Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom features stunning visuals, solid direction and some great ideas, but all of those merits are offset by a mean streak and a weak script.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fourth sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park and the second in three years, is a pale, cynical echo of Steven Spielberg’s original blockbuster. Though several of Fallen Kingdom’s major story beats explicitly reference the first Jurassic’s plot, this new version fails to bring any of its ancestor’s potent mixture of wonder and danger along with it. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom features stunning visuals, solid direction and some great ideas, but all of those merits are offset by a mean streak and a weak script courtesy of the 2015 Jurassic World’s director Colin Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly.
Fallen Kingdom’s plot directly follows 2015’s Jurassic World. In the three years since the Jurassic World theme park was destroyed, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) has been working with an NGO in order to save the shuttered park’s remaining dinosaurs, which are roaming freely on the island where the park was based but which are now threatened by an active volcano. Claire is summoned to the home of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the business partner of late Jurassic Park founder Richard Hammond. Lockwood and his assistant Eli (Rafe Spall) ask her to return to the island to activate a tracking system which will allow his team to round up and relocate the creatures. She agrees, and sets out to find Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who has gone to live in the wilderness following the events of Jurassic World. Reunited, Claire and Owen head to the island with Claire’s colleagues Zia (Danielle Pineda), a paleoveterinarian (“dinosaur veterinarian”) and Franklin (Justice Smith), a computer whiz.
Things don’t go quite as planned, and Claire, Owen, Zia and Franklin end up back in Lockwood’s gothic manor alongside a variety of dinosaurs and mercenaries. Though shifting the action from tropical island to haunted house is a bold move, it isn’t very successful. Though the setting allows Bayona to put a distinctive visual stamp on Fallen Kingdom, the inclusion of a very Jurassic Park-looking museum and laboratory inside the house signals that the writers didn’t have much of a plan for what to do once they got the dinosaurs into Lockwood’s estate.
Bayona could have been a perfect match for the Jurassic series, given the way he carefully infused horror and state-of-the-art special effects into his family dramas The Impossible and A Monster Calls. However, he’s entirely let down by the screenplay here. Visually, Fallen Kingdom succeeds, largely on the back of Bayona’s use of shadows and his insistence on staging tense action scenes in close quarters, which provides a potent mixture of tension and surprise. But even the best directing cannot save the film from its plot – a flimsy assemblage of coincidences, idiotic character behavior and violent dinosaur deaths. It is with this final factor that Bayona fails right alongside Trevorrow and Connolly. The original Jurassic Park relied heavily on the amazement, even joy, that its characters felt upon meeting living, breathing dinosaurs. They were nearly untouchable, and very few dinosaurs actually perished. Rather, the characters survived by evading, escaping, and outsmarting the dinos. In Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs are burnt, boiled, shot, stabbed, and impaled, and Bayona’s camera stretches them out, even relishing some of them. It is disturbing, sad and feels at odds with the heart of the series.
There are certainly some entertaining sequences, notably bookending scenes where the giant, water-dwelling mosasaurus escapes from the park’s ruins and then visits a crowded beach. Bayona’s horror sensibilities work particularly well in the water, and the film could have benefited from more water-based action. The two leads, Howard and Pratt, are both charming and have great chemistry, and they’re capably assisted by Pineda and Smith, who supply a good amount of comic relief. The villains, however, are all the scene-chewing, money-grubbing type and amount to little more than dinosaur kibble. Still, that’s not the most egregious slight in the casting department: the legendary Geraldine Chaplin (who has appeared in all of Bayona’s feature-length films) is wasted in a thankless role. Some blockbuster filmmakers are beginning to understand that women over 50 can play parts that aren’t nannies and grandmothers, but these aren’t those filmmakers.
The fact that the team behind Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom took some major risks with such a beloved property is worthy of praise. Unfortunately, not all risks pay off, and the decision to make Fallen Kingdom a darker, mansion-set thriller is a poor one. Though J.A. Bayona’s visual flair is an excellent fit for the material, his – and particularly the script’s – focus on dinosaur pain and suffering will leave a bad taste in the mouth of fans of the original Jurassic Park.