FILM REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

After a fourteen year hiatus following the mixed reception to Jurassic Park 3 – a period during which the tentatively titled Jurassic Park 4 underwent many re-writes and changes – the Jurassic Park franchise came roaring back from extinction with the commercial juggernaut that was 2015’s Jurassic World. While a flawed film with a poor script, it was easily the most entertaining entry in the franchise since the original, and re-invigorated it in a way that was definitely necessary. After such a success, could the sequel, Fallen Kingdom, possibly keep the train rolling and perhaps improve on the quality of the predecessor?

To some extent yes; though the film is far from perfect. Set three years after Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom almost feels like a film split into two parts. The first half deals with the re-uniting of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) as they return to Isla Nubar to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from a volcanic eruption. The second half deals with a conspiracy by those who funded this trip, and the invention of a terrifying new hybrid, as well as a genetically engineered child who changes the entire dynamic of the franchise. Apologies for the spoilers here, but it’s almost impossible to review this film without them. While the plot may seem somewhat derivative of The Lost World – and it certainly is – the primary positive about Fallen Kingdom is just how unique an entry this is into the Jurassic Park franchise, being so different from everything that came before it that it almost feels like an incongruous anomaly. While there are the typical staples– a Tyrannosaurus save, a tech wizard hacking the park’s security system, dodgy military types and mad scientists obsessed with corporate gain – the tone and feel of the film is entirely different from what came before it, leading to a film that feels fresh and in no way stagnated.

The first half certainly is a lot more of a conventional Jurassic Park movie, but the second half becomes almost a horror piece, as the characters are stalked around a mansion by a creature more monster than it is dinosaur. This second half in particular works very well and is both tense and engaging. The cinematography and visual storytelling in general throughout the film is probably the best of the entire series, and the director – J.A Boyona – clearly displays a flair for aesthetic film-making. The composition, lighting and framing are all immaculate throughout and give the film a dense, ambient atmosphere. There are definitely some edge-of-the-seat moments in that last half hour. The humour and emotion also work very well throughout the film, which is surprising for a tent pole blockbuster. Jokes in these types of film tend to be as broad-appealing as possible, for fear of potentially offending members of the audience, and as such usually induce a groan or, at best, a mild chuckle from myself, like Avengers: Infinity War did. Here, I mostly found myself laughing where I was supposed to, though of course there were some of the typical groan-inducing moments. A particular favourite of mine was a tranquilised Chris Pratt trying to avoid a volcanic lava-flow, and the running joke about ‘was that the T-Rex?’

The scene with the Stygimoloch running around head butting various rich punters was visually hysterical and definitely worked for me as well. There is one moment as well – which mostly works due to some spectacular visual storytelling – featuring a lone Apatosaurus – which nearly drew a genuine tear from my eye. Perhaps you have to truly love animals for it to work properly – I’ve heard some critics call it manipulative – but it certainly solicited emotions from this reviewer. The direction of the story was fascinating, as well, as anybody who – like myself – has read Michael Chrichton’s original novel knows that gene-splicing and the Science-Fiction elements were the central components of his story. While I love what Spielberg did with the adaptation, a lot of that Sci-Fi was lost as the franchise became more of an action-adventure spectacle. Fallen Kingdom, thankfully, brings things right around to the roots, and focuses far more heavily on the Science element than any of the previous films have.

While this may alienate the audience – and critics – who are unfamiliar with the novel, for us long-time fans it’s definitely highly exciting. The performances of the two leads are solid – if never spectacular – and Chris Pratt continues to display a great screen presence and serious star quality. His comedic delivery is stellar, his facial expressions are believable and authentic, and he carries most of the film upon his ever-broadening shoulders. He is, however, out-performed by Dallas Howard who proves herself with every film I see her in to be a competent and strong actress. If there was any question she has a career as a result of Hollywood nepotism – which, to be fair, she may – she dispels it with her strong performances, and the chemistry between the two is palpable. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast don’t quite match up; the child-actor, portraying young Masie Lockwood, is rather poor, as child-actors tend to be. One scene where she is crying is laughable primarily due to the obvious editing needed to get her to cry authentically. Clearly they had to cut, plaster her with tears, and then roll the camera again, which takes anybody with an idea of editing and composition right out of the film. Rafe Spall mostly chews scenery as a cartoon-esque corporate villain, and famous character actor James Cromwell isn’t given enough screen time to ever truly excel. He’s not poor – he never is – but he’s simply not given room to grow into his performance and leave any form of impression. Even Jeff Goldblum – the mercurial beating-heart of the franchise – feels strangely off as Ian Malcolm during his cameo.

None of it is terrible, but very little of it is truly great. Unfortunately these poor performances mostly come from the same issue Jurassic World was plagued by – the terrible script. There is a lot of clunky, lazy exposition as well as the jokes that don’t work, and human beings with cartoon-like motivations and characterisations. Trevorrow is clearly a fine director of spectacle and action – the raptor scene from Jurassic World was phenomenal – but he seems to be a very poor writer of screenplays, and this is no exception. One almost wishes they simply allowed Bayona to write his own film so he wasn’t hamstrung by poor dialogue and ridiculously stupid character choices; in particular the one that allows the film’s central beast to escape captivity and run-amok, which is written in an incredibly lazy way. In fact, one could argue everything involving said beasty – whose name I won’t reveal as I don’t wish to spoil too much – was poorly thought out and never entirely convinced or worked. If we compare it, for example, to the Indominus-Rex from Jurassic World; a beast that is now almost iconic within the franchise, any comparisons we do make are laughable. The Indominus had a presence, drove the plot forward, and worked as a terrifying force of nature. His successor, unfortunately, fails to do so, and a considerable amount more could have been done with its utilisation. In short, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a bizarre Frankenstein’s monster of a film that mostly works at being engaging and entertaining – while simultaneously catapulting the franchise in an intriguing sci-fi heavy direction – yet, unfortunately is too hindered by scripting and characterisation issues to be considered truly great; as well as wasting the new central monster that could have been fascinating if deployed correctly. Not bad, but not fantastic; this is entertainingly mediocre.

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