Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Directed by J.A. Bayona
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, and Ted Levine
Reber’s Rating – B
Dé·jà vu – a feeling of having already experienced the present situation; tedious familiarity.
I remember 21 years ago when the hotly-anticipated sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park was due to land in theaters. The Spielberg-directed sequel was positioned as a Memorial Day tentpole. Audiences found themselves dropped on Isla Sorna, the sister island of Isla Nublar where InGen bred the dinosaurs prior to transportation to Jurassic Park. The film centered on Ian Malcolm this time, with his girlfriend and daughter in tow, and told a story on how a greedy businessman wanted to bring Jurassic Park back to the States for financial gain. There were mercenaries involved in the plot, a daring escape from the island, and a wild finale that found our favorite tyrannosaurus rex rampaging through downtown San Francisco.
I left the theater following The Lost World an enraptured child enamored with Spielberg’s latest, ready to rush back into a seat to see the film again. That was 1997, the twilight of the 20th century, and I was 12 years old. Now it’s 2018, I’m 33 years old, and left the theater following J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom overcome with an awful sense of deja vu. The sequel to the 2015 surprise blockbuster had a very large hurdle to overcome – a fresh start to the sagging franchise, anchored by the charisma of both Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard – but the question was always where to steer the next entry. The park has been decimated, the dinosaurs run amok. Whatever are our protagonists to do?
I just didn’t expect to go back to the island to rescue the dinosaurs. Again. For the second time in two decades. Once the first half has whizzed by and we get a sense of the bigger plot, Fallen Kingdom finally breaks free from its shackles to deliver a dark and daring thriller that keeps our heroes on the ropes, essentially paving the way for future sequels to ditch the park for good and tell more compelling science fiction fables about the dangers of genetic engineering and how that can fuel the future.
Warning – the following contains mild spoilers, reader beware
I’ll credit the unlively marketing campaign for throwing audiences off balance. I mean, c’mon, we’re going to spend two hours trying to usher dinosaurs off Isla Nublar like Chris Pratt is navigating Noah’s Arc? Audiences weren’t fooled at all and, if anything, expectations may have cooled because of the marketing. Universal got a bit too clever for their own good on this one, banking on people to see this sequel based on merit. Okay – they’re right, the ploy worked, but you still need a trailer that’ll knock our socks off. I had a feeling the story would veer off into the shady underbelly of society eager to use dinosaurs for their own sleazy plans. The seeds were planted at the end of Jurassic World, Vincent D’Onofrio’s headstrong merc looking at Owen Shaw and monologuing about how dinosaurs could be utilized as weapons. That was the story I expected to find in this follow-up, to see what ways man would attempt to recreate the dinosaurs in modern society.
Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s story starts off feeling overly reliant on the foundation of franchise past to paint its picture rosy. Exactly who’s to blame I wish I knew, as Trevorrow’s been under fire creatively as of late, but the overall script feels like a stitching of two very different ideas. Doctor Ian Malcolm, Jeff Goldbum returning albeit overtly subdued and most melancholy, warns a Congressional panel that the next phase of society will be toying with genetics; cloning the dinosaurs is the tip of the iceberg. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing now champions for the dinosaurs to be rescued off the island, a volcano primed to recreate an extinction-level event all over again. Of course Congress passes on mounting a rescue effort – it’s God’s plan the dinos die after all. We learn that John Hammond’s former partner is still mulling about, directing his aide Eli Mills (a smooth Rafe Spall) to save as many species as possible for an island sanctuary free of man’s meddling. And naturally Mills needs Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, busy building a house away from the hustle and bustle of life, to track down Blue for salvation as well.
Read between the lines, Fallen Kingdom could easily double as a soft reboot of 1997’s The Lost World. (I would also ask why we wait till the fifth film to introduce the idea of Hammond’s partner but okay, there’s good reason.) Thankfully, once the first forty minutes have sped past, the film manages to find its footing once we leave the island. The best moments of the daring island escape are spelled out in the initial trailers too, showcasing imagery of fantastically-visualized sequences to both escape the volcano and hungry hunters. However there’s a reason why executive producer Steven Spielberg handpicked J.A. Bayona to bring this sequel to life. Fallen Kingdom doesn’t shy away from the dark duplicitous nature of the shadows lingering behind every door and around each corner. Bayona, a protege of Guillermo Del Toro, seems to be at ease with his first major studio tentpole. Though the scope of Fallen Kingdom feels much smaller, Bayona takes his cues from Del Toro and weaves into genuine frights. Can you ever trust the shadows beyond what you cannot see? And what may lie behind you when you’re in flight-or-fright mode? Bayona manages to make a smaller film seem to be larger than life, keeping audiences trained on the theatrics and developing connections not just with Owen and Claire but also the secondary characters – our favorite dinosaurs.
Is it wrong of me to find charm with Owen’s relationship with Blue, his treasured velociraptor, than any other protagonist? Raptors overall weren’t known to be as playful or sympathetic like your favorite pup you’ve raised from infancy. They were cold, vicious, and clever animals who hunted in packs. Yet Blue is a different type of carnivore, a treasure that men see quality traits in harnessing for their own ambitions. Blue feels like a flesh-and-blood character, a blend of astounding puppetry and complex CG creation, garnering our compassion from the moment we meet her all over again. The crux of the plot is heavily reliant on the audience developing a connection with Blue, otherwise we’d spend the rest of Fallen Kingdom wondering how Owen has managed to survive on his own without a dog by his side. The two share an indomitable link with one another, Owen’s iota tethered to Blue with a strong heartfelt emotion. Our favorite lumbering tyrannosaurus rex may have been the franchise’s staple in the past but now Blue is the anti-hero you cheer for. While the actual human characters do seem a bit cookie cutter (Ted Levine’s character feels plucked from The Lost World), we already know the chemistry that Pratt shares with Dallas Howard. It ain’t broke and don’t need fixing either. This one’s about Owen and Blue, not Owen and Claire.
As expected, the plot’s not about just whisking the dinosaurs off a crumbling island. We’ve sat through this movie before. The Lost World was far from perfection, but still is a worthy sequel to the superior Jurassic Park. However, Fallen Kingdom takes what the 1997 sequel should have down with the narrative and naturally progress in the next phase of franchise evolution. We’ve spent time in these sequels continually asking what would come of our world should the dinosaurs ever find themselves out of captivity. That’s where Bayona’s adventure finally settles in, understanding that the outside world is too overly fascinating with these creatures. Most kids have spent their lives growing up watching these animals roam about, whilst the darker side of man sees a fortune in their sale and usage for monstrous causes. Spoiler alert but, then again, the last round of trailers make this perfectly clear – after all this time the dinosaurs do make it back to the mainland. The premise of where the last remnants of a long-extinct species go from here is clear, a creative play for storytelling that should have been explored years ago. We already have a relationship with these creatures. Now’s the time to take the next step in their role in modern society.
Sure, I may have spoiled a few minor components of this sequel but in all honesty, I can’t do any further. Though the island sequences drag, Fallen Kingdom turns into a superb and taut thrill-ride from the time we leave Isla Nublar straight through till the end. There are rewards for sticking past the first half, from the reveal of our antagonists’ machinations through the tense hide-and-seek finale with Claire and Owen throughout a dizzying mansion. Some of the scenery is familiar but Bayona manages to tip his cap to Spielberg, making you feel a sense of lingering dread and doom, nowhere to run from what stalks from the shadows. Do I really need to mention the subplots that all come together? No. Because that’s where Fallen Kingdom brings all of the parallel plots together, into a tight climax that manages to deliver some truth we’ve waited to see in this franchise. The franchise may have continued to rely on the island as a crutch but, with the next sequel already greenlit for a 2021 release, audiences will finally see the next step in the evolution of this series. Bayona delivers genuine shocks and scares, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard keep the narrative on pace, and Fallen Kingdom surges above most of the sequels in this franchise. At the end of the day, do we really need to a scientific discussion about Hammond’s creations? Or do we just need a franchise willing to deliver the goods, excite our inner child, and finally leave the franchise’s tired tropes behind?
Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a blue police box.