While it took in over a billion dollars globally, nearly half of that at the domestic box office, J.A. Bayona’s addition to Spielberg’s dino dynasty, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is also one of the franchise’s most disappointing entries. Arguably, the series has fallen into the same derivative slump as the trajectory of the initial three films (which topped out at 2001’s Jurassic Park III and then famously resumed with Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 reboot Jurassic World). Repetitive and familiar themes abound in Bayona’s offering, which, like his 2016 A Monster Calls (review), tends to favor special effects over narrative. However, everyone can save their cheeky puns about franchise extinction thanks to its box office profits—despite lackluster reviews, the title is one of 2018’s biggest moneymakers.
Looking back, Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton had already marred the magic of 1993’s Jurassic Park by the time they embarked on franchise territory with 1997’s The Lost World, which suffered from all the hallmarks of a subpar sequel re-hashing its director’s prized family-in-peril formula. Fast forward past Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III (2001) to Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 box-office juggernaut Jurassic World, where we get a contemporary rehash of 1993’s theme park, we’re led directly into, you guessed it, dinosaurs languishing on a desolate island off the coast of Costa Rica in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Three years after the demise of Jurassic World, the dinosaurs who have remained trapped within the confines of the theme park are now facing extinction due to an active volcano threatening to consume the island in its entirety. As ex-park executive Claire Dearing (Howard) heads up a protest group desiring to save the creatures, Congress votes to abstain from saving them (thanks in part to expert testimony from Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, on hand for witty epithets predicting the destruction of mankind). When Claire is contacted by Ian Mills (Rafe Spall), who works at the behest of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a wealthy but unhealthy magnate who was the contemporary of the original park creator Hammond, she is given the opportunity to assist in transporting as many species as they can to a nearby isolated island. However, Claire is expected to reign in Owen Grady (Pratt), her ex-boyfriend, and the only person who can potentially help them wrangle Blue, the raptor he raised from birth and one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet. However, during their rescue mission, best plans go awry.
Trevorrow and his favored co-writer Derek Connolly deliver a rather un-inspired continuation of the progression of the dinosaurs and their endlessly stagnant journey, so much so they make the re-booted Planet of the Apes properties play like brilliant socio-political pulp manifestos (and the disastrous shadow of Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry still looms large as an indicator of taste and unhinged egotism). To be fair, some of their more daring attempts at contemporaneity (such as writing Daniella Pineda’s paleo veterinarian as a lesbian) seem to have been left on the cutting room floor, but even these minor kind of flourishes at inclusivity (why can’t the split between Howard and Pratt have transpired due to something a bit more complex than his unwillingness to live in a house?) are so extraneous regarding such a minor character it reeks of unabashed queer baiting. Other elements, such as uniting Ted Levine’s gruff military man with Trumpism, however fitting, is another easy grab at topicality because the material is never sophisticated enough to exemplify this, so the screenplay resorts to blurting out its stances abruptly and casually.
While Bayona’s penchant for visual artifice is in full-force, including a handful of minorly tense chase sequences, his signature gets a bit lost in this jungle of jarring tangents. At the very least, it’s a pleasure to see Geraldine Chaplin, who has appeared in minor supporting roles in Bayona’s previous three features, existing quite naturally in the middle of this mainstream milieu. Likewise, the use of other noted thespians populating the periphery adds a little of unexpected pizzazz, from James Cromwell’s rich, old codger (stepping in for the Richard Attenborough figure, the white, patriarchal ‘keys to the kingdom’ catalyzer) and a campy Toby Jones as a villainous elitist.
Howard’s ridiculous wardrobe choices from Trevorrow’s film (i.e., running from a T-rex in high-heels) result in our first tongue-in-cheek visual signifier of her character, but any real attempt at characterization ends there, despite a significant softening of the aggressive, unabashed brashness which defined her previously. Pratt, on the other hand, has little to besides his attempt to inject withering sarcasm whenever he can (which isn’t often). The result is a watering down of whatever strengths they were able to convey in the previous film, with Howard a pale reflection of the fierce, intelligent woman she was previously and Pratt the once clownish everyman responsible for making everyone swoon at his combination of uniqueness, nerve, and Dr. Doolittle talent.
The weirdest, and therefore the most interesting plot twist, which isn’t presented with any kind of graceful subtlety, is also confirmed in a late-staged litany of exposition from Rafe Spall’s maniacal money hound, just in case anyone was incapable of connecting the dots. This sets the stage for some laugh-out-loud cornball flourishes for the routine climax, which recycles the same ‘new’ elements from the last film (instead of a hybrid T-rex we get the same treatment on enhanced breed of velociraptor this time).
For those who simply wish to remain limply agog at the significant special effects elements of all the dinosaurs of the Jurassic universe, Bayona’s treatment may satisfy. But for any tired of a recycled packaging which assumes audiences cannot be elevated beyond the wonderstruck consumption of ignorant children, franchise progenitors are going to eventually be forced to re-discover the necessity of characterization, narrative, and dramatic tension which enhanced the original wave of event cinema giants which continue to define contemporary properties.
Universal presents Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in high-definition wide-screen, 2.39:1. It’s no surprise to find picture and sound quality aptly rendered in this transfer, but these were always the strongest assets of this material in the first place. A typical slew of glossy snippets masquerading as extra features are also included.
On Set with Chris & Bryce:
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are featured in three-minutes worth of behind-the-scenes footage.
The Kingdom Evolves:
This four-minute sequence explores how the special-effects have evolved since Spielberg’s initial film, who is on hand here as executive producer.
Return to Hawaii:
The Hawaii portion of the shoot is called out in this two-minute bit.
The film’s first major actions sequence, filmed in Hawaii, is explored in this six-minute segment.
Aboard the Arcadia:
This five-minute bit shows the set and storyboards regarding the film’s sequence in the boat, the Arcadia (where Bayona cites the film’s heart of the movie being the surgery on the character, Blue).
Birth of the Indoraptor:
The creation of this installment’s new hybrid, the Indoraptor, is explored in this four-minute segment.
Start the Bidding!:
Chris Pratt’s choreography is highlighted in this three-minute bit.
Death By Dino:
Bayona speaks about the film’s villain, played by Ted Levine, in this ninety second segment.
Monster in a Mansion:
The action sequence taking place in the film’s mansion set piece is explored in this three-minute featurette.
The climax on the rooftop is revisited behind-the-scenes in this three-minute segment.
Jeff Goldblum’s cameo is paid homage to in this three-minute bit.
Seven-minutes of footage are devoted to the evolution of the film’s VFX effects.
Fallen Kingdom – The Conversation:
Cast and crew are available for this ten-minute conversation on the film (which includes Colin Trevorrow and Jeff Goldblum).
A Song for the Kingdom:
Justice Smith is featured with an impromptu toast/song at the end of production.
Chris Pratt’s Jurassic Journals:
Six of Chris Pratt’s video journals are included.
Jurassic Then and Now – Presented by Barbasol:
A three-minute ad from Barbasol runs through the franchise.
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆