Whereas Star Wars: The Last Jedi gave everyone the gift of continual deconstruction of a beloved franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom gives us, not much. Disney isn’t afraid to shill their properties, and Star Wars is perhaps the most well-known film franchise of all time; bringing pleasant nostalgia to generations across the globe. Universal has a very similar situation on their hands with this fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, acting as the second installment in the “soft reboot” series that is Jurassic World. It’s all the more telling when you realize the two contemporaries at the forefront of “New Hollywood” in the ’70s and ’80s were George Lucas with the masterful original trilogy, and Steven Spielberg. Star Wars was released in 1977, giving it years to develop into the cultural phenomenon it has since ascended to, but 1993’s Jurassic Park was the highest-grossing film of all time upon release, critics loved it, and Universal pumped out sequels that Spielberg has always helped oversee, or outright directed, à la Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Compare that to Lucas, who sold the rights to his creation to Disney nearing six years ago now, and besides that insane payday, has nothing to show for it. That’s how the system really works.
I’m certain Universal won’t sabotage their own intellectual property, so they can avoid The Last Jedi treatment, but playing it safe is hardly a great thing. Dinosaurs coming to our world isn’t a new concept, it’s the whole premise behind the aforementioned Lost World, but unlike the other films, they don’t actually have to go search for a missing person. There’s a lot of things in this movie I’ve already seen, from this same franchise no less; the sparing new ideas and themes is where I actually begin to enjoy the film on its own merits.
An extinction event is something this franchise hasn’t tackled before, and it makes you wonder why, since it’s been 25 years since the release of the original Jurassic Park. It’s hard for me to buy the plot, since any reasonable-minded person wouldn’t bat an eye towards the recently active volcano on Isla Nublar. An admittedly regrettable decision we’ve been continuously making for close to three decades is about to be wiped out by a natural act that’s reminiscent of the first time these creatures went extinct? As the film states a few times throughout the runtime, “It’s an act of God,” and yet, Claire and people of her ilk must step in to make everything harder for everyone else. In fact, had Claire not acted at all, the dinosaurs wouldn’t have left the island, and we wouldn’t have Pterodactyls perched atop Vegas skyscrapers after the credits.
The cinematography is incredibly solid, and there’s plenty of interesting shots in the film that were lacking in the first Jurassic World. A lot of objects or people are positioned on the left or right side of the screen, and as the camera moves, the view tilts and slides as a character moves across the shot, creating incredibly fluid frames that usually reset the object of interest in the center of the frame in the succeeding shot. It’s done so subtly throughout the film, and one example that immediately comes to mind is the Raptor model that Owen sneaks out from behind during the third act in Lockwood’s mansion’s lower level; the shot moves left as Owen emerges from behind the raptor, moving to his left with the camera in order to end the frame with him in the middle of the shot. It’s moments like these, as well as the full 360 degree spin of the Indoraptor opening Maisie’s balcony door, that really add a degree of professionalism and intrigue to something as mundane as a sequel to the soft reboot series of a franchise.
Unfortunately, that’s where the praise must end. I already stated the plot is an enemy to logic, and honestly, things happen in this movie because the plot demands it. I’m repeating myself, but we’ve already seen this concept in The Lost World, and it was done much better when the T-Rex was allowed to wreak havoc on NYC. This go-around, it’s a cheap nostalgic pop to get the older audience members invested. He was castrated in Jurassic Park III, given a fight in Jurassic World, but now he/she is being idolized in hopes that the lack of mistreatment to such a beloved creature will lend better reviews to a film sorely needing good publicity; what with the discussions of the pay gap between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, as well the general understanding that this is just another sequel in a franchise already milked dry, or so most fans already believe.
J.A. Bayona obviously had an idea of what he wanted, because the fluid camera work, good pacing, decent enough visual effects bordering on great at times, and darker themes such as extinction and cloning, all contributed to interesting ideas that could’ve made this movie great. However, characters are introduced randomly, and great importance is placed on all them, without even being halfway developed. The General is a greedy asshole who follows orders, the villain lacks depth and is obvious from the jump, and David Lockwood, who’s making his franchise debut in this film, is described as being the one who helped John Hammond develop the cloning technology possible to create the dinosaurs from the original Jurassic Park. The darker idea of cloning people is credited as the catalyst to their rift, but I don’t understand the “abilities,” or the importance of Lockwood’s cloned “granddaughter,” other than this film needed a child actor because it’s the Jurassic Park franchise. She could’ve been cut out entirely and the only thing it would’ve hindered was the idea that the dinosaurs should be given the right to live because Maisie herself is a clone, so naturally, she’s the one who makes the final call on their fate.
Jeff Goldblum reprises his role of Dr. Ian Malcolm, but is given nothing to do other than state that his involvement in the cloning of dinosaurs is reprehensible, and that if we don’t allow nature to wipe them out, we will live in an age of dinosaurs, leading to our downfall, or a “fallen kingdom.” Anyone could’ve been in Dr. Malcom’s place, why was Jeff Goldblum even brought onto the project? To squeeze more nostalgia from the original series? This film is pretty dependent on the audience being nostalgic for one great film and an okay sequel with multiple references to it, much like they did in the first Jurassic World. That one was pretty paint-by-numbers, but this one had ambition, and yet, was bogged down by an unwillingness to let go of the past, and a complete lack of understanding of how the food chain works, because I find it hard to believe after a disaster like in Jurassic World that people would even want to save these dinosaurs when they should have all the research necessary to clone them again at some point anyway. Forcing these characters onto an imploding island only to have them conveniently escape and hitch a ride back to a conveniently staged auction in the basement of an unaware billionaire completely contradicts the artsy camera work and intriguing themes of extinction and mortality.
Colin Trevorrow wrote the screenplay along with Derek Connolly, who also along with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, co-wrote the first Jurassic World. I’m unsure if without the extra assistance Trevorrow and Connolly are capable of writing an intelligent screenplay for this series, because they had some interesting ideas, but on the whole, the film was very dumb. An uninspired plot with too many conveniences will hold back what the rest of the cast and crew are capable of doing, and for further proof of that, look at the Indoraptor. Another genetically modified dinosaur from two dangerous predators put together to oppose our heroes, again? This is the second film in a row where this happens, and it’s not a good look for this series when we look back in a few years and sum this film up as simply a cog in a franchise that ran out of good ideas long ago.
Is it better than the first Jurassic World? Depends on what you value really; pretty shots and interesting themes can only take you so far, but when compared to a competently directed film with an incredibly familiar premise, plot, and tone to an all-time classic, which one do you really take? It’s not incredibly clear-cut on which film is better, and that’s sad when considering that the cast isn’t even giving their all in their acting, as if it’s just a mandated cash-grab. Trevorrow has announced he’s hopping back in the director’s chair for the third film, and maybe to fans of the series this sounds like a heavenly choir swelling to ethereal highs, but to realists and cinema-regulars, this doesn’t mean anything, just like this film, and its predecessor.