Minor spoilers for The Terminator
Looking back, 2015 turned out to be an interesting year for nostalgic blockbusters. Specifically when looking at the top two highest grossing films worldwide: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. Despite the overwhelming financial success of both movies, it’s safe to say there was an element of repetition when it came to the storylines of both belated sequels.
In fact, when looking at the Jurassic Park franchise as a whole, don’t they all possess the same basic plot?
- Human beings try to do something with dinosaurs.
- It all goes wrong.
- The dinosaurs eat people.
Seems a bit weird to think that, of all the sequels, Jurassic Park III was technically the most original!
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom could be considered more of the same as it still follows those three basic plot beats. But fortunately Fallen Kingdom seems to have taken a leaf out of the The Last Jedi playbook: by acknowledging that perhaps the past needs to die in order to make way for something new. While The Last Jedi chose to only do this though plot and dialogue, Fallen Kingdom adds thematic and tonal changes, which in turn helps breath new life into this 25-year-old franchise.
Three years after the events of Jurassic World, Isla Nublar, the site of the abandoned Jurassic World theme park, is under threat once again. This time from Mother Nature as a previously dormant volcano has come to life, threatening to destroy the entire island.
Former Jurassic World manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now the leader of the Dinosaur Protection Group, a preservation society aimed at trying to save the dinosaurs. Though their work seems to be failing, hope is renewed when Claire is invited to meet with Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), an assistant to the rich and powerful Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Together they give Claire all the money and assistance she needs to establish a new island sanctuary for the dinosaurs.
With the funding of the Lockwood estate behind her, Claire recruits Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), an I.T. technician; Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a paleoveterinarian; and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former Velociraptor trainer and fellow survivor of the Jurassic World disaster.
With a group of trained mercenaries, led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), to protect them, the team set out for Isla Nublar to try and save the dinosaurs from a second extinction.
Fallen Kingdom is, without a doubt, a far stronger film than Jurassic World. And if the reason for that strength could be boiled down to one name, that name would belong to director J. A. Bayona. Compared to the original’s director, Colin Trevorrow (who is on scripting duties here with his writing partner, Derek Connolly), Bayona is far more confident with his camera. While Trevorrow guided Jurassic World with the hand of a layman, Bayona deploys ever ounce of skill he picked up from The Impossible and A Monster Calls, resulting in a film that has an abundance of memorable images and glorious set-pieces.
Indeed, more than any other director in the Jurassic Park franchise (with the possible exception of Spielberg), Bayona creates incredible emotion through nothing more than pure imagery, with one specific shot of a Brachiosaurus (or possibly Brontosaurus) not only rivaling the closing shot of the T-Rex from the original Jurassic Park in terms of immortality; but also stands as more emotional than any scene in the original Jurassic World.
But there is only so much Bayona can do to elevate what is a slightly schizophrenic script. The film ends up being made up of two very distinct halves; with the former hewing closely to the grandiose action-adventure of the original trilogy, while the latter acts as a far more intimate exploration of human greed and exploitation. It’s a brave attempt to have two such disparate halves; but ultimately it doesn’t work quite as well as other similar films, such as World War Z.
What saves this second half is (once again) Bayona. Just like the film that introduced him to the world (The Orphanage); Bayona brings a sense of foreboding and fear as his camera stalks the shadowy corridors. Part haunted house and part mad scientist’s lab, the climax of Fallen Kingdom feels like Bayona took the tension of the rippling water glass from Jurassic Park; and injected it straight into a death-defying chase as our characters make their way through a spooky building reminiscent of Crimson Peak.
Speaking of characters, as always it’s enjoyable to see Chris Pratt do his thing, even if it’s functionally no different to his character in Guardians of the Galaxy. Instead it’s Howard’s character that stands out. Not for how engaging she is, but purely for its bewildering disconnect to the first film. Imagine for a second that Sarah Connor, after the events of The Terminator, had become a robot technician and was actively trying to create artificial intelligence. In other words (and unlike Pratt’s returning character), Howard’s character is not a logical continuation of her actions and experiences in the first film. Instead it’s clear that her character was forced into the story, rather than creating a story around her. Sort of like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.
But perhaps I’m being too mean. These movies aren’t about the humans, they’re about the dinosaurs. And unlike this summer’s other big monster movie, Pacific Rim: Uprising (which for some baffling reason barely displays the Kaiju); Fallen Kingdom shows off its majestic creatures in abundance. There is nary a scene without a dinosaur, and it’s commendable that the film makes every effort to introduce new ones into the canon, rather than relying entirely on the T-Rex/Velociraptor-combo of old.
It’s safe to say that younger audiences are going to adore Fallen Kingdom, even if some scenes may be a little too scary for them. And for adults there’s a lot to enjoy too. Despite the many problems of Fallen Kingdom, the 2018 sequel actually turns out to be the best Jurassic Park movie since the 1993 original, eliciting more emotion in individual sequences than previous installments have done in their entire running time.