To call Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom a low point for the larger Jurassic Park franchise is saying a lot. After all, as Honest Trailers recently went to great lengths to remind us a raptor actually speaks and says “Alan” in Jurassic Park III:
The same is true of Fallen Kingdom…the “never should have happened” part, not the “dream sequence” part. This is a film which, much like Lost World: Jurassic Park, doesn’t totally know why it exists beyond an obvious economic imperative. The first Jurassic World, for all of its schlockiness and needless cruelty toward that poor British assistant who was turned into a dinosaur turducken, was at least the realization of something the franchise had always teased but never realized. John Hammond’s vision of a dinosaur theme park died at the end of Jurassic Park, followed by two simple search and rescue sequels.
Jurassic World, ignoring both of the sequels, finally showed us the wonder of a dinosaur theme park with a triceratops petting zoo, scheduled T-Rex feedings, self-guided tour, and …
Ok. In actuality, the Jurassic World of, um, Jurassic World was more a killer lobby, heavily commercialized main street, and then kinda, sorta a couple of dinosaur exhibits. But, at least one of these movies finally gave us that thing first promised all the way back in 1993.
Fallen Kingdom, by comparison, regards a change of setting as justification for its existence. As spoiled in literally every single trailer, by the halfway point the film leaves dino-island behind forever (destroyed by a volcano) and relocates to a gothic mansion filled with shady millionaires, an incredibly robust basement, one scared little girl, and eleven or so seriously pissed off dinosaurs. It’s an idea cooked up by Jurassic World’s returning screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly out of clear what-haven’t-we-done-before-in-one-of-these-movies frustration.
To helm this, they hired J.A. Boyena, an obvious choice based on his remarkably dark haunted house film The Orphanage (2007) and child-in-peril fantasy of A Monster Calls (2016). Not surprisingly, he proves to be remarkably adept at shooting smaller stakes scares and in confined spaces but is a bit lost in more typical Jurassic action, which is why the first half of Fallen Kingdom might as well be called Aerial Shot: The Movie.
The plot, for as much as it actually matters in Fallen Kingdom, is as follows: With a volcano threatening to destroy Isla Nublar and thus push dinosaurs to a second extinction, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is now a dinosaur rights activist, is recruited by John Hammond’s old, heretofore unmentioned business partner (James Cromwell, who has a lacky played by Rafe Spall and granddaughter played by Isabella Sermon) to lead a rescue operation. She recruits ex-boyfriend Owen (Chris Pratt) to specifically help with tracking down his old velociraptor Blue.
Except, of course, Claire has been duped. Yadda, yadda, yadda, let’s militarize dinosaurs because that’s a thing in these movies now, blah, blah, blah, we created a new dinosaur we’re calling the Indoraptor because that worked out so well with the Indominus Rex, yadda, yadda, yadda, the dinosaurs get out and eat people.
Along the way, characters repeatedly make deeply stupid decisions, the plot advances only because the heroes evade the practically non-existent security forces, there’s a predictable Westworld-esque twist and a completely bonkers ending which sets up a potentially game changing Jurassic World III (due 2021). It’s all vaguely reminiscent of Independence Day: Resurgence, another listless sequel which wasted Jeff Goldblum (if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen the entirety of his Fallen Kingdom performance) and saved its best idea until the very end. Similarly, Fallen Kingdom feels like the sequel you simply have to get through to get to a potentially more interesting Jurassic World III.
Boyena’s sole accomplishment with this kind of material is he does manage to make dinosaurs scary again. An opening sequence following unnamed mercenaries on Isla Nublar makes fantastic use of lightning and shadow to spook us into submission. In the final act, one shot of the Indoraptor’s claw reaching for Isabella Sermon evokes Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Nightmare on Elm Street, and any number of other horror classics:
But it’s all scare with no real emotional investment. Hate it or love it, Jurassic World is at least the story of a woman who starts out as one thing (career-obsessed and vain) and ends as something else (newly toughened, but also ready to be emotionally vulnerable). There are no such discernible character arcs for anyone in Fallen Kingdom. That’s probably why both Howard and Pratt feel like they’re sleepwalking through the story. Fallen Kingdom is far more interested in carnage, horror, and broadly touching on the ethical dilemma over whether to let the dinosaurs die than it is in its actual characters.
That would at least be serviceable if the underlying characters were worth caring about. They’re not. Lost World and Jurassic Park III are similarly devoid of worthwhile character work, but they at least have Ian Malcolm and Alan Grant to lean on respectively. Fallen Kingdom just has Claire and Owen. Oof.
So, that leaves us with just the dinosaurs to care about, yet when the Indoraptor is first revealed and all characters present react as if they’re seeing King Kong for the first time I mostly struggled to understand what made this new baddie so special. It’s only vaguely different from what came before.
Feels like an apt metaphor for the entire film. Yes, they changed settings. Yes, there are twists which venture into new ethical territory. But this is still ultimately yet another Jurassic movie where, as The Washington Post put it, “Humans think they can handle these dinos; these dinos show them otherwise.” The formula is played out at this point. Jurassic World III promises a sequel which will finally and truly break from that formula or at least visit the long-term consequences of humanity’s arrogance and lack of historical memory, but why couldn’t they have just made that movie now instead of giving us this mish-mashed Fallen Kingdom?
THE BOTTOM LINE
Jurassic World is a big, dumb movie that’s still at least an actual movie with a three-act structure, character arcs, and memorable setpieces; Fallen Kingdom, by comparison, is just a big, dumb movie. Any dinosaur-obsessed kids will likely still get a kick out of seeing these prehistoric creatures on the big screen, and less discerning adults will likely enjoy a couple hours of mindless action. But, damn, Hollywood can do better than this.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Yes, Claire wears more sensible shoes this time. We can now all move on.
- Logic police nitpicking: Much of the plot hinges on retrieving Blue, the last surviving Velociraptor, as the last key ingredient for the Indoraptor, which is basically the Indominus Rex mixed with a Velociraptor. But, wait, wasn’t Jurassic World’s big twist that the Indominus Rex actually already had a bit of raptor cooked into its DNA? To be fair, there is a scene where B.D. Wong’s Henry Wu sorta explains this, but I was still confused.
- Fallen Kingdom includes a close-up of Blue shedding a tear while suffering through a painful blood transfusion. If only the script had cared as much about the actual human characters.
- Easter egg alert: During one TV segment, the news ticker at the bottom includes a reference toward the President of the United States apparently announcing he doubts the existence of dinosaurs altogether. Just one of many political digs sprinkled throughout this movie.
- To up the Jurassic World humor, Colin Trevorrow hired noted standups/comic actors like Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson to fill out the supporting cast. They are deeply missed in Fallen Kingdom.
- My Jurassic Park rankings, from best to worst: Jurassic Park, Lost World, Jurassic World, and a tie between Fallen Kingdom and Jurassic Park III.