2015 saw one of Steven Speilberg’s most beloved blockbuster franchises return from the dead in a fashion many didn’t predict. After numerous failed attempts to keep the franchise going, the start of the 21st Century saw the Jurassic Park series take a temporary hiatus while Universal Studios tried to figure out how on earth to keep audiences paying to these these movies.
Fast forward 14 years and Jurassic Park appeared to solve all their problems. The Colin Trevorrow directed instalment was essentially a soft reboot of the 1993 original; taking a near identical script and making a much larger version of it. Essentially it was Jurassic Park injected with a sizable doze of nostalgia and a heap action thrown in for good measure.
Nostalgia-driven soft reboots of this sort have been an all too popular feature in recent years. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is probably the best example of this. A movie packed to the nines with warm fuzzy memberries, simultaneously sporting a team of fresh new faces to take the torch from a previous generation and take it down a bold new path. Jurassic World was no different in this manner, giving us everything we loved from the Spielberg original, only bigger, louder, and more Spielbergian than ever.
Of course like Star Wars, inviting audiences on the nostalgia train is good when inviting people to return to a franchise, only it can get pretty tired relatively fast. If director J.A. Bayona was to successfully pull of a sequel to this, he’d need to make sure Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom did something a little different than simply remake The Lost World (1996).
The verdict? Although he doesn’t remake it beat for beat, he does borrow a lot of elements from it. Ok, so there’s areas where he does venture away from what’s come before; particularly in terms of tone. The previous feature relied heavy on applying that whimsical, Spielbergian coat of paint audiences were so familiar with, Fallen Kingdom seems a lot more willing to venture away from such a style this time around. For a start, the iconic John William’s theme seldom pops up during this one. Heck, the soundtrack doesn’t really sound anything like any of its predecessors; opting instead for a more generic score to accompany the film. As for all the little easter eggs found in the previous, Bayona is much less interested in doing this here. Heck, even when Ian Malcom pops up, he’s pretty much disposed of almost immediately; only really used to open and close the film.
Bayona appears far more interested in making a darker, milder and goofier horror movie packed with cartoonish action, two-dimensional baddies and gruesome baddies. The previous Jurassic World had gave off the impression of a filmmaker playing with a Jurassic Park toy box. T-Rexes and Velociraptors teaming up to take down a hybrid dinosaur! As if it was a kid playing with a set of action figures. Fallen Kingdom very much does the same, only this time, the kid’s energy levels are a lot higher and he’s chucked a creepy mansion into the mix to boost his imagination a dash.
In many ways, this allows the film to stylistically break away from the feel of its predecessors, which I think is good in many ways. Opting for the Spielberg touch again would have given off the impression that this franchise has nothing else to offer tonally, which would go a long way in making this series feel somewhat stagnant. Having the courage to break away and shake up the atmosphere like this is a wise movie.
Except the whole dry, kooky, carton horror show just feels a bit, silly. It’s one that sounds good on paper. When it wasn’t posing interesting philosophical questions about how far genetic engineering might go, or showing off its cutting edge visual sorcery, Jurassic Park did a stellar job when it came to the fear factor. Sure, the dinosaurs could be fascinating and wonderful and all that jazz, but they were also ghastly monsters who would turn children into lunch if they had the chance. Opting to go all out on the horror sounds great.
And it still could be great. Only here there appears to be a real desire to ham up the horror and turn this into some sort of bonkers affair where prehistoric beasts lurch around houses acting like they are some sort of Xenomorph.
A lot of what’s at play here has been knocking about in this series for a wee while now admittedly. In fact, pretty much every idea in this film has been taken from an earlier part of the series in some form or another (more on that shortly). Only this time around, they’ve exaggerated it to the point in which it gets a little bit too much. Building a hybrid dinosaur and weaponizing dinosaurs may have just about gotten a pass in 2015; having a crossbread creature that can turn into a gun at the literal pull of a trigger, however, feels a bit much.
All this silliness doesn’t destroy the movie; it just makes it difficult to engage with at times. These are fantasy movies after all. Problem here is it all gets pushed a touch too far. Amplification and excess are the cause of this movie tipping into ridiculousness, and that means Fallen Kingdom does suffer at times.
This sort of flatness also means it’s hard to engage with the characters at times. Our protagonist are handsome goodie two shoes who are only really there to be heroes, the side-characters are dimensionless side-kicks, and the bad guys are either mornic hunters or money-loving creeps.
As for the story, well as I say, it pretty much takes a lot of its subject matter from The Lost World. Our heroes from the previous film are asked to return to the island on a rescue mission (this time, it’s dinosaurs as opposed to Kelly Malcolm), hunters have already arrived with their own ulterior motives, grubby suits want the dinosaurs for themselves, dinosaurs make it to civilisation, dinosaurs break free, the grubby suits get eaten by the very prize they wanted. Sound familiar?
Nevertheless, the formula has been tweak a touch since 1996, and a couple of mishaps have been revised. For one thing, they’ve shifted the structure so that the whole “venture to the island” part of the story acts as the first half of the story; choosing to wrap that segment up by the time the midpoint comes around. In many ways, this allows both the island and the real-world locations to work more harmoniously than they did last time. The Lost world often felt like two films awkwardly and unnecessarily glued together. There was the overly-earnest hunter story taking place on the island, then there was the completely random third act set in San Diego.
Leaving the T-Rex attack until the final moments of The Lost World when most of the story we’d seen had already wrapped up felt like a random mini-movie had been inserted into the final cut without much thought applied to it. Plus we’d spent about 90% of the movie in one particular environment, only for it to all wrap up in a totally dissimilar one. The shift was jarring and never really meshed together. Bringing the environment shift forward in Fallen Kingdom largely cleared this problem up. Transitioning from one environment to the next during the midpoint makes more logical sense; as this is usually when a film’s tone shifts in general. Audiences are subconsciously accustomed to this sort of switch, meaning if you’re gonna change locations in such a drastic manner, then doing so here seems far wiser than leaving it until the last minute.
Furthermore, the tone is far more consistent throughout in Fallen Kingdom. Whereas The Lost World went from being an overly earnest film for 90% of its run time, to a somewhat surreal Godzilla parody during its final act; Fallen Kingdom remains a daft horror flick throughout most of its runtime.
Having said all of this, one cannot help but conclude that for all its attempts at tidying up the problems posed in The Lost World 22-years prior, the fact remains that it’s just rehashing ideas and stories that have come before. This is the biggest problem with Fallen Kingdom. It has absolutely nothing new to add to the franchise. It’s a collection of things we’ve seen before, mixed together and tweaked a little in order to give us something that feels different, yet is ultimately the same.
At the end of the movie we do see that those working behind the scenes of this sequel trilogy do have a handful of unique ideas hiding up their sleeve for part three. The film’s cliff-hanger, in which we see a bunch of dinosaurs break free into our own world, is genuinely something we haven’t seen before. A film in which prehistoric creatures have taken over our planet is a new story that could push this series in a genuinely new direction. Which is why it’s so frustrating that the film decided to hold of giving us that story until the next outing. Seriously, if you haven’t got anything to say here, why not use this? You’ve already thought it up, so perhaps it might have been a wise idea to stop waiting around for Colin Trevorrow to scuttle back from Lucasfilm and use what you have.Instead of spending 130 minutes showing homeless dinosaurs chasing Star Lord, Gwen Stacy and Maisie the Clone around a mansion, why not build upon the story of John Hammonds creations finally working toward taking back the earth?
Whilst we’re on the subject of Maise, what was the point in having cloned humans in this story? I mean I know genetic engineering has sort of been the whole premise behind Jurassic Park since the first one, but what was the intention here? It’s a movie about dinosaurs, not fashioning doppelgangers for deceased children. Perhaps there is a way of inserting this sort of subplot into Jurassic Park, however as it stands here, Fallen Kingdom has absolutely nothing to say on the matter here. Maisie is placed in the story to provide a twist that has no outcome. She’s just there to try and surprise us.
Perhaps I’m giving this film too much of a hard time. It’s certainly not a horrible movie. For one thing, the action is pretty fun, the ridiculousness of it all makes it enjoyable in that easy-to-digest sort of way, and the horror elements can be enjoyable at times. It’s not really scary, and the madness of it all can be a little too much at times, but they’ve really managed to make the dinosaurs feel like genuine monsters once again. Like I say, Jurassic Park is quite good at this, and there’s certainly a nastiness to the Indoraptor that’s entertaining to watch. Also, there’s some really effective shots that are quite frightening at times. I love the moment at the start where we catch a fleeting sight of the T-Rex head as lightening strikes. Ominous shadows, subtle reflections, and titanic-sized silhouettes are frequently utilised too; giving off the impression that these creatures are otherworldly entities bleeding into our reality from a long forgotten nightmare. They’re the ghosts of our planet, returning to reclaim the lands which were once theres.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a film that’s brave enough to aesthetically divorce itself from its predecessors. There’s a unwillingness to trying anything new here, however, which doesn’t do the movie any favours. Furthermore, the craziness of it all can get a little much at times. Having said that, there’s certainly fun moments and creepy imagery that’ll keep audiences entertained.
Not the worst instalment in this series, but certainly nowhere near the strongest either.