(Rated PG [Canada] and PG-13 [MPAA] for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril; directed by J.A. Bayona; stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, B.D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin and Isabella Sermon; run time: 128 min.)
B-grade laughs and scares in dino morality tale
By Ted Giese
Warning: Review contains some plot spoilers.
As mounting volcanic activity threatens to wipe out the remaining dinosaurs on the tiny island of Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica, efforts are underway to rescue as many as possible from a second extinction.
The question is why — is it for conservation, profit, scientific or personal reasons?
The private rescue operation brings back to the island the former Jurassic World theme park’s managing-operator-turned-dinosaur-activist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her romantic interest, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the park’s former velociraptor behavioral researcher.
Along with Dearing’s colleagues, paleo veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) of the “Dinosaur Protection Group,” Dearing and Grady find themselves in danger as the rescue operation proves to be a criminal endeavor.
Bookending “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the return of Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a mathematician specializing in chaos theory. Appearing first in “Jurassic Park” (1993), Malcolm again provides his scientific/philosophical opinions, this time testifying before a congressional committee weighing government involvement in a potential rescue operation.
The question is whether the dinosaurs should receive endangered-species protection, since their existence — or de-extinction — is the result of a private, commercial endeavor.
Malcolm believes it would be best for humanity to let the dinosaurs be naturally wiped out by the volcano, due to the potential chaos that could ensue if they were allowed to become an invasive species in areas populated by humans: “These creatures were here before us. And if we’re not careful … they’re going to be here after.”
When pressed by a congressman as to whether the volcanic activity could be “an act of God,” the atheist Malcolm is quick to say that “God has nothing to do with it.” His greater fear is where genetic-modification technology might lead if humanity continues down that path, just because it can.
Not much actual science
For a movie about genetic manipulation and scientific conservation of endangered/extinct species, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a curiosity. First, it is rather agnostic about God, and second, it’s very light on the idea of evolution. It seems disinterested in the science-versus-faith dialectic often pushed in pop-media.
As a result, like “Jurassic World” (2015), this current addition to the franchise is not hard science fiction and shows only the thinnest veneer of actual science.
In fact, the science in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” edges more toward the magic in Harry Potter and becomes nothing more than an excuse for flashy and impressive special effects. If science was riding shotgun in previous “Jurassic Park” films, in this film it’s gagged and tied up, kidnapped and locked away in the trunk of the car.
Good vs. evil
At its heart, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a simple morality tale. Dinosaurs routinely devour the unjust, the corrupt, the greedy and the selfish while protecting and helping the more well-intentioned characters.
This flies in the face of Darwin’s theory of natural selection which, if taken at face value, should not be a respecter of civic righteousness. Are viewers expected to believe that dinosaurs — or any hungry, carnivorous predator — are capable of recognizing virtue or can see into a person’s heart to know if they are good or evil?
To be fair, one “bad guy” dinosaur tries to eat the “good guys,” but that dinosaur is clearly identified as a wicked laboratory creation of the unscrupulous Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong).
On the flip side, the velociraptor Blue, first introduced in “Jurassic World” (2015), is described as intelligent, empathetic and compassionate — a dinosaur that will follow commands and respect a human as a pack leader because of its unique relationship with wrangler Owen Grady.
These “good” and “evil” dinosaurs emerge as active players in the morality tale and, like the other characters, the good dinosaur lives to fight another day and the evil dinosaur receives suitable and deserved comeuppance.
When the final credits roll, it’s clear “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” isn’t actively trying to deal with evolutionary biology, modern paleontology or any other hard science. Rather, the film is about action, cool-looking dinosaurs, good guys, bad guys and little else.
If there is one hard-science question with potential real-world application, it has nothing to do with dinosaurs or the theory of evolution. The film contains an important plot point involving the cloning of a dead person to give them a second crack at biological life, but avoids the existential or metaphysical questions about what that means for the soul.
A Christian take?
The media would have us believe Christians will be universally bent out of shape over any mention of evolutionary science in a film. Truth be told, many Christians likely don’t care one way or another about what the scientific community thinks about dinosaurs. They’re probably more interested in the film’s morality play, as they generally look at dinosaurs as one more part of God’s creation.
In the context of the film, Christians and non-Christians could easily see the dinosaurs standing in for modern animals in danger of extinction and in need of conservation. The stewardship of creation entrusted to humanity by God comes into play here, alongside the fact that noble causes also attract unscrupulous, unvirtuous and ignoble characters prone to greed and abuse of power.
Past sins and redemption
Interestingly, the film’s central protagonists Claire Dearing and Owen Grady don’t get off the hook for their past transgressions. Their “original sins” are literally pointed out to them by the snake-in-the-grass villain Eli Mills.
In a case of the “pot calling the kettle black,” Dearing is called out by Mills for permitting and encouraging the production of the genetically modified hybrid T-Rex in “Jurassic World” because she wanted a new theme-park attraction.
Grady is likewise called out for his behavioral work with the raptors when Mills asks, “You never thought how many millions a trained predator might be worth?”
Mills calls Dearing and Grady the “parents” of the new world, making them a kind of Adam and Eve. Their past sins are revealed to be the very fountainhead of the chaos predicted by Ian Malcolm. They may have been more or less well-intentioned in their choices, but their good intentions seem to be paving a road to hell.
But they have their moment of redemption. When presented with an opportunity to sacrifice the remaining dinosaurs in their care for the good of humanity, they make the right choice for public safety. Unfortunately, that decision is taken out of their hands and events unfold in a way that ensures another franchise sequel.
All flash, no depth
For all its flash and dazzle, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” lacks depth. The film is a Grade-A summer blockbuster with its industrial design and special effects, but it’s safely at home in the realm of the B-movie “creature feature,” with the acting only slightly above par.
Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt are fine in their returning roles and it’s fun to see Jeff Goldblum for his small part, but the real standout is systems analyst Franklin Webb, played by Justice Smith, who brings a surprising amount of energy and awkward comedy to his character.
Overall, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is not the best in the Jurassic franchise, but it will provide a few laughs and jump-inducing surprises to accompany that hard-to-pass-up, over-priced popcorn.
Watch the trailer:
The Rev. Ted Giese (firstname.lastname@example.org) is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to The Canadian Lutheran and Reporter; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese.
Posted June 29, 2018