“We’re not on an island anymore” barks Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady towards the finale of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. And he’s not wrong, the fifth film in the Jurassic franchise says goodbye to Isla Nublar in rip-roaring fashion, transforming itself into a a family friendly gothic horror film in its last hour.
Ok, ok, let’s start from the beginning. The Jurassic franchise has often been criticised for relying too heavily on the same story points to make a film. 2015’s Jurassic World, whilst becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time, was lambasted for being a modern-day reimagining of 1993’s classic, Jurassic Park. And while some of that criticism was justified, it was still pure sugary, popcorn entertainment.
Now, three years later, director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) takes over from Colin Trevorrow to bring us a film that starts out like we expect, but ends on a note that will transform the series beyond recognition. The question is, does it actually work?
Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the island of Isla Nublar to save the remaining dinosaurs from a volcano that’s about to erupt. They soon encounter terrifying new breeds of gigantic dinos while uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the entire planet and our own existence.
Fallen Kingdom begins with a pre-title card sequence situated in the lagoon of Isla Nublar that is up there with the best in the series. J.A. Bayona masterfully uses light and shadow to create a really compelling opening that is sure to be one of the summer’s best action scenes. And that is a trait that is brought to the rest of the film. Fallen Kingdom is absolutely beautiful.
The cinematography is exquisite and much better than the staid filming style of Bayona’s predecessor. There are scenes throughout this film that feel like they could be pulled straight from the screen and hung in your living room: it’s gorgeous.
Despite Bayona’s inexperience at creating a juggernaut film like this, his previous films are felt throughout. There’s a deep, earthy colour palatte that is the polar opposite of what we saw in Jurassic World. Where that was clinical and far too blue, Bayona’s colourings feel real, raw and grounded in reality.
The cast is also an incredibly strong part of the film. Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard both sizzle with on-screen chemistry and there’s a cheeky nod to the backlash Howard faced after wearing high-heels for much of Jurassic World’s runtime. Newcomers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda are terrific as a jumpy IT wiz and veterinary surgeon respectively. James Cromwell is nicely ret-conned into the story as John Hammond’s business partner, Benjamin, and adds a touch of class to proceedings.
Rafe Spall is excellent as the slimy assistant of Benjami, Eli and Toby Jones hams up the screen as an auctioneer. So far, so good then?
The first half of the film, situated on Isla Nublar as it pops into life is astounding and features some of the best destruction ever put to film. The CGI is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor and the dinosaurs feel absolutely real throughout. What I didn’t expect however, is poignancy. There are moments in Fallen Kingdom that have real emotional whack, especially as the rescue operation leaves the island. A lone Brachiosaur standing at the dock is heart-breaking and beautifully done.
J.A. Bayona utilises his horror roots beautifully and there is no denying it is the best-looking film in the series
Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom’s biggest selling point is also its biggest downfall. In trying to do something new, the film stalls as we head to a gothic-esque mansion for the final hour. The confines of the house slow the pacing right down and despite the constant onslaught of action, it really does lag. The special effects and animatronics remain flawless and the action is thrilling, but the script lets them down.
Speaking of the script, this was Jurassic World’s biggest weakness and the same can be said here. Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connelly should be applauded for bringing this franchise back from the edge of extinction, but my god, they cannot write dialogue to save their lives. The characters often converse in what feels like speech bubbles and this can really bring you out of the moment.
There’s also a laughably poor plot twist that feels like it was written by a five-year-old to add some wow factor to the film’s final third. It fails miserably. Then there’s the film’s ‘villain’, the Indoraptor. This genetically modified beast is a sorely underdeveloped entity throughout the film. Sure, she’s menacing enough, but it feels shoehorned in. Trevorrow has stated that Fallen Kingdom will be the last Jurassic movie to feature hybrid dinosaurs: this is absolutely the right decision.
Trevorrow has said that his Jurassic vision is a new trilogy, but the ending of Fallen Kingdom feels like it simply can’t be fixed in one more film. It’s Planet of the Apes-esque in scale.
When we take a look at the score, it’s a story of two halves. Michael Giacchino is one of the greatest composers working today and his music for Jurassic World was absolutely sublime. Here, however, the music is unrecognisable as Jurassic in its construction. John Williams’ iconic theme is rendered to a few bars here and there and that’s a real shame. It’s a good score most definitely, but it could have been so much better.
Finally, we have to circle back around to the cast and the elephant in the room: Jeff Goldblum. His return as Dr Ian Malcolm in this film adds a nice bookend, beginning and end, but you have seen all but two or three lines of his dialogue in the trailer. A horrifically underused presence, but a nice cameo nonetheless.
Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a solid addition to the ever-expanding series. J.A. Bayona utilises his horror roots beautifully and there is no denying it is the best-looking film in the series with superb set pieces, well-choreographed action and gorgeous cinematography. However, once again the film is let down by poor scriptwriting from Trevorrow and Connelly and a second half that struggles to keep pace with the stunning first.
Is it better than Jurassic World? Well that’s for you to decide, but comparing them is almost impossible.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
In retrospect, the promotional campaign for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels a lot like collateral damage. Having given away most of the plot in the trailers, audiences would only have themselves to blame if they were disappointed because, well, you knew what you were getting. With Spanish horror director J.A. Bayona at the directorial helm, there was real potential for a more creative involvement. Unfortunately, with the exception of one gloriously gothic set piece and the occasional moment of brilliance, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is just another CGI saturated, emotionless summer blockbuster.
The volcanic, dino-infested Isla Nublar is verging on imminent destruction. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who since Jurassic World has been busy burying her guilt into heading a non-profit dinosaur rights group, and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who is apparently going through his ‘Notebook’ phase, building houses in the woods, are flown in by Benjamin Lockwood’s estate to help transport the dinosaurs off the island. Accompanying them is the sweaty-palmed tech guy Franklin (Justice Smith) and ‘nasty woman’ paleoveterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda). Then there are those people who want to do bad things with the dinosaurs for money and many, many extravagant, tension building action sequences.
The film ends up being one headache-y mess of recycled set pieces, cardboard dialogue and several bungling attempts at political satire. Pratt and Howard have palpable chemistry but are consistently let down by a mediocre script, which comes as a surprise considering writer Colin Trevorrow’s previous work; fantasy, oddball genre movies such as Safety Not Guaranteed. Jeff Goldblum’s brief appearance forewarning of humanity’s path to extinction by way of ‘avarice and political megalomania’ was meant, I can only guess, to add gravitas to an otherwise hollow film, but instead fell flat.
There were some occasional moments of brilliance. Oscar Faura’s earthy hues of red, brown and green are beautifully blended and authentic; you can practically smell the ash and soil. Bayona’s exquisitely staged ‘Nosferatu moment’ is a real treat for the eyes and a cheeky nod to the director’s horror roots. Performance wise, Chris Pratt puts in a great piece of physical comedy after Grady is paralysed with a tranquilizer and forced to escape from an encroaching swell of lava. Unfortunately these moments just aren’t enough quite enough to save what is a very bland, very disappointing addition to the Jurassic franchise.