Director: J. A. Bayona
Screenplay: 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
Runtime: 128 Minutes
There’s a weird sensation that comes over you while watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Much like the genetically engineered and altered creatures at its heart, brought to life through advanced technologies to capture the wonder and terror of audiences worldwide, a franchise that once started as an earnestly constructed cautionary tale has transformed into something far broader, tamer and schlockier as time has gone on.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Franchises transform and shift their predominant focuses, themes and outlooks all the time in that everlasting chase for success. After all, for all the pretentions laid at its feet, the original Jurassic Park was essentially a monster movie that carried its own intellectual weight and a sense of majesty, much of which has been stripped away with sequel after sequel in a fuelled metatextual effort to keep bringing audiences back to the Park.
If there’s any credit to be given to Fallen Kingdom its that it’s trying to break free of the shackles of the franchise by eliminating the park concept altogether, to such an extent that not even the remnants remain – obliterated by a volcanic eruption that all but destroys the island. But not content with crafting a compelling enough disaster movie narrative in which the heroes must be the ones to save the dinosaurs from undergoing another extinction level event, its narrative and structure follows in the footsteps of the first sequel The Lost World, all be it much dumber and almost knowingly absurd by comparison.
Although largely spoiled by a marketing campaign eager to get ahead of disconcerted audiences, the film is separated into two halves. The first tackling the eco-disaster of the fictional Isla Nublar and the race against time to save the animals before an impending eruption. The second taking place in the sprawling gothic mansion of the Lockwood estate, home of the retconned former collaborator of the late John Hammond – played by an underused James Cromwell – and the setting of an auction in which nefarious and money-grubbing investors led by Rafe Spall’s Eli Mills plan to auction off the live animals for profit.
It’s an exceedingly stupid premise that only gets stupider the longer it goes on and the further wrinkles that are added to it by heavily foreshadowed twists and reveals, made more so by the inclusion of the Indoraptor; a direct genetic descendant of the previous film’s Indominus rex that has been engineered to be the planets deadliest predator and a trained weapon to follow the plot threads left over its predecessor.
It’s preposterous on so many levels that it’s hard to consider this even being attached to the original 1993 classic. Besides the musical cues, an overabundance of visual call-backs and references it barely functions as a Jurassic Park film in the traditional sense and more a ridiculous science fiction monster movie that happens to take place in the same universe.
And yet, that kind of works in the film’s favour, too. If Jurassic World proved anything it’s that the mindset of the modern blockbuster has changed so much that going broader, bolder and sillier with its premise might be the only way to get bums on seats (how fitting), and as an entertaining piece of popcorn daftness that occasionally dapples in deeper themes it’s pretty okay.
As far as the filmmaking is concerned, director J. A. Bayona brings exactly the kind of talent and focus required to make it run properly. It moves at a brisk pace (all be it to distract from the glaring senselessness of it all), the action scenes are very well handled with a mix of convincing practical effects and top-of-the-line CGI, and there are some occasionally breath-taking vistas and moments of visual ingenuity to Óscar Faura’s handsome and strikingly lit cinematography.
It’s a pity then that the main characters it lumps us with are the same lacklustre ones that we had before. Although both well performed, Chris Pratt's Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing still rarely register as anything above stock types as soon as the film gets going, even given their manufactured reasons for being there.
Occasionally the villains in Rafe Spall and Toby Jones’ tremendously hammy auctioneer step in to provide some energy, as do relative newbies Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda as tech and medical support swanning about as millennial stereotypes. Smith’s character feels rather grating at times, but Pineda is a scene-stealer and probably the best new character of the series. People anticipating Jeff Goldblum’s long-awaited return as Dr Ian Malcolm should temper their expectations somewhat as he’s mostly relegated to a single scene bookending the film with speechifying dialogue – although he does walk away with the film’s best line.
There’s also the young Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood, the granddaughter of Benjamin Lockwood, and while going into her character and reason for being more might constitute as a spoiler, she’s not really afforded much character to work with despite the amount of screen time she gets and Sermon’s well-pitched performance.
Your enjoyment of Fallen Kingdom will mostly depend on your ability to stomach the farce that it eventually becomes, and dependent on your reaction to the previous film it might be seen as a step forward for the overrun series or a further stumble back. It’s not entirely engaging or even legible at points, but for a film that’s able to anchor its bigger emotional beats around sympathies for the dinosaurs as characters it could have gone down far worse avenues.