If Jurassic World (2015) was a stealth remake, doing what Steven Spielberg might have if CGI wasn’t in its infancy 25 years ago, then Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a riff on The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). It’s a darker and meaner sequel that plays more like a horror movie than an action-adventure blockbuster. It’s easy to see why Spanish director J.A Bayona was hired to direct, as the filmmaker behind The Orphanage (2007), although his experience with family-in-peril disaster The Impossible (2012) and dark children’s fantasy A Monster Calls (2017) sealed the deal. If nothing else, Fallen Kingdom is the best directed Jurassic movie since the original. Shame about the script.
Eschewing the franchise “tradition” of spinning a single character off into a solo adventure with more dinosaurs, Fallen Kingdom brings back two. It doesn’t want to waste time developing new faces. It’s been three years since a second prehistoric theme park ended in bloodshed, and the U.S Senate are unsure what to do now Isla Nublar’s dormant volcano’s become active and threatens to make the ancient animals that live there extinct for a second time.
Do you let nature run its course, as a cameoing Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) advises during a hearing, or do you swoop in with a rescue mission as former park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) believes?
Claire’s since founded the Dinosaur Protection Group and agrees to help Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), a man entrusted to run the Lockwood estate his elderly employer Sir Benjamin (James Cromwell) created to clone dinosaurs with John Hammond decades before. It’s not long before Claire’s ex Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) agrees to join her and some mercenaries back to the island, led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), helping evacuate as many dinosaurs as possible—including Blue, Owen’s “pet” velociraptor he raised from an egg.
Jurassic Park has now produced five movies since 1993, but each one dramatises the same two ideas: the thrill of dinosaurs escaping from captivity and eating humans, or the tension of humans trespassing on territory the escaped dinosaurs took back.
Fallen Kingdom has few ideas of its own, and nowhere near as many as Jurassic World—which introduced us to a functioning park filled with paying guests, a genetic crossbreed dinosaur designed to up the ante, and trained velociraptors that could flank a speeding motorcycle. This film’s lack of fresh ideas is noticeable, as it even involves another “unnatural” dinosaur (this one smaller to fit onscreen with people who can evade it). The only new element is the ticking clock of a volcano about to blow its top, but those island set-pieces are confined to the opening act.
The strange thing about Fallen Kingdom is that there are no significant character arcs for anyone. Claire and Owen split up between movies, but it wasn’t acrimonious, so they get along just fine straight away. Two younger characters join them on this adventure - computer genius Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and paleoveterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) - but neither develop or grow as people. They just serve a plot function and a exhibit a few recurring traits, like Franklin’s fear of the T-Rex. But isn’t everyone scared of the T-Rex? I guess not, as the franchise’s poster boy is usually portrayed as an unwitting hero most of the time now.
The only new character who gets some kind of “journey” of self-discovery is Sir Benjamin’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), but she’s essentially a walking mystery that won’t have you scratching your head for very long.
Colin Trevorrow doesn’t return as director, but he co-wrote the screenplay with longtime collaborator Derek Connolly, and the script they came up with it just an escalation of events. There isn’t a sense of wonderment this time (unless a Brachiosaurus saunters onto screen for a cheap tug of your heart strings), and the dinosaurs increasingly behave less like real animals and more like monsters doing what’s required to be scary.
Why does the Indoraptor creep up to a young girl in her bed, claws outstretched like a phantom, rather than leap on the bed and devour easy prey? I understand there’s artistic licence in movies like this, but part of the reason Jurassic Park worked so well is that most of its situations felt plausible. The famous T-Rex attack on the jeeps is tense and frightening because the characters are at the mercy of an ancient predator doing what comes naturally. It’s not being malevolent for the sake of it. Jurassic World just about got away with moments when it treated the dinosaurs as two-dimensional “monsters”, but now I’m wondering why Trevorrow is obsessed with adding ‘super-dinosaurs’ into the World movies… when history contains plenty of deadly animals that actually existed.
Fallen Kingdom knows it’s a retread of The Lost World, so events on the island segue into a strange and awkward scenario set during an underground auction in a creepy mansion. But while I can believe there are billionaires who might want to buy a Baryonyx for $20 million, or perhaps use one to breed more themselves… the story promotes the idea these creatures are the ultimate predators and latest must-own item. But why? In what world is it better to have a deadly crossbreed dinosaur that attacks whatever you point at with a rifle-mounted laser sight, versus just shooting what you’ve pointed at with said rifle? Warfare using dinosaurs might be something to consider in certain scenarios, maybe, but it mostly seems like a ludicrous idea. It was treated as such in Jurassic World by levelheaded characters like Owen (the sequence of the ‘raptors following his motorcycle being a crazy last resort), but here we’re expected to believe dinosaurs are unquestionably the ultimate weapon.
We’re a few movies away from human-velociraptor crossbreeds with machine guns mounted on their bodies, which was part of a notorious and mercifully unused Jurassic Park IV script treatment.
While Fallen Kingdom isn’t a patch on Jurassic World (which I enjoyed enormously, as it’s a full-blooded an exciting sequel to the original concept), it’s not a total disaster you can’t enjoy on any level. It just offers more proof that every Jurassic Park sequel that steers away from the fundamental concept of ‘a dinosaur theme park going wrong’, is just an excuse for action set-pieces in differing locations. Fallen Kingdom has a good sequence during a volcanic eruption (including a tense and technically accomplished moment inside an underwater Gyrosphere), and many smaller ones set inside a large country mansion at night. Some of them are good, most are only okay, a few are worth paying to see on the big screen… and most people will come out of this movie thinking they got their money’s worth in terms of loud spectacle.
But an involving story, developing characters, deep emotions, and laugh-out-loud jokes? Those are harder to come by. The good news is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom sets up a third (well, sixth) film which can do something more radical with the concept, which we truly haven’t seen before in this franchise. So perhaps we’ll come to view this movie as little more than a necessary stepping stone. But it’s one that sucked the wind out of its predecessor’s sails.
Cast & Crew
director: J.A Bayona.
writers: Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly.
starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B.D Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin & Jeff Goldblum.