Director: J. A. Bayona Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Isabella Sermon Running Time: 128 minutes
The central conflict of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t about dinosaurs, it’s not even about being pro-dino rights or pro-bioweapons. The central conflict is the friction caused by J. A. Bayona’s directing style bumping against the constraints of this franchise, like a T-rex testing an electric fence who can’t help getting burnt.
It’s been a few years since the events of Jurassic World and the dinos have been happily running amok on their island, but now that the long-dormant volcano is showing signs of stirring they are under threat of becoming extinct (again). Claire and Owen have long since parted ways but his raptor know-how is needed to help rescue Blue (and 11 other species of dinosaur) in the hopes of relocating them to a secure island owned by Hammond’s former business partner, Benjamin Lockwood. They team up with some private army dudes with a not-so-well hidden agenda and it soon becomes clear that their intentions are not as warm and fuzzy as they made out.
From the name to the plot, Fallen Kingdom is a remix of Lost World with the Jurassic Park 3 rescue mission plot thrown in. That’s fine, anyone still seeing Jurassic Park films just wants to see some damn dinosaurs, the plot is not the main draw and it doesn’t have to be. What makes J. A. Bayona such an ideal choice of director for a film like this is his prowess as a visual communicator; he can create a big mood with a little music and a smoke machine. His ability to handle tone allows us to smirk at a raptor-hybrid toying with a guy we’re about to watch get eviscerated, to laugh at an immobilised Pratt roll himself away from searing hot lava and to shed a tear for a little girl who just wants her grandfather to wake up. His quirky sense of humour gives us touch points with the original Jurassic Park; it’s not such a departure to imagine ourselves laughing at a drugged Allan Grant rolling away from danger the same way we do for Owen Grady here.
Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as Dr Ian Malcolm and we meet him in Supreme Court advocating for the dinosaurs to be left to their fate. It’s hard to argue with him – especially when we’ve seen the damage that these animals can do 4 times over at this point. But once we get back to the island, things change. It’s a testament to J. A. Bayona’s skill as a director that he can take us from point A to point B by creating such empathy for animatronic, computer-generated creatures. When we see our old pal the brachiosaurrus at the edge of Isla Nublar slowly disappearing into the smoke with noplace to go it hurts.
While the competent and empathetic storytelling underpinning Fallen Kingdom give us much to digest, it still has major flaws deflating its potential. It’s a shame that there’s either studio or personal pressure compelling Bayona to shoehorn elements of the original in places they don’t belong, creating an unfortunate parallel with the dinos running rampant in this grand WASP estate. John Williams score is beautiful but it falls to overuse, as does the T-Rex rescue-and-roar combo. And speaking of shoehorning, why did Lockwood have to be Hammond’s old business partner we’ve never heard of before? Fallen Kingdom had already established that the World was watching the situation play out with the dinosaurs on Isla Nubar. If people are protesting outside the White House and sending donations to Claire, would it really have been such a stretch to have him just be a rich old guy with an island to spare and a soft spot for animals on the brink of extinction? Or the plot could have been strengthened by having him lean into his guilt about the mistake they made, his motivation would’ve made more sense if he was compelled to right his own wrongdoing. The other side characters are actually great though! Isabella Sermon gives a credible performance as a smart kid who’s out of her depth – she figures out that Eli Mills is up to no good early on before any of the adults catch on, and she manages to evade danger in a house brimming with mercenaries and genetically-modified monsters. Daniella Pineda steals scenes as veterinarian Zia Rodriguez, she’s proactive and capable and sorely under utilised.
Somewhat predictably, Owen and Claire are pretty much immediately double-crossed by the army dudes upon arrival at Isla Nubar. They drug and transport the dinosaurs to Lockwood’s estate to be sold at auction. Bayona uses rain, smoke and shadow work help to naturalise the dinosaurs in an environment they don’t easily slot into, a clever solution to the problems that crop up when you cram CGI dinosaurs into tight environments with a meandering pace.
So Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a visual feast, but to recycle as much as this film does without adding substance leaves it lacking. Some of the most beautiful shots feel like they’ve been dropped out of another film, especially the opening sequence with the submarine. What a waste of time that was! In a blockbuster, it’s not enough to make a scene pretty, it has to drive the plot forward but again it feels like there was some tension between Bayona’s filmmaking style and the weight of the franchise. Bayona is at his best when his steady, quiet optics are given space to settle and there’s not really time for that in Fallen Kingdom.
Still, if you’re on the market for a family-friendly (mostly) blockbuster with creative visuals and footage of raptor-puppies playing fetch, this is still well worth a trip to the cinema of a rainy day.(2.5 / 5)