25 years on from Jurassic Park bringing dinosaur fun to the masses, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the latest attempt to make a new dinosaur feature.
The franchise legacy has not dulled the fact that Jurassic Park, by itself, is one of modern cinema’s iconic features. Combining decent character arcs with plenty of dinosaur fun, it made the tales of Isla Nubar a world famous flick. Indeed, for a while, the original was the highest grossing film in cinema history.
After two sequels that bought reduced ticket sales, along came 2015’s Jurassic World. It is somewhat inevitable a sequel was going to happen after Jurassic World took a T-Rex size bite out of the 2015 competition, even if the question was raised about the quality of the feature.
On some levels, the film’s story had times of a decent satirical commentary on contemporary entertainment, with the new cross-bred dinosaur intended as a riff on Hollywood’s desire for greater and greater spectacle. But on the other hand, some of the character arcs felt clumsily handled, and re-treads on familiar ground.
But while Jurassic World was a reasonable, if flawed, picture, Fallen Kingdom responds by going in a more bonkers direction that does a lot of playing with the franchise’s back-story, to mixed results.
The film’s drama takes place some 3 years or so on from Jurassic World, with Isla Nubar now empty of human activity and a previously-unreported volcano threatening to go pop.
Former Jurassic World operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now leading a group of dinosaur rights activists, who are trying to preserve the species from going extinct once again. The US government says no, with their evidence to do so bolstered by a cameo from Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) saying it would be a bad idea to try it again.
However, salvation is seemingly at hand from aging billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), and his ambitious right-hand man Eli (Rafe Spall). They persuade Claire to rope in her initially reluctant ex Owen (Chris Pratt) in order to plunge into Isla Nubar and recover the dinosaurs.
Within the first hour – in information already spoiled by the extensively aired trailers – there is a narrow escape from the volcano but the dinosaurs are duly herded up into Lockwood’s basement, at which point Eli and auctioneer Gunnar (Toby Jones) look to sell them up to shady arms dealers and cartoon bad guys.
Along the way, they also look to show off another prototype manufactured dinosaur – this time known in the form of a super weaponised creature known as the IndoRaptor. It duly leads to a team involving Owen, Claire, Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), dinosaur activists Dr. Zia (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin (Justice Smith), and Blue the raptor to stop both the bad guys, and the IndoRaptor.
Elements of the film do work nicely enough. After moving through the spectacle of the exploding volcanoes, the intimacy of setting the second half in the Lockwood mansion gives the film an intriguingly isolated and menacing tone. Some of the better scares were spoiled in the trailer, but it is a pleasingly different tone to mix with CG/animatronic dinosaurs.
As for the cast, Maisie is the character whose arc feels the most coherent, even when the film throws in some strange arcs, and the newcomer delivers a strong performance. Spall also delivers pleasing menace as a double and even at times triple crossing character, if one whose arcs sometimes feel excessive.
As for Pratt and Howard, they deliver reasonable enough performances as leads in and amid the dinosaur mayhem. Howard’s character feels more rounded than the executive having to loosen up to save her nephews that was in Jurassic World, while Pratt delivers a straight forward enough performance with some amusing enough one liners.
Pratt’s arc also includes one of the film’s more bizarre moments, which involves being tranquilised, then being licked awake by a Stegosaurus, and then crawling away from encroaching lava in a manner reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio post-Quaalude in the Wolf of Wall Street.
A lot of the first half of the film borders on the ridiculous, which frequently undercuts the emotion of what is the fairly huge move for the franchise of wiping out the island and any dinosaurs unfortunate enough to be left behind.
The large scale that the film also tries to change certain mythology behind the franchise, and its ramifications for the use of the science in its world, is also at times weirdly inconsistent. But then, for a lot of its time, the film seems less content to dwell on these in the manner its forefathers did, and instead focus on the dinosaurs running amok that gets the punters in.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom also ends up with an ending sequence that is sequel bait, and which has also been somewhat spoiled by its marketing. On some extent, its a logically plotted conclusion and one that promises to make 2021’s follow-up an intriguing picture, but there are some fairly extensive logic jumps made along the way, and its questionable if the film justifies them.
Overall, this is a bizarre film. Its one that provides the spectacle its audience presumably wants, and moves along with a fair old pace. There’s enough there to justify the film’s existence, and enough set up nicely for the next part, which is perhaps the point for big franchises like this.
But the film is also armed with stranger sequences give it a weirder viewpoint than one might expect, and often to the detriment of the film. Its a fun enough picture, but its one that seems to aspire to more than that and lacks what it needs to provide more than a summery sugar rush.