Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Isabelle Sermon, James Cromwell, Ted Levine, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Toby Jones, B.D. Wong, Jeff Goldblum
Dinosaurs will never not be cool. It’s a known fact. Featuring them in movies, however, does not always turn out to be cool. The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III were two such movies that did not live up to the coolness of dinosaurs. Cut to fourteen years later and the Jurassic series is pulled from extinction and revived as Jurassic World. Shooting to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time (currently sitting at number five after peaking at number three, having been overtaken by Star Wars: The Force Awakens and, more recently, Avengers: Infinity War) made the likelihood of its sequel, and eventual third in this current run, a sure thing. After Steven Spielberg’s original attempt at a sequel to one of his most favoured films of all time, does Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom correct past mistakes, or does it fall foul to yet another shot at capturing the magic of seeing dinosaurs live again?
Picking up three years after the events of Jurassic World, a volcano is due to erupt on the dinosaur’s home island of Isla Nublar. The world is debating whether to save the dinosaurs from their second extinction or to let them perish (an ethical dilemma at the heart of the movie). John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) old partner in the initial cloning project, Benjamin Lockwood (Cromwell), enlists the help of dinosaur activist Claire Dearing (Howard) to illegally relocate the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar to a new island. Lockwood’s aide, Eli Mills (Spall), asks Claire to recruit animal behaviourist (and her ex-boyfriend) Owen Grady so they can safely capture Blue, a velociraptor that Owen had built a rapport with when working with the dinosaurs on the island. Upon discovering that not all is what it seems, Claire, Owen and their own rag-tag team of rebels set about saving more than just the dinosaurs from a potentially world-ending fate.
The first thing to note about Fallen Kingdom is that it is substantially better than Jurassic World. It’s not often you can say that about a sequel, which is strange, because a sequel’s ultimate M.O is to be better than a first movie. Colin Trevorrow did a decent job of bringing the dinosaurs back from the dead for another go-around in his 2015 hit, introducing new, more intelligent creatures as well as a larger-scale problem when all inevitably goes to hell, however J.A. Bayona has done exactly what Trevorrow had hoped bringing on a new director would do in giving the Trevorrow and Derek Connolly-written screenplay a fresh look. A lot of new things occur in Fallen Kingdom that can make use of another director’s strengths, and Bayona ticks virtually all the boxes: action and disaster (2012’s The Impossible), fantasy (2016’s A Monster Calls) and horror (2007’s The Orphanage). The only thing missing, perhaps, is science-fiction. That, however, is something best left to the screenplay and can only add another string to Bayona’s bow when it comes to directing the sci-fi aspects of the film, of which he does a decent enough job.
Bayona’s direction and collaboration with his cinematographer, production designer and effects teams creates something that is visually compelling and immersive. This is in large part thanks to the use of more animatronic dinosaurs than have been seen in a Jurassic film since Jurassic Park. Not only do they make the dinosaurs that much more real and terrifying, but it improves actor performances. When they have something there to physically interact with it takes their performance to another level and assists audiences in becoming more involved and connected to the story and/or action. Another aspect of this is the level of emotion that Bayona manages to convey in the human-dinosaur relationships. No Jurassic movie has tugged at the heartstrings in the way this movie does. It’s also a reminder of the real abuse animals that are alive today suffer at the hands of humans, many of which are on the brink of extinction themselves. The way humans insist on ‘playing God’ is a huge theme of this movie, and one that will leave many moviegoers considering the future implications of our actions (it’s really the reason why Jeff Goldblum briefly reprises his role as Ian ‘life finds a way’ Malcolm).
But is this all just a visual cover-up for a less-than-worthy story? In some ways, yes. Fallen Kingdom is the film everyone has been expecting for some time. The events aren’t all that surprising, and the characters aren’t always steadfast in their principles, because if they were, certain things wouldn’t be able to happen in order to move the story along. In other ways, the story is really just there as a backbone to what is possibly meant to be a very visual movie. Without a director as strong visually as Bayona in the driver’s seat, it probably would have faltered and sunk in a pit of tar. Some of the locations and trouble the dinosaurs and humans find themselves in are so far-fetched that anything less than all-out action and well-placed tension would have brought audiences straight out of their suspended disbelief. It doesn’t excuse the fact that the screenplay isn’t entirely unexpected, especially in the direction it takes, but if you come to see a Jurassic movie expecting more from the story than from the spectacle, then you may as well go home and watch a Shakespeare adaptation inside (dinosaurs not guaranteed).
The performances themselves contribute positively to the film’s overall delivery. Despite appearing in nearly everything the past couple of years (this may or may not be an exaggeration), Chris Pratt keeps his reprised performance as Owen more subtle than most of his other roles. He still has the odd witty comment every now and again, but for the most part he is just as likable as he was in Jurassic World. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire has come a long way since the last movie and has become a little more of a well-rounded character. Howard’s performance is top notch, even if her character still retains an annoying aspect of naivety (at least we can let out a sigh of relief that she is no longer running in heels). Rafe Spall makes for a decent lead villain as Eli Mills, and overall the supporting cast do their job as well as can be expected. The breakout star, however, has to be Isabelle Sermon as young Maisie Lockwood, granddaughter of Benjamin Lockwood. Initially seeming like a character whose appearance is there purely to relate the movie to a younger audience, Maisie actually has a more important role to play, a role that is only touched upon in this film, which feels like a waste but will likely be expanded upon in the next movie. Sermon has one of those faces that the camera adores, and her ability to evoke emotion is reminiscent of a younger Dakota Fanning, with her general charisma and charm similar to that of Dafne Keen. Another young up-and-comer that is worth keeping an eye on, should she continue to pursue acting roles.
If you go in to Fallen Kingdom with low expectations, or no expectations, you will come out enjoying what you’ve seen. If you’re a die-hard Jurassic fan, you may not be so enthused by the story and where it seems to be heading for the third instalment. Although this does depend on the kind of fan you are: if you’re the kind that just wants to see more of what Spielberg created in Jurassic Park, then you may as well just re-watch the 1993 classic over and over again. If you’re the kind that wants to see the situation of the dinosaurs and humans potentially co-existing and seeing the story progress in that direction (a direction The Lost World looked like it was going to take but then didn’t), you may just remain intrigued. Fallen Kingdom introduces some new aspects of the cloning story arc that you either may have guessed at a long time ago, or never would have thought about. Either way these aspects will provide something very interesting for the third movie to go on, and depending on its director (currently slated as being Trevorrow again, but this could change) it could lead to a climax that may see the ultimate destruction of the human race. What a terrifying yet potentially inevitable notion.