Second Sight: Prophecies of a Fallen Kingdom

American cinema is an empire of cycles, forged from decades of political devolution, studio cannibalism (both of the auteur and of artistic freedom), and the increasing tide of consumerism. People watch films to be entertained, and yet, as the undisputed power of nostalgia has been forged into a weapon of potentially friendship altering social media duels and career deciding moments, the barrier between creator and consumer continues to erode. The marriage of the auteur with the Hollywood machine has been a love/hate affair since George Lucas' game changing A New Hope. The aftermath is a battleground littered with flawed masterpieces, unexpected crowd pleasers, and endlessly divisive films that continue to dominate the electronic world that connects us.

The Jurassic Park films are a complicated, if underwhelming animal. Beginning with an above bar adaptation of an adult novel that captured the minds of children and their parents, and followed by three increasingly milquetoast, yet record shattering offerings, the saga of men making dinosaurs and dinosaurs subsequently killing them.... repeatedly, seems as if it is going nowhere any time soon. J. A. Bayona's latest addition to the dinosaur pantheon, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is perhaps the most intriguing entry thus far. More horror film than adventure, tinged with ideas of the existential dilemmas of creating life and manipulating it, this is an extremely brave marquee film that somehow manages to rise above overt subversion to deliver every item on the predestined checklist and still maintain a semblance of originality.

The plot of the film begins three years after the horrors of Jurassic World. With a reignited volcano threatening the life of the creatures that inhabit the island, a rescue mission is put into action, an endeavor in which conflicting interests will decide the future of both humans and dinosaurs. The script, penned by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, is a masterwork of forgettable suppositions and cliched contrivances, but this is not important. The fifth film in an anthology about the manipulation of the laws of nature and the disastrous consequences isn't high art. It's passable logic at best, audience insulting pandering at worst. It is the moments in between, the questions posed by Bayona's interpretation of the subject matter that are of import. This film is a public execution of artistic freedom. Bayona's creative death throes are everywhere: The expected, if sinister implications of cloning DNA, the heartbreaking severing of the bond between parent and child, the wholesale manipulation of science for warfare, and the insurmountable ramifications of assumed godhood. Every frame is filled with whispers of these ideas, and yet, it can't help but shy away from asking hard questions in favor of the next cataclysmic action sequence. These two competing ideas are the yin and yang that, given the last couple of years, will decide the ultimate fate of movie theaters. We live in a world where pop culture is a precious commodity, with each fandom being a trove of adaptable treasures, yet, these poisoned relics have also created an environment of eternal division.

Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and several other cast members reprise their roles from the previous films. The legacy of what has come before is splattered across the screen, drowning any sense of originality in the performances, the best example of which is Chris Pratt's wounded sleepwalk through the material. Even B.D. Wong's tantalizing neo-Frankenstein is wasted, mirroring the outright refusal of anything for the masses being intellectual. This accusation might seem insulting, but it is my belief that audiences love films, they love talking about them, and to relegate them to a ticket sale is abhorrent, perhaps best reflected in the combative dichotomy of this film, and it is this subtle rebellion that makes it far better than it has any right being. While the evidence is to the contrary on many failed blockbusters that tried to manipulate the formula, there are countless examples of the mainstream embracing what is inherently good, regardless of personal bias.

There are several blatant scenes that take shots at the current administration, and while the playfulness of their inclusion may garner a chuckle, they are also emblematic of Hollywood's arm's length activism. America is a dark, divided place as of this writing, and their inclusion seemed indicative of the privilege that pervades the film industry, dovetailing with the utter silencing of Bayona's personal intent. As a result, Fallen Kingdom languishes under the weight of its expectations. However, there are minor miracles dappled throughout, including breathtaking cinematography from Oscar Faura. There are several scenes that could be portraits, including a harrowing ascent from the depths and a beautiful homage to Glazer's insidious masterwork, Under the Skin. The final act continues to embrace the problematic, cardboard aura of sincerity, and yet, there are flashes of horrific brilliance interlaced between the “been there done that” popcorn theatrics. The utter darkness of the finale, spliced with the apocalyptic possibilities of future entries is something of a marvel, but to embrace these ideas requires a lot of soul searching and patience on behalf of the viewer, something no one should feel is necessary to enjoy (or dislike) this film.

In theaters now, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a film whose title could not be more appropriate. Mirroring the darkness in Tinsel Town that has been revealed over the last year and slyly finger pointing at the endless recycling of concepts and ideas, this is an extremely unique blockbuster. There's a lot to deride, perhaps even hate, but along the edges of this disasterpiece are moments of greatness, deviations from the norm, and above all, a sense of the director's passion for the story. If you're interested in a traditional Jurassic Park film, this has everything one would expect. If the goal of purchasing a ticket is to experience a larger than life movie among hundreds of other humans (many who are looking to forget the terrors of reality for a handful of minutes) this will suffice, perhaps even astound. Beyond the surface of entertainment; however, lies something far more intriguing: The death of escapism at the hands of a murderous cycle of control and appropriation.

--Kyle Jonathan