Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chapman, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Jeff Goldblum
“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” The question, posed by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise, seems to be addressed as much to the audience as it is to her returning co-protagonist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). For many, it takes our mind back twenty-five years, to that beautifully constructed moment in Jurassic Park. The camera tracking in on the stunned face of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in the back seat of the jeep. He stands up, taking off his glasses, reaching down to turn the head of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) so that she can see what he is seeing. Her mouth drops open. And then, as John Williams’ iconic score swells, we see it: a giant brachiosaur walking up the hill beside them, rising up on its hind legs to eat some leaves from the top of a tree. It was a cinematic moment that was as breathtakingly awe-inspiring for those sitting in the theatres watching as it was or the characters living it on screen. We had never seen anything like it before. The diminishing returns for the Jurassic Park franchise since that first film has been in large part due to the inability to recapture that moment and to replicate that audience experience. Now well accustomed to CGI spectacle, audiences just aren’t as easy to impress, let alone amaze. While Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom makes an effort to push the series in a new direction, it none the less encounters these same issues.
Fallen Kingdom starts with a really interesting premise, courtesy of some major exposition through a news broadcast. The long dormant volcano on Isla Nublar, the small island off Costa Rica which was home to the Jurassic World theme park, has recently been reclassified as active and threatens to destroy the island. With the dinosaurs from the abandoned park now roaming free on the island, the world is faced with a unique animal rights issue: should they rescue the dinosaurs from immanent destruction by the volcano or allow the species to once again become extinct. At the behest of Hammond’s old partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who wishes to establish an alternate dinosaur sanctuary, Claire and Owen find themselves back on the island trying to rescue the very creatures they were trying to escape from only three years earlier.
If that was the entire premise you would have the basis for a decent Jurassic Park movie. Thematically it moves beyond another warning about the dangers of playing god to instead consider our obligation to our creation when we have. In terms of spectacle, the hunted would become the hunter as we watch our heroes not only try to survive the island but actually capture the dinosaurs. But that isn’t the entire premise. Instead, this part of the story is blown by in the first hour in favour of something which is ultimately less interesting and, frankly, dumber. Claire and Owen discover the mission they are on is not as benevolent as they were led to believe. The dinosaurs are actually being gathered so that they can be sold at a black market auction to various international terrorists, arms dealers and ne’er-do-wells. What’s more, InGen have continued their experiments in genetic manipulation to enable the weaponisation of the dinosaurs. Fallen Kingdom moves away from villains motivated by simple self-serving greed in favour of greater, almost pantomime levels of villainry and evil.
Incoming director J.A. Bayona is probably best known for his horror film The Orphanage, and he leans into that experience here. Rather than that balance of awe and terror that the dinosaurs have previously been used to inspire, Fallen Kingdom plays mainly on the terror, which is reflected in a Michael Giacchino score which employs a more ominous, choral sound than Williams’ iconic theme. When everything unsurprisingly goes haywire in the underground auction at the Lockwood mansion, the back half of the movie effectively becomes a haunted house film with dinosaurs and jump scares aplenty.
Having determined in Jurassic World that the mere bringing back to life of dinosaurs was no longer sufficient and the invention of new breeds was required, Fallen Kingdom takes this to a ridiculous level, genetically fusing the last film’s creation, the Indominous rex, with a velociraptor to create the Indoraptor. Not only is the Indoraptor a combination of the two most dangerous dinosaurs out there, they have also engineered it so that it can be programmed to attack specific targets like a living heat-seeking missile. While it is common for a sequel to try to ramp things up from the previous instalment, the almost eye-rollingly ludicrous approach of Fallen Kingdom does so in a way that suggests a diminishing confidence in the central premise of the franchise, as though they don’t believe that a real life dinosaur would be scary enough. The presence of the Indoraptor leaves the other dinosaurs, previously objects of terror, feeling quaint by comparison. They are then anthopomorphised to an extent they haven’t been in any of the previous films, becoming to various degrees allies to our heroes.
While elements of it don’t quite work, ultimately, the frustration of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is that it could have been quite good (there’s even a Jeff Goldblum cameo, albeit brief). But despite being a missed opportunity some credit should still go to writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (who directed 2015’s Jurassic World) for trying something different. This is clearly an attempt to reset the series and broaden the scope of what a Jurassic Park movie can be. By going beyond a theme park and an island, the film seeks to actually live up to the ‘World’ part of its title, and is seemingly setting us up for a third instalment much more in the mould of Planet of the Apes.
Review by Duncan McLean
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