The plot holes that make ‘Fallen Kingdom’ such an uneven summer blockbuster also allow it stand above (or at least apart from) its competitors.
Much to my chagrin, I’m an easy mark when it comes to blockbuster movies. Give me a few likable actors and a decent action sequences or two — not to mention a climate-controlled theater in the heat of summer — and I’ll likely walk out of the movie with no strong feelings one way or the other about the film I just watched. One of the few exceptions to that rule was Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, a movie so enamored with the original Jurassic Park that it forgot to provide audiences with stories, characters, or action sequences to justify its own existence. That, and the fact that Jurassic World somehow managed to become one of the highest-grossing films of the decade, made me irrationally annoyed at the prospect of a sequel.
Then something funny happened. Rather than following in the blockbuster-by-committee footsteps of its predecessor, J.A. Bayona‘s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom did something I wasn’t at all expecting: it waved goodbye to narrative cohesion and sold out entirely for its visuals. And as a result, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. What should’ve been a death knell for my appreciation of the Jurassic Park franchise became a curio not unlike Jurassic Park III, where the story weaves together just enough familiar elements to cushion the landing when it goes off the rails completely. In doing so, Fallen Kingdom became another data point in the argument that franchise-focused narratives are among the least interesting elements of these blockbuster movies.
That is what I admire the most about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: its general apathy towards being an interstitial component of the franchise. What little plot exists in Fallen Kingdom serves to rewrite elements of the franchise that didn’t seem to work. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing has transformed from a corporate suit into a humanitarian (dinotarian?) and activist who would stop at nothing to rescue dinosaurs. Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady — perhaps one of the most singularly unlikable characters to ever anchor a blockbuster movie — has also been drastically rewritten to highlight Pratt’s natural charisma. With the exception of Grady’s relationship with Blue, none of these changes are even tenuously connected to the events of Jurassic World. These actors could’ve played entirely new characters and it would’ve been no less a drag on the storyline.
From there, Bayona adheres to a simple script: combine generally likable actors with dinosaur mayhem and spend your capital on a string of action sequences. Imagine trying to encourage a friend to see Fallen Kingdom if you were only allowed to talk about the set pieces. A tyrannosaurus plays tug-of-war with a helicopter ladder; a paralyzed human must roll away from an oncoming lava flow; two characters are forced to draw blood from a sleeping carnivore; dinosaurs chase children through the halls of an Victorian mansion. What makes Fallen Kingdom great is the wildly unpredictable nature of its action sequences, but give the franchise to a more established screenwriter or director and much of what makes Bayon’s movie so enjoyable would be left on the drawing board. I often tell others that my favorite movies are the ones that will risk being bad to be good; say what you will about Fallen Kingdom, but it is way more interested in individual moments than a blandly cohesive final product.
Some of this is the general ebb-and-flow of Hollywood filmmaking. When one element of tentpole movies become ubiquitous — connected cinematic universes, for example, or grim heroes and heroines shot entirely in gray — any deviation from the format becomes a welcome reprieve from what we’ve already seen a dozen times that year. Fallen Kingdom would’ve seemed totally at home amidst some of the blockbuster of the mid-to-late ’90s, but the landscape for summer movies has changed so dramatically during the past decade that it feels like an aberration. Sure, there are pieces we recognize — what self-respecting movie of the 2010s doesn’t end by reminding audiences of its place in the trilogy? — but so much of the film’s endearing gibberish feels at odds with the ‘safe’ narratives concocted by a studio writing room. It may not make Fallen Kingdom good, exactly, but it sure as hell makes it better.
And there’s another truth worth mentioning: we’re not particularly good at evaluating summer movies that achieve their goals absent a cohesive storyline. Months before we see the first footage or photos from a blockbuster movie, we’re treated to interviews with filmmakers describing the sequel as smarter, grander, and more ambitious than its predecessor. Filmmakers make promises about character backstories and the importance of world-building, and actors proclaim that the sequel will cut their characters to the core and expose their raw inner selves on the screen. So when the plot fails to live up to these lofty expectations — when successive scenes fail to hold together and plot twists come flying out of left field — it’s hard not to punish the film twice-over: once for offering a mediocre plot, and once again for lying to us about the quality off the narrative.
It’s not a surprise, then, that movies with particularly egregious narrative problems — here’s looking at you, Ridley Scott — become fodder for the next generation of misunderstood classics. Hollywood’s emphasis on world-building causes us to forget that we love film for its audio-visual qualities; time and a little bit of distance allows us to appreciate a film’s set pieces and wallpaper over the glaring plot holes in our mind. I am not surprised to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom receive so many negative reviews from critics, nor am I surprised to see so many big names in the industry admit their appreciation for the film. As the middle component in a big-budget Hollywood franchise, Fallen Kingdom is chaos. As a demonstration of what a visual-minded filmmaker can do with a budget of $170 million? Give it a few years; I think it may just catch on.