Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom would have you think it’s a summer spectacle film, dazzling your eyes as your mind strays from the heat outside. But as it eschews nuance and subtlety for action, all you can really dwell on is how hollow the entire thing feels. It may be made competently, but it fails to impress, intrigue, or entertain on almost every level.
The second in the planned Jurassic World trilogy, Fallen Kingdom follows up on the events of the first film wherein a genetically sculpted dinosaur called the Indominus rex somehow surprises the world by destabilizing and terrorizing yet another prehistoric park. In the fallout and revelation that an impending volcanic eruption is going to wipe out what remains of the park, the world has divided into those that say the dinosaurs deserve to be saved and those that say this is God rectifying humanity’s mistake. Despite witnessing the massacre firsthand, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) falls in with the former.
She, in her position of influence and knowledge of the creatures, is then recruited by John Hammond’s former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his right-hand man Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) to go to the island and save what she can. Blue, the last remaining Velociraptor, poses a potential problem, though, so she then recruits Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) as well. Lo and behold, however, here there be complications.
The entire first half of the movie, actually, is achingly predictable. The setup is ripe with potential, examining the moral implications of the entire franchise. Humanity created these animals; do we bear extra responsibility in ensuring their survival? They are also private property; is nature owned or merely influenced? When we create life at will, what counts as an act of god?
And all of that is thrown away. The person you think is shady ends up being shady with a bunch of knives labeled “FOR BACK” in his bag. The greed and hubris that fueled the continued pursuit of dinosaurs as entertainment continues to fuel the betrayal and chaos that follows. Even when the movie finally gets interesting, it does so by treading ground explored several movies ago.
Even the action in these early acts fails to be compelling in any way. There’s plenty of fire and explosions and roaring and destruction, but none of it is used to any effect other than “LOOK AT THIS.” Things just sort of…happen. And then they’re resolved. And then we move on. There’s no weight to any of it, no drama, and certainly no engagement.
The callbacks to the hallmarks of the franchise are also haphazardly stuffed in there. Whereas the first Jurassic World at least managed to make the emergence of the past feel considered and tender, the swells of the familiar theme and iconography and characters fall entirely flat. There’s one bit in particular that happens not once but twice, and both instances are laughably nonsensical. It smells of the boat exploding in the Baywatch reboot: empty, indecipherable, pointless flak.
Luckily, the film eventually moves beyond this, even if it feels interminable at the time. It shifts into an odd but far more desirable mishmash of gothic horror and summer blockbuster. It has completely given up on the idea of carefully paced thrills as set forth by Steven Spielberg’s original endeavour, but in its place, it gleefully tries any other number of ideas that glances the bow of its peanut-sized lizard brain.
Some of it works, most of it doesn’t, but at the very least it’s trying something rather than going through the motions. Half of this movie is ticking checkboxes and the other half feels as if it has ambitions. And it’s not as if the latter can elevate the former; it can only be dragged down to the lowest bar.
It emerges as a sort of wishful shame that this has to be a Jurassic Park film. Director J.A. Bayona, as seen in his past films like A Monster Calls and The Orphanage, is fully capable of embracing and flexing both the overt and subtly dark fringes of a story. He’s not afraid to stare right into the bleak and grim and play in that space.
This feeling of regret over what could have been hits hardest late into the movie when a twist comes about regarding a certain lineage. It’s hilariously detached from the rest of the story despite being a huge bombshell (as if the asteroid in Deep Impact just sort of bounced off the planet), but the implications are grave in a way we’ve not yet seen in this series. And knowing what Bayona is capable of—especially as seen in The Impossible—this could have been a tremendous tale of loss and acceptance rather than one of two unbelievably incongruous leads faking romantic interest as dinosaurs make loud noises.
This movie is what the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy would have been if someone somewhere along the chain at 20th Century Fox said no to ambition—to courage. It feels like it squashes down all the risks it wanted to take until they’re not risks at all and sticks them between the covers. There’s still one more film to go, but given what we’ve seen so far, I’m not so sure it’s worth waiting.
Final Score: 5 out of 10