just be doing a job, have faces and a humanity which the film ignores.

Elmer Fudd

Another prime example of undercooked villainy in the film: Ted Levine’s stock henchman, “Ken Wheatley”. (Almost as forgettable a name as Rafe Spall’s character, “Eli Mills”, or any of the other characters that you can’t name, I suppose.)

He was clearly meant to riff more off of a Vietnam Commander/Big Game Hunter vibe. It could have worked. Levine has played the authoritarian type before and he’s often utilised for his intimidating screen presence. Bayona even mentioned, in interview, how Levine would write script notes in an effort to make the character “more and more hateable” and that he was always “trying” to bring ideas on set. Which may be a revealing choice of words.

Part of the reason that suspense is impossible for a lot of the audience members watching these films is that they’re essentially cartoons. Characters are not only drawn in the broadest sense but they behave in a comically inept manner.

Levine’s character is supposed to be the “Great White Hunter”, as Chris Pratt’s character puts it, but he never actually kills anyone or anything. The most violent action he really takes in the film, outside of pointing guns at people, is pulling a tooth out of the mouth of a dinosaur; which the film goes out of its way to remind you is heavily sedated.

Less Colonel Kurtz, more Elmer Fudd. Really more of a dope who deserves to be hogtied and handed to the police at the end of the film rather than the more grisly fate that he suffers. The same going for all of the villains who meet grisly ends too, really. Their punishment never really fits their crimes. There’s a point where one of the film’s, many, protagonists, that have been just tied up and left sitting around by the bad guys for no real reason, squares off against a generic security guard. He approaches with a stun baton, she retaliates by letting a velociraptor eat him alive.

Manic Pixie Dino Girl

Let’s talk about Zia Rodriguez. The Angry Feminist has become a stock character of the modern Hollywood screenplay, much in the same way that the Shouting Black Cab Driver and Sassy Gay Best Friend did in the 1990s and the 1980s, respectively. There’s an argument to be twisted, and formed, which says that this is progress and that, in the long run, it will help representation.

But there is a very thin line between seemingly light-hearted humour and hateful stereotype in situations like these. The phenomena reared its head in The Last Jedi with Laura Dern’s character, Admiral Holdo, and then again, but more unequivocally, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

It’s really hard to tell, for some people, whether these characters are meant to be laughed with or at. It could be a case of Hollywood wanting to have it’s cake and eat it too. (The most profitable films in America tend to be the ones which stay as close to the political centre as possible and there are similarly crude jabs at Donald Trump and that side of the political spectrum.)

The fact is that each character’s expression of what, I suppose, the films, or a very generous critic, would call feminism is all boiled down to catchphrases and clichés. These characters make a show of resisting but, ultimately, have no agency in the story. (Zia Rodriguez spends most of Fallen Kingdom, literally, tied up.) Mostly, they’re just kind of horrible to the other characters and that’s the joke. It feels reductive of real social concerns, at best.

Walking on Broken Easter Eggshells

The references, callbacks, homages, rip-offs, “easter eggs”, in-jokes and other various trips down memory lane within Fallen Kingdom are just smothering. Every five minutes or so it feels like the film is reminding you of better experiences from a better film. Really hammering in how hollow, and sterile, Fallen Kingdom is as an experience. It’s the husk of something greater.

“We call it [pause for effect] the Indoraptor!”

Leaving aside, for a moment, just how stupid it is that Jurassic World enlarged a velociraptor to make the Indominus Rex, only to then shrink it back down again to the Indoraptor – there’s just not a whole lot about the Indoraptor that makes sense. You have to suspend your disbelief quite far when going into a Jurassic Park film. (It’s a film about living dinosaurs, it’s to be expected.) But most people really struggle to imagine some kind of a functioning world, similar to our own, that’s populated by people who are dumb enough to think dinosaurs have a useful military application.

The film, itself, struggles to create some kind of logic behind the idea. Mills states that animals have been used in combat for centuries but all of the examples he lists simply use animals (all non-predators) as some kind of transportation or delivery system. They were cheap solutions to problems that would be solved by, sometimes, even early industrialisation.

It may sound like nitpicking but the entire plot of the film hinges on this animal and it makes absolutely no sense. Why use a gun to set a dinosaur on a target when you already have a gun pointed at it? In terms of reliable, accurate, long-range weapons, the Indoraptor ranks somewhere below the bow and arrow.

Then there’s the design. Again, it’s basically just a smaller version of a bigger version of a much better design. A lot of people were pretty let down when, after all that build up, the Indominus Rex was finally revealed in Jurassic World and it looked exactly like every other carnivorous dinosaur. All it really had going for it was its size, so you can imagine how that feeling was nothing but compounded by the Indoraptor. Moments before it’s revealed, a “Junior Allosaurus” is displayed to the buyers at the auction and, without going into close-up detail, it’s virtually indistinguishable from the Indoraptor.

The Allosaurus and the Indoraptor, side by side

There are several dinosaurs throughout the film that are confusingly similar to the Indoraptor and one another. As evidenced, somewhat, by me discovering, during the writing of this, that the Allosaurus did not make an appearance in an action sequence earlier in the film and that this was apparently a Baryonyx. The overall point being that Jurassic Park, as a franchise, has quite a limited scope. There’s only so much one can do with a base of Dinosaur Theme Park.

If the Indoraptor, or an equivalent threat or antagonist, went a little more leftfield then maybe it would be more frightening and memorable. As it stands, the Indoraptor is another minor variation to a preexisting idea or concept. Such a common occurrence in Hollywood films now that you can’t help but feel that this is solely to keep manufacturing costs down for merchandising.   

Stealth T. Rex

Remember how the T. Rex simply walking nearby would cause vibrations in the earth big enough to make small bodies of water ripple? Of course you do. It’s not just the most famous scene from Jurassic Park, it’s one of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema.

It’s perhaps the vividness of the memory of this which makes the T. Rex sneaking up on its prey not once, not twice but three times in Fallen Kingdom all the more difficult to swallow.

And, while this rule of the T. Rex being realistically loud did fade away even by the end of the original Jurassic Park, the convenience of this Tyrannosaurus Rex Machina within the screenplay plays more like a punchline than a satisfying whammy to the audience.

Richard/Hammond

James Cromwell’s character, Benjamin Lockwood, is thoroughly irritating. Not only does he check the box for one of the most hated tropes in all of sequeldom (adding in a new character from nowhere that was apparently integral to everything that’s happened in all of the previous films, and well loved by all, despite never being mentioned, or referred to, even one time) his entire character is clearly a stand-in for Richard Attenborough’s beloved original character, John Hammond. This raises its own set of uncomfortable issues for much more unique reasons. 

Attenborough died even before the first Jurassic World so bringing his character back into the story at all, after being given an out by the park changing hands to Irfan Khan’s Simon Masrani, feels a little needless. It’s the connection between director J.A. Bayona and Attenborough, however, that makes the invocation of his memory so discomforting.

Bayona directed a mildly controversial, but generally well-received (and quite good), film named The Impossible, adapted from the experiences of María Belón and her family at Khao Lak, Thailand during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This particular area has been of note due to being the location where Attenborough’s daughter, and granddaughter, died during said tsunami.

Lockwood’s character is defined by the relationship between him and his deceased daughter as well as his granddaughter, who is later revealed to be a clone of his daughter. No one’s claiming that it’s intentional but once you make that connection in your brain then it’s nigh on impossible to not keep seeing it throughout the film. The fact that you’re able to even make it causes you to, at the very least, question Bayona’s level of self-awareness on the project.

 

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Oct 4, 2018

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