Because, like, seriously, what the hell was that?
Note: this article originally ran on Set the Tape (link).
WARNING: Obviously, MASSIVE SPOILERS for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Also, lots more dumping on Colin Trevorrow, which I get is a shared international past time by this point, but it needs to be said.
Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly suck at their jobs.
I am sorry to both men if they are, for some reason, taking time out of their days to read this, but it is the truth. As storytellers, both men stink at their jobs. Over the course of three films together, plus Connolly’s intermission gig co-scripting Kong: Skull Island, the pair have fully proven themselves to display a fundamental misunderstanding of how narrative storytelling works on even the most basic of levels. Actually, “misunderstanding” is giving them both too much credit, because that indicates they display any understanding of any individual facet of narrative storytelling. Character? Nope. Emotion? Zip. Theme? Who cares! Consistent internal logic? Buzzkill.
At best, and this is me being extremely charitable, they both understand story at the same level that an 8-year-old boy or an especially manic B-movie creature feature director does. One of the pair goes “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if [x]?” the other goes “SHIT YEAH, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” and then they deliberately reverse-engineer everything else in their movies to make sure that this specific sequence can occur regardless of the reason. It doesn’t have to make thematic sense, it doesn’t have to fit within the extremely tenuous logic of their worlds, and characters are nothing more than the extremely good-looking tour guides we witness these “cool moments” via. Everything else comes second to the setpiece or whatever poorly thought-out idea happened to cross their minds during that afternoon’s writing session. It’s storytelling in the way that young children or especially passive audiences think is great: “DUDE, how AWESOME was it when STAR-LORD rode into battle with RAPTORS ON A MOTORCYCLE!? SO COOL!”
Now, deliberately dumb storytelling born from a desire to reverse-engineer a couple dozen money shots is not inherently a bad thing. In his review, Leslie Byron-Pitt pointed to the Fast & Furious series as a sort of slam, but I’d argue that it was only very recently in which that series started to lose track of itself in its endless quest to top prior experiences. Up until Fate of the Furious – not coincidentally the first one made entirely after the untimely passing of Paul Walker, whose Brian O’Conner was an integral part of that franchise – the series’ various writers and directors managed to tell extremely, gloriously dumb spectacle-based stories that nevertheless remained grounded (in their own way) and told objectively decent stories. They had rather developed, loveable characters with consistent motivations, strongly defined relationships, and occasionally surprising depth. Said characters and their unbreakable bond of family provided both the driving theme of the franchise and a legitimate emotional hook. So, sure, it is objectively ludicrous and highly illogical that a Point Break rip-off for street-racers has, over the course of 8 movies, turned into James Bond for street-racers, but the series at least took its time ramping up the spectacle, gradually acclimatising the viewer to this new absurd hyper-reality.
Trevorrow and Connolly… don’t. None of that. Like, at all. Rather than put in the additional effort required to turn stupid storytelling into dumb storytelling – which is the difference between just-plain bad storytelling and loveably gonzo storytelling; the difference between the 2015 Point Break remake you already forgot happened and the classic 1991 original – they just… don’t. I don’t know how else to put this, their scripts are basically just black holes save for a few key money shots. Name me a single character in either Jurassic World or Kong: Skull Island and tell me one thing about them and, no, you’re not allowed to have that one thing be the name of the actor playing them. What are these films, and this includes their highly-overrated Safety Not Guaranteed, actually about on a thematic level? How exactly does Jurassic World get from its opening setup of a functioning Jurassic Park that’s lasted for a decade to Chris Pratt riding into battle on a motorcycle with a pack of semi-trained Velociraptors?
If you’re struggling to come up with answers to any one of those prior questions, that might be because they don’t exist. And whilst it may be easy to conflate the duo’s total inability to craft a story with the fact that Trevorrow is the worst mainstream Hollywood director not named David Yates, putting a script by him and Connolly into the hands of somebody else, somebody with actual talent as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom does, has exposed that the reasoning for Trevorrow’s sucking can, in fact, be two things.
I am still yet to properly enjoy a J. A. Bayona film, but Fallen Kingdom has proven to me that the man is objectively really good at what he does. He crafts brilliant spectacle, he can draw out tension for extended periods of time, and he frequently composes properly striking images that make Trevorrow and Connolly’s insatiable desire to find money-shots no matter how stupid feel kind of worth it. More than that, though, is how he can make this car-wreck of a film not only feel like fun for rubberneckers of crazed nonsense, but even kind of hang together right up until the finish line is in sight when anyone else would have been defeated by the combined might of stupidity and featherweight storytelling going on here. Fallen Kingdom falls apart under any level of scrutiny, but it’s to Bayona’s credit that I didn’t start derisively screaming out “this is stupid” in my head until well AFTER the film had finished blender-ising Frankenstein, the original Alien, Resident Evil, and motherfucking A.I. Artificial Intelligence for its extended third act finale!
Now, if you’ve clicked on this article, I’m assuming you’ve already seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and therefore know what happens after everybody gets off of Isla Nublar (which comprises only the first 50 minutes of movie). I need you to bear with me for the next few paragraphs, therefore, because I am going to synopsise the second half of Fallen Kingdom, sans editorialising. Don’t skip them, please. Really read these words and try to make sense of them as storytelling when divorced from watching the actions unfold on-screen.
So, everybody, including all of the dinosaurs recovered from Isla Nublar, convenes back at Lockwood Manor where Claire and Owen are captured by Wheatley (that big game hunter guy who always moans about “my bonus”) and Eli explains his plan. He is going to sell all of the rescued dinos on the black market in order to get the funds required for himself and Dr. Henry Wu to create the Indoraptor – a cross between a Velociraptor and the Indominus Rex from Jurassic World that responds to commands, a result of Owen’s research with Blue (and the reason they specifically needed to recover Blue because her DNA will make up the next more-obedient phase). Eli will subsequently sell that new phase to armies across the globe as a weapon, becoming filthy stinking rich in the process. He then leaves Claire and Owen locked up despite a line that makes it seem like he’s ordering them be killed, them knowing his plan, and the fact that he immediately and personally murders Lockwood in the following scene for also finding out his plan.
The sale commences, which Owen uses as a cover to help him and Claire escape from their cell by tricking a Stygimoloch into bashing their door open. The humans then meet up with Maisie, who has just witnessed Lockwood be murdered, and the trio resolve to escape together. However, Eli and his auctioneer decide to preview the Indoraptor to their buyers and, upon a rapturously-received demonstration, sell it despite the protestations of Wu and the Indoraptor’s highly-unstable nature. Owen, Claire and Maisie stumble upon this from a viewing box and know they cannot let the thing leave the building, so Owen raids the auction with the Stygimoloch and busts some heads before everybody splits as a result of the chaos.
Wheatley shows up crowing about “his bonus” and spots the Indoraptor still on display in its cage. He tranqs the beast, decides its tooth will look great on his dino-teeth necklace, gets into the open cage with the dino that is clearly faking being tranquilised, and is summarily eaten, allowing the Indoraptor to escape. Claire, Owen, and Maisie bump into Eli in the basement who informs them that Maisie, thought to be Lockwood’s granddaughter, is actually a clone of Lockwood’s dead daughter. This is an explanation that is immediately interrupted by the Indoraptor bursting in and eating two random guards, setting off the next 20 minutes of film where, on a dark and stormy night with ominous Latin chanting recurring on the score, our heroes are stalked through the manor by the Indoraptor. Claire’s knee is crushed by one of its claws, the thing clambers around the rooftops to reach its prey, and Maisie hides in bed whilst the Indoraptor slowly crawls towards her, claws outstretched like it’s goddamn Freddy Krueger, amongst many other occurrences I’ve cut for time.
Owen shows up just in time but bullets can’t kill the thing, then Blue shows up just in time to throw-down with the Indoraptor whilst Owen and Maisie try to escape over the rooftops. Instead, they get cornered by the beast over a glass-pained roof. Claire then shows up, no worse for wear despite having had a powerful dinosaur claw pierce her kneecap, and she, Owen, and Blue work together to impale the Indoraptor on a Triceratops skull, finally killing it. Then the comic relief shows up, who were also doing things that were barely related and of little consequence, dragging everybody back downstairs to announce that the dinosaurs are dying from poison gas and the only way to save them is to open the doors and unleash them on mainland America. Claire seems ready to do so but then stops, thinks back on everything that has happened across both of her movies (with the help of some slight mansplaining from Owen), before tearfully stepping away from the console and leaving the dinosaurs to die, completing the only character arc in the entire movie/rebooted-sequel series up to this point.
Only for Maisie to open the doors herself because she and the dinos are both clones and doesn’t that mean both should be allowed to live instead of just one, or whatever? Eli, who was still around, gets munched by a T-Rex, the dinosaurs escape into the wilds of North America, and then the film ends.
…so absolutely none of that makes any goddamn sense, right? The entire second half of this movie turns into a Gothic Horror piece, narrative logic is non-existent, emotional logic is also non-existent because Claire is the only halfway developed character in the entire ensemble, and there is no deeper thematic reason for anything that happens. Why is Maisie a clone? Why is THAT her reasoning for letting the dinosaurs loose? Are we going to seriously grapple with the ethical consequences of any of this? That last one is being promised an answer in 3 years’ time – for, as utterly gonzo nuts as I think Fallen Kingdom gets, this is still resolutely the middle entry of a trilogy – but I guarantee you the answer will be an emphatic “FUCK NO!” because Trevorrow and Connolly don’t care about actual storytelling. Writing characters, giving them consistent, understandable, emotionally logical motivations for doing the actions that lead to the admittedly-fun mayhem takes too goddamn long and, their reasoning is clearly, dumb audiences won’t care as long as they’re having enough fun. To these two, a bad guy saying “What a nasty woman” with no further extrapolation or reference in the entire film is sufficient for character development, thematic resonance, and timely political commentary.
In a way, this is kind of the only place a Jurassic Park sequel can go: The Land of Bonkerstupidsville. The first film covered pretty much everything this premise can cover whilst still being rather serious and somewhat intelligent; we experienced the wonder of seeing dinosaurs brought back from extinction, very quickly chased by the realisation that, oh shit, dinosaurs are super scary and violent so maybe we should have left well enough alone instead of playing God. To keep returning to Jurassic Park, specifically Jurassic Park, is to admit that we are far more invested in the spectacle than the thematic underpinning that kept Park from being a lightweight but delectable trifle. And that’s fine, really, I am on record here as being a noted enthusiast of dinosaur movies. Except that I get the feeling Trevorrow and Connolly want us to be properly invested in their trainwreck?
I know this sounds contradictory given that I’ve been charging them as guys whose first and last thoughts on a storytelling decision are “would this look cool?” but I don’t know how else to explain the constant big swings for twists that land with no impact, pivotal character actions that make no sense because nobody’s been developed enough, and grand stabs at “emotional” sequences that land with a giant thud because they haven’t been earned. Owen and Claire kissing? Maisie letting the dinosaurs loose? That extended shot of Isla Nublar going up in ash whilst a Brachiosaurus wails in agony, eventually swallowed up by the volcanic ash and fading from view and sound? All of them elicit no reaction despite Bayona’s best efforts because neither Trevorrow or Connolly have put in the effort required to turn stupid storytelling in to dumb storytelling. Again, credit must be given to Bayona for managing to keep me from pontificating on this fact right up until Maisie dooms the world for absolutely no justifiable reason beyond “wouldn’t it be cool?” – and, of course, that more cynical reason “the studio needs us to keep making more of these things” – but all he’s done is make the fact that Trevorrow and Connolly are preternaturally gifted at shit storytelling unavoidable.
And as much as I take a gleeful joy in watching truly incompetent stupid movies, particularly of the B-movie variety that Jurassic World is just a gussied-up and over-budgeted entry into, the thrill of watching something completely lose its marbles in the most ham-handed manner possible is often fleeting. It satisfies for as long as it runs, then the joy fades. It’s insubstantial, designed to stimulate base pleasures and nothing more. At best, somebody like Bayona will at least craft a few arresting images out of the mess, cohering it all into something genuinely fun instead of absolutely maddening in its inadequacy. But the mess eventually catches up. It always does, and when that happens, you cross the line from stupid to insulting from which there is no coming back.
By which I mean: this film ends with Jeff Goldblum testifying in front of the Senate about our now-dino-infested world, the light clearly dying from his eyes as he delivers the ACTUAL FINAL LINE IN THIS PUBLICALLY-RELEASED MOVIE: “Welcome to Jurassic World.”
Callum Petch is a palaeontologist, that’s what he his.