To set the stage for this review, I have a few things I need to get out of the way first that will help provide some context. First, none of the Jurassic Park sequels are good movies, even though I like all of them in their own way. Second, Jurassic World is a lot of fun, in part because it delivered on the promise of a dinosaur theme park. And if they opened a real one tomorrow, even if a few people died before the park opened, I would start saving for that vacation. Because it seems worth the risk.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom picks up three years after the previous film. The Jurassic World theme park has been abandoned after the park’s failure, and Isla Nublar’s previously dormant volcano is going to erupt and kill all of the remaining dinosaurs. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) testifies before the United States Senate about whether or not to save them (he’s decidedly against it), while Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is leading the pro-rescue Dinosaur Protection Group activist organization. Eli (Rafe Spall), the protege of John Hammond’s former business partner Lockwood (James Cromwell), approaches Claire, asking her to lead a secret rescue operation to get the dinosaurs off the island. But he also wants her to recruit Owen (Chris Pratt) as he is the only one who may be able to get Blue, now the last surviving velociraptor, off the island.
This is all the setup for the first half of the film, as Claire and Owen are joined by the computer expert Franklin (Justice Smith) and paleo-veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda). It’s a small crew sent to the island, but they learn that it is part of a much bigger operation to bring as many dinosaurs as possible back to the mainland (sound familiar?). The dinosaurs are being auctioned off to the highest bidder in order to fund the next generation of hybrid dinosaurs, the Indoraptor, a new predator genetically designed to follow orders. This all leads to chaos, of course, while Claire and Owen try to stop the sale and protect Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon).
And so Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a disaster movie and a sort of home invasion thriller mashed together. In the first half, everything happens so quickly that it is hard to absorb it beyond the plot. Only when the characters are hiding from dinosaurs inside the massive Lockwood mansion does the film stop for any kind of breath, let alone one long enough to create tension. While the decision to make the first half of the film the one filled with erupting volcanoes and other spectacle and have the second half be much smaller in scale is a bold one, it also leads to the film being somewhat anticlimactic. Though the amount of crazy things that happen in the last few minutes almost makes up for it.
For me, the biggest issue in the first Jurassic World is that none of the characters are particularly memorable. The performances are all fine, but none of the characters have a strong enough point of view to make them feel distinct. Fallen Kingdom takes some steps towards fixing this with Claire, now given a sense of purpose and a level of competency befitting an action movie heroine.
However, much of the film is supposed to rest on the relationship with Owen and Blue the velociraptor. And I like Blue! It’s fun that these two films have made her a character (as well as the original T. rex). And I especially liked seeing flashbacks to Blue as an adorable hatchling. Trust me when I say I am here for it. But sadly, Chris Pratt’s character is so stuck on being aloof that it actually undermines the bond between man and raptor. The film is so focused on making him seem cool that it takes away from what should be an awesome dinosaur-humor relationship like Gert and Old Lace in Marvel’s Runaways comic. Let the man cry when he learns that Blue is alive but also in danger of being scorched by lava.
And it doesn’t help that none of the new characters are at all interesting. The villains are written so as to be corporately evil that Bond-villain parody Hank Scorpio looks like a complex character by comparison. And that feeling is exacerbated when the Central Casting parade of stereotypical crowd of bad guys shows up to the auction. Even normally great character actor Toby Jones barely registers as fun while playing the evil auctioneer. The film tries to play the reveal of who the villains are by disguising them as altruists, but abandons even trying way too early in the film to feel like a betrayal, so it comes off as hollow.
The action is mostly good, and there’s some really interesting sequences in the film. However, it feels like these set pieces are in search of a story. Sometimes that works (Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol), but that’s rare to pull off, and that film has a great cast of characters, where those actors improvising would probably work pretty well. So it is easy to have them run between action sequences with some banter, and then it feels like a movie. The characters here function as downhill from the action and plot, malleable for whatever ringer the filmmakers put them through. It just makes them feel expendable, because the filmmakers know we are here to see dinosaurs, and we are here to see dinosaurs, but we all need to pretend that the humans matter in this movie. And they could, if some care was put into making them memorable, but that only happens in the first Jurassic Park.
In spite of this, the movie actually manages to be really fun. Silly, yes, but fun nonetheless. However, some may have an issue with this. Good characters are important to have a film be silly in a way that doesn’t also feel stupid. But here the breakneck pace is an asset, since by the time you’re trying to understand what is happening, something else is happening. The feeling of silly isn’t helped by this film is going for a darker tone that the one before it, with apocalyptic destruction in its first half and horror thrills in the second. The failure mode of scary is silly, and that will only exacerbate the issues for some. But I enjoy seeing dinosaurs fight on rooftops, so that’s not an issue for me.
Some of my other problems the film are things to do with the marketing, or concepts from the pre-World sequels that they still haven’t picked up on yet (Site B! The Lysine contingency! Feathers!). It’s not fair to ding Fallen Kingdom for those things, so I won’t elaborate. But there are also storytelling moments that don’t work. For example, there’s a moment at the climax where the characters have to make a tough choice and I wasn’t sure how the movie wanted me to feel about that choice. In the mix is the fact that this movie is telegraphing a third film, which means there is a ton of exposition, but it also feels like maybe director J.A. Bayona was given enough room to make this its own thing? That largely depends on whatever the tone of the third movie ends up being.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels like many other films so far this season, in that they are trying to do so many things they don’t do any of them well. It is fun enough while watching, and nearly unmemorable by the time the next installment is due.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.