As a millennial film fan impacted by the staggering technological achievement of the original “Jurassic Park” as a child, I’ve never been able to see this untouchable classic of cinema that the rest of the world seems to be so in love with. “Jurassic Park” is absolutely a fun ride that can be occasionally meditative and is undeniably groundbreaking in its blend of CGI and practical animatronics in visual effects, but the mismarketed tidbits of family friendly whimsy and platitudes of technology-centric philosophical morality never distracted me from what the story is and always has been at its core; a B-movie at absolute best.
While many would claim that first film is simply too good to be touched, I find this franchise’s undoing to be more in its unwillingness to sincerely celebrate its own cheesiness in favor of chasing the dragon of the original film’s misunderstood success: This is why I enjoyed the previous “Jurassic World” so much.
Say what you will about its explicit reverence for nostalgia of the first film, it was still the first movie of the series to lean into its B-movie status in a way that organically embraced the tropes of “Jurassic Park” that have been boiled down to contrivances in every sequel since, while weaving an allegorical narrative about the absurdity of excess in spectacle as we found ourselves on the cusp of an age of blockbuster burnout.
Unfortunately, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” plays out like a metaphor for the institutional manner that the Hollywood studio system snuffs out the potential of its own products, rising to the challenge to take the sort of creative risks that it should have tried years ago only to be pulled back just before it could be utilized to make a true difference.
With the park on Isla Nublar officially abandoned and the island’s once dormant volcano expected to blow the island to kingdom come, the United Nations, as though suddenly struck by a sudden case of common sense, have finally decided that enough is enough. After the government refuses to commission any sort of rescue operation for the InGen dinosaurs, Claire Dearing and Owen Grady (reprised by Bryce Howard and Chris Pratt respectively) lead an expedition independently backed by the illusive Lockwood Estate to the island in order to extradite the dinosaurs to an isolated sanctuary. What their team manages to uncover however is that the Lockwood Estate’s true goal is to exploit the dinosaurs in a way that will irreparably alter the course of society. That promise of permanent change does play a major role in “Fallen Kingdom” actualizing on the hidden potential of this franchise in ways that no other entry has even come close to achieving.
Director J.A Bayona’s penchant for atmosphere and masterful coordination of suspense and creepy imagery have completely altered the nature of the set pieces for the better, leaning on more of an explicitly horror vibe than the standard bombastic chase sequences designed to cruelly pick off schlubby dudes that nobody cares about. This time, most of the beats placing characters in danger are actually fairly articulate and designed around accomplishing certain objectives more than merely escaping, despite the odd sloppy chase sequence remaining ever prevalent.
Where this ultimately helps “Fallen Kingdom” to shine is the characters, which are some of the best executed of the franchise. Not the human characters of course, they’re just about as stock and archetypal as usual despite the workman-level effort put in by a solid cast acting with material well below their pay grade. I’m talking about the real star of the show: the dinosaurs. The visual effects of the franchise have always been its crown jewels, but this film really went above and beyond. Across all species lines, these are animals that aren’t just animated as the horrific threats that they are but with actual personalities.
From the T-Rex’s “too old to deal with this nonsense” attitude in the more chaotic action set pieces to the genetically engineered mutant Indoraptor’s almost crocodilian snout design hilariously evoking that it may be stalking his prey with some deranged sense of humor, the attention to detail keeps the movie from ever becoming boring, even if you aren’t floored for better or worse by the absolutely bonkers territory that the main plot goes through, which is almost fun to watch play out in the sheer audacity of it to almost pull it all off with a straight face.
For better or worse, it’s a movie that more convincingly sells the relationship between a man and his velociraptor than the romance he supposedly had with a human woman onscreen. “Fallen Kingdom’s” progression of narrative and embracing of tropes firmly places it on the fast track to being better than the very film that started it all, even if it was unlikely to ever be as iconic.
Then why is it, in this full blown science fiction horror B-movie, directed by a brilliant visual director able to convey human story through unsettling visual composition, is there a sub plot crowbarring a little girl into the spotlight that contributes nothing to the actual narrative and themes? Why are the villains spearheaded by a number of cartoonish strawman caricatures that meet their end in intensely grisly death sequences that should have been satisfying, except that the PG-13 rating means that they’re literally bloodless? Why hire Justice Smith, a gifted young character actor capable of displaying a range of understated intensity, only to have him scream at everything terrifying for comedic effect?
That is the corporately packaged trap that “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” sadly finds itself in. It can’t be the best horror movie it can be because it has to sell toys to the children. It can’t be a full blown kids movie because the subject matter as conceived is just too ill-suited to that audience. Worst of all, it feels like it holds itself back from being a B-movie masterpiece because doing that would be perceived as “too cheesy,” despite the biggest money maker in Universal’s catalogue being a street racing series in which Vin Diesel skydives his car into a James Bond villain’s base, proclaiming that his fellow crew of street racers turned unprofessional superspies are “his family.”
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is undeniably fun enough to warrant a viewing on a level of spectacle if you simply want a 2-hour distraction but there’s no way to ignore the tragedy of the film that lies beneath the surface; a film that seems to wish to aspire to its own brand of greatness but is beaten into submission by studio notes and brand reassertion.
The sad result of this is a movie that’s too bizarre to be boring but too tonally inconsistent to be compelling, ending on one of the most utterly bizarre notes framed in such a way that seemed to completely miss its own themes of allowing nature to course-correct the mistakes of man in favor of making a child feel like they contributed something to the fiction of this franchise. Forgoing the opportunity to be trashy yet meaningful, “Fallen Kingdom” instead ends up being hollow and in the heart of this age of blockbuster burnout, that’s just about the worst place a film this expensive can end up.
3 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.