Film critic Scott Wilson takes a trip to Isla Nublar to see how the dinosaurs are getting on (spoiler alert: it isn’t good)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – ★★☆☆☆
Dir. J. A. Bayona; Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Jeff Goldblum; Rating: 12A; Runtime: 128 mins
Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park came out in 1993. Even today, it looks incredible. In a time before everything was CGI, clunky-yet-lifelike animatronics in cinema gave everything a tactility. Can you imagine if the shark in Jaws was computer generated? When the tyrannosaurus rex roared at the climax of the 1993 original, it made an entire generation believe in film and the wonder it could bring.
Cut to 2015’s Jurassic World and all that magic had gone. In its place were lifeless characters and genetically modified dinosaurs, fuelled by the old Hollywood belief that the only way to top something big is to go bigger. It felt cynical and sad, as if the world had lost the ability to marvel at dinosaurs on screen, instead needing a harder drug to feel a kick. How do you follow that up?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom picks up three years after the events of the previous film. Chris Pratt’s Owen is off on his own, content with solitude, while Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire heads up the Dinosaur Protection Group. At the centre of Isla Nublar, the island where the dinosaurs remain, is a volcano, and time is running out to save the island’s inhabitants from an impending eruption.
There should be no greater threat than staring down an apex predator on an island that is literally exploding, and yet it never feels like there are any stakes.
In an effort to save some species, Claire is enlisted by Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s former partner, to assist in moving some of the dinosaurs to a new location. Benjamin’s aide Eli, a hamming-it-up Rafe Spall, is fundamental in bringing the gang back together as he knows there is only one person who can help find Blue, Owen’s velociraptor companion from three years prior.
As we have come to expect, the mission to Isla Nublar is not quite as it seems. Shady characters emerge with ulterior motives, leaving Owen and Claire in the middle of another mess in desperate need of cleaning up.
Taking over from Colin Trevorrow (who has a co-writing credit here), director J. A. Bayona does his best with what he is given, which is not a lot. Owen is still a frightfully dull character, one not even the charismatic treasure chest of Chris Pratt can save. The villains are straight out of Generic Capitalist Terrorists 101, too stock to be memorable, and too on-the-nose to make any real point.
But, when Fallen Kingdom somehow turns into a gothic haunted-house-with-dinosaurs theme park ride, Bayona knows what he is doing. Fans of his previous films The Orphanage (which is still his best) and A Monster Calls will appreciate the darkness of the last act. By restricting the drama to a mansion in the middle of the night, it adds a sense of logic and horror. Instead of a disorientating jungle, we know where all the players are at any one time, and we know what is just behind each door.
At its heart, this modern Jurassic World trilogy is about animal rights and how abrasive they are under capitalism. It is admirable and topical. Blue, the velociraptor, acts as a harbinger of retribution, standing up for nature against humanity’s inhumanity towards animals. The villains are not the house-sized carnivores, but globalist men in suits motivated by money without a care for the dinosaurs they seek to capture and traffic.
READ MORE FROM FILMSPACE – Book Club
All of this is buried under poor characterisation and a ridiculous story. The film’s pure intentions disappear when the characters carrying the message are immediately forgettable. The amount of logical impossibilities the plot requires you to forgive are astronomical.
The CGI is still the elephant in the room. As impressive as it is – particularly for a third-act creature – it still lacks the tactility of Jurassic Park. As the film begins and its certificate is shown, it justifies its 12A rating by warning of ‘moderate threat,’ completely capturing Fallen Kingdom’s problem. It all feels moderate. There should be no greater threat than staring down an apex predator on an island that is literally exploding, and yet it never feels like there are any stakes.
I think Bayona is better at this than Trevorrow; if nothing else, he manages some memorable shots and conjures up a mood Mary Shelley would give a nod of approval. It means Fallen Kingdom has a little more personality than Jurassic World, a film that felt intended to be a thrill-ride that had all the emotions of one (it still made $1.6 billion).
It still completely lacks the magic of Jurassic Park, and with each passing sequel it is clear that will not return. By requiring something bigger each time, the series becomes what its protagonists are critiquing. Instead of finding new stories to tell with creatures mankind will always be fascinated with, it loses its heart beneath bigger explosions and bigger dinosaurs, convinced that this is what the audience wants. In the end, it feels patronising. Fallen Kingdom is a small improvement over Jurassic World, but only just.