I have one very small barometer for how I judge Jurassic Park movies: have gorgeous looking dinosaurs being majestic and terrorizing people.
It may not come as shock that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom meets and exceeds this requirement.
Using an active volcano as it’s weapon of choice, JW:FK literally blows up everything we know about the Jurassic Park franchise. Director J.A. Bayona plays up his mixed background of horror and spectacle laden filmmaking to give the series one of it’s darkest and most intense entries to date. Bringing back Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard from the original, coupling them with a new cast of characters both good and bad, Bayona crafts a Jurassic film that is genuinely different from previous entries. This most definitely isn’t just another walk in the park, and to think otherwise would be foolish.
Picking up 3 years after Jurassic World left the park in shambles and dinosaurs once again running free on Isla Nublar, JW:FK finds those dinos on the brink of extinction once again as a volcano threatens their existence. While governments (along with a appropriately chaos-laden cameo from Jeff Goldblum) debate intervention, former Operations Manager Claire Dearing has gone, much like John Hammond before her, from capitalist to naturalist, attempting to sway public opinion to save these animals.
Through a series of events, Claire finds herself recruiting her former flame and raptor behavior expert Own Grady into heading back to the island to track down Blue, the last Velociraptor in existence, and help a expedition team save as many dinosaurs as possible. Things do not go well, and that’s just the first third of the film.
From there, Bayona takes us to the cramped quarters of a Pacific Northwest mansion in the mountains. It’s here that we get multiple doses of elements that we’ve never seen before, from gothic horror to genetic plot twists, from closed-quarters dinosaur action to big questions that a third film will no doubt have to answer for.
The cast of humans in a Jurassic Park film are never the most interesting parts, for sure, but it helps that they’ve assembled a decent enough cast of characters that range from progressive to cartoony. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return, their characters having evolved and changed where their personalities remain, but their goals have evolved. They share a gentle, fun rapport with each other. Not to mention that Pratt’s boy-and-his-dog approach to Owen and Blue’s relationship offers a unique aspect not really seen in these films before. Jeff Goldblum and B.D. Wong offer welcome returns that are unfortunately a bit more than extended cameos. They nonetheless continue on, with Malcolm being a vocal advocate for chaos and nature and fiendish Dr. Wu climbing further up his own ass as a man who believes he has the creation power of God.
The new cast members fill archetypes as well, but they do so admirably. Both Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda play members of Claire’s dinosaur saving team. Smith toes the edge of annoyance as the computer geek who’s out of his element, but Pineda is a firecracker of a paleoveterinarian, throwing sass around happily. Even beloved character actor James Cromwell appears as a previously unmentioned benefactor, acting essentially as the Wozniak to Hammond’s Steve Jobs.
You know that when Ted Levine shows up as a mercenary leader that he’s going to be a terrible person, and he delivers. Toby Jones is somewhat wasted as a black market auctioneer, and Rafe Spall tunes his ham up to 11 playing the corrupt corporate stooge trying to make a buck off of these animals. He’s got the greed of Gennaro from Jurassic Park, the weaselly justification of Ludlow from The Lost World, and is only missing a mustache to twirl. He’s still great and I’m all about watching him run in panic as his plans go to hell, as they always do here.
We know who the real stars are, however, and the dinosaurs do not disappoint. Blue’s role in JW:FK completes the full PR makeover of Velociraptors, successfully transitioning them from devious machines made of claws and teeth to loyal sidekick with claws and teeth. A dome-headed Stygimoloch gets some good laughs in an extended sequence, and it’s hard not to feel the heartstrings tug just a little bit when seeing Brachiosaurs or baby Triceratops again. Rexy is back as well, and her opening sequence might be the best in the film, and is one of the best in the franchise in terms of tension, action and spectacle. Hell, even my beloved Dilophosaurus gets a nod, although I’m still waiting for her to show up in full glory once again.
Bayone takes over the reigns as director working from a script written by Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. Bayona is known for being able to offer up spectacle tinged with a gothic horror feel, with his previous films The Orphanage, The Impossible, and A Monster Calls displaying his ability to blend big moments with visceral fear and emotion. His spectacle is on full display on Isla Nublar, with the volcano acting first as a ticking clock, then as a force of nature that dwarves even the dinosaurs. If you thought dinosaurs trying to eat you was intense, then there’s something even more genuinely stressful about seeing the dinosaurs running, along with humans, to escape a fiery fate.
Once the film gets off the island Bayona leans more towards his horror elements, crafting darkly lit, highly tense sequences in the claustrophobic confines of Cromwell’s forest estate. It’s here where the film offers sequences of terror and action that are unlike any in the franchise before, introducing a new genetic monstrosity known as the Indoraptor to terrorize our humans.
It’s here that the moody cinematography of Óscar Faura seeds the audience with dread, and where Michael Giacchino’s score completely reimagines what a Jurassic score sounds like. His booming, terrifying horns develop new themes, yes, but ones that feel rooted in terror of giant monster pictures of the past like King Kong, Godzilla, or even Cloverfield, which he also did the music for.
Fallen Kingdom is a bit messy from a thematic perspective, essentially splitting the film into three main narratives. The first third focuses on spectacle and bombast as the rescue of the dinosaurs smashes heads with the erupting volcano. The seconds third feels like more of a stowaway tale focusing on animal trafficking and our responsibility to nature. The last third turns into a straight monster horror film, with effective sequences set in a dinosaur diorama hall and the confined hallways. It’s here that everything tries to loop back together, where saving the dinosaurs, respecting nature’s chaotic balance, and trying to stay alive all converge in, admittedly, not the cleanliest of ways.
Ever since the first Jurassic Park, there have been lingering questions about humanity meddling in genetic science and recreation of extinct life. There’s plenty of that on display here, but the various successes and failures of our human characters to either exploit or prevent that meddling take different turns than previously seen.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom features many of the same successes and failures of other Jurassic Park sequels. It is nowhere near the original, but it does feature a handful of memorable sequences and great dinosaur kills. The biggest difference is where JW:FK decides to take it all in the end. Without getting far into spoilers, just know that the status quo that you’re used to is all but obliterated.
The films biggest advantage is in its tone and director, bringing it much closer to the line of genuine monster horror film than any previous entries. There’s hardly room for the original, adventurous Jurassic Park theme music here, although it makes it’s return in a handful of spots. Instead of adventure, there is intensity. To use Star Wars as a comparison, both The Force Awakens and Jurassic World brought us back into a universe with known entities and characters. Conversely, The Last Jedi and Fallen Kingdom completely upend those universes and leave the rest of the franchise to go in untold directions. For a film series about stupid humans constantly going to dinosaur island to try and control natures, it leaves a exciting sense of the unknown for where we can go next.
The Final Pop
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is much like other Jurassic Park sequels. It doesn’t come close to capturing the greatness of the original, but offers enough of it’s own unique and effective take on dino action to have fun. The humans are inconsequential, the dinosaurs are awesome, and director J.A. Bayona brings a unique blend of horror and action to make this franchise entry recognizably different.
Movie Theater Popcorn