‘Fallen Kingdom’ Dares to Subvert Expectations, and Just Barely Clears the Bar

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 hours 8 minutes
Director: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, and Daniella Pineda


Star Wars isn’t the only internally disgraced legacy franchise to put out a new film this summer. The Jurassic Park franchise is back once again after 2015’s impressively average Jurassic World with a follow-up to the creatively safe box-office behemoth, this time with a tried-and-true auteur in the director’s chair. But in a post-Last Jedi fan-scape, how well does the latest highly-anticipated legacy blockbuster fare? Perhaps I’m conflating my enjoyment of AMC Dolby theater I saw it in with my enjoyment of the movie a bit, but I have to say, it fares well enough.

jurassic-world-2-lava-dino
Claire (Howard) and Franklin (Smith) have an unlucky dinosaur encounter during a volcanic eruption

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is directed by sleeper auteur J.A. Bayona, known for The Orphanage (2007), The Impossible (2012), and most recently A Monster Calls (2016). Three years have past since the collapse of the Jurassic World theme park after a highly aggressive, experimental dinosaur, the Indominus rex, wrecked havoc on a fully populated park. Since then, the dinosaurs of Jurassic World have been living freely on the abandoned park estate; however, with the island’s volcano on the verge of eruption, the US government contemplates authorizing a rescue operation to save the last dinosaurs from another extinction. When they ultimately decide against the rescue op, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s old operations manager turned dinosaur activist, connects with John Hammond’s former business partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), to organize a privately-financed dinosaur extraction from the doomed island. Before leaving for the mission, Claire must recruit former velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), from the previous film, to help her track down Blue, the last living velociraptor and the number one priority for the extraction effort. Once on the island, Claire and Owen race against the clock to locate Blue and rescue as many dinosaurs as possible before the island explodes. Fallen Kingdom is not a “good” movie in most senses of the word; but what it lacks in originality and narrative risk is more than made up for in theatrical presence.

Bayona is no stranger to cinematic spectacle (made apparent in his last two features), and here he makes a handful of effective creative choices – a surprisingly poignant sequence centered around a doomed brachiosaurus (long-neck dinosaur) being the most notable of them. The way he depicts the dinosaurs as empathetic creatures worthy of the emotions that the film wants us to feel does so much to enhance the engaged suspense in the film, enough for me to personally overlook a lot of the annoyingly trite tropes littered throughout the  screenplay – and there sure are a lot of them.

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As absurd as it can be at times, Fallen Kingdom makes an admirable attempt at having something to say

Claire (Howard) and Owen (Pratt) are as serviceable here as they were in the first Jurassic World, but the new supporting cast is especially lousy. Almost every character is a trite archetype you’ve seen in a thousand other blockbusters before: the evil business man who shamelessly compromises ethics for profit, the backstabbing mercenary guy just looking for the next job, and the snarky punk chick with a conveniently useful skill set. However, while the characters are shamelessly cookie cutter and their decisions just as predictable, the central question of whether or not the final surviving dinosaurs should be spared or left to die was surprisingly handled with some genuine nuance, drawing some poignant existential parallels to the current ethical crisis at the US-Mexico border.

At the end of the day, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is not quite as creatively mute as its predecessor, and while it suffers greatly from “generic script”-itis, Bayona’s grand sense of spectacle and ability to pull some nuggets of real emotional resonance from the otherwise lifeless material ends up making for a perfectly enjoyable summer blockbuster with a little bit of something to say.

6.8/10

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