I’m a MASSIVE fan of the “Jurassic Park” franchise. I grew up with it and the original “Jurassic Park” was one of the first movies I ever truly fell in love with as a kid. That said it’s a bit difficult for me to separate my fanboy tendencies from my critical side when exploring the latest sequel in the franchise, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”. Depending on which way you look at it this sequel to the massive 2015 hit “Jurassic World” is either a fun science fiction monster epic or evidence that the franchise might be losing its touch. But is it more fun or is it more failure? As a fan and a reviewer I decided to put on both hats at once and determine whether or not “Fallen Kingdom” lives up to its legacy AND if it’s a decent moviegoing experience all on its own. This is my review of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Fallen Kingdom” takes place three years after the catastrophic events of the previous film shut down the dinosaur themed park for good. A dormant volcano has begun to show activity on Isla Nublar and politicians have decided to allow nature to run its course rather than save the dinosaurs. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is brought in by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former partner of Jurassic Park’s creator John Hammond, and is presented with a plan by Lockwood’s assistant Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) to rescue specific species from the island include the last remaining raptor Blue. Needing his help to capture the raptor, Claire convinces her ex-boyfriend and former coworker Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join the expedition which also includes tech genius Franklin (Justice Smith) and paleoveterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) to save as many dinosaurs as they can. When they arrive on the island things go wrong and the group finds themselves betrayed by the mercenaries sent to help them. After returning to the mainland Claire and Owen discover a much darker purpose behind the rescue mission as well as the secret creation of a new genetically engineered monstrosity known as the Indoraptor that wreaks havoc on the Lockwood estate.
“Fallen Kingdom” is sure to be a divisive movie, but despite some critics stating otherwise I do feel the film covers new ground for a franchise in need of fresh ideas. The idea of taking dinosaurs off the island is not a new concept. We saw it in “The Lost World” and if you’ve seen the film you know how that plays out. But this is the first time the idea is necessitated for the protection of the animals, which allows “Fallen Kingdom” to explore some interesting moral dilemmas. While past movies have pondered the idea of whether these dinosaurs are living beings deserving of respect or property with no rights “Fallen Kingdom” leans much more heavily on those moral conundrums which provide the basis of the early part of the film. Should these dinosaurs be saved, or should we let them die and let nature course correct? No other film in this franchise has truly asked this question because this is the first time nature itself forced such a decision to be made. Then we get to see these dinosaurs off the island and put in a situation where their status as property is one again brought to the table.
This to me was the most enjoyable concept of “Fallen Kingdom”. We’ve spend four movies seeing these magnificent creatures thrive and for the first time we and the characters have to come to grips with the reality of their existence. “Fallen Kingdom” boldly asks “what would you do?” and “what is the morally right answer to this situation?”. It’s a struggle even the characters can’t quite figure out and provides most of the emotional depth to the story especially in one brutally dark scene where a dinosaur perishes in possibly the saddest moment in the entire franchise to date. I wish I could spoil it here to explain why it’s so powerful but it’s worth seeing for yourself first and if you’re memory of the first movie is as sharp as mine you’ll understand its significance.
That brings me to the tone of the film which I found surprisingly dark but not too dark. We’ve seen this franchise go through many iterations from wondrous awe in the first movie to dark and dreary in the second and straight up monster movie in the third before recapturing that original wonder in “Jurassic World”. I feel like “Fallen Kingdom” finds a good balance between the dark approach of “The Lost World” and the more lighthearted approach of the original film and “Jurassic World”. “Fallen Kingdom” is not afraid to lean heavily on the concepts of mortality and further builds on the consequences and moral dilemmas that come with genetic engineering. There is even a pretty neat twist that implies a massively questionable decision in genetic engineering by one of the main characters. “Fallen Kingdom” is not afraid to take a few chances and while it could have taken quite a few more it does enough to stand out for me.
Overall, I felt the performances of the heroes at least were also enjoyable even if still a little flawed. Chris Pratt as Owen Grady is just as charming, and unapologetically misogynistic, as he was in the first movie and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing has actually grown as a character to become a much stronger female lead who has evolved from seeing the animals as property to seeing them as living beings. Howard’s performance for me is the most striking because I feel like we see a true change in her approach that feels appropriate and natural considering the realizations she had in the first movie. New characters from Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda are also charming and memorable in their own right and we also get yet another child thrown into the “Jurassic” mix with Isabella Sermon’s Maisie Lockwood, the grand-daughter of Benjamin Lockwood. Sermon presents a maturity well beyond her years in her role and while it’s not a mind-blowing performance it is probably the most likable child character we’ve seen yet in this franchise and continues an interesting trend of putting a young person in the middle of the action. She shows more emotion and humanity than her predecessors and even plays into the film’s big twist which leads her to be a significant part of a massive moral question in movie’s final moments.
The final point I want to make about “Fallen Kingdom” on the plus side is the creature design of its new dinosaur, the Indoraptor. While I have my issues with this dinosaur even being in this movie which I’ll touch on later if they had to put in yet another creature specifically designed to serve as an antagonist this Indoraptor is a kick ass option. Created by combining the DNA of the Indominous Rex and a raptor, the Indoraptor’s design is well thought out combining the best of both creatures into one being and even proving to have one of the most well-defined personalities of any animal in the series so far. It’s a ruthless killer with teeth and on its own serves as one of the more unique and terrifying original movie monsters of the last 18 years. I may feel like the Indoraptor wasn’t necessarily NEEDED to make this movie work, but I give credit where it’s due and even feel like the Indoraptor tops the Indominous Rex in terms of design, ferocity and cool factor.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
As a fan of the franchise AND as a reviewer I can certainly understand where “Fallen Kingdom” is receiving a lot of criticism, but probably its biggest sin for me is that despite its willingness to finally go all in with the moral issues that the series was built on much of the movie does feel formulaic. Since I just spoke about the Indoraptor let’s start with that. This creature was not needed to make “Fallen Kingdom” work. We saw several predatory creatures, including Blue and the T-Rex, brought off the island who could have easily been great predators on their own. Yes, the Indoraptor ups the ante and further builds on the risks of genetic engineering, but we already saw this kind of technology misused in the previous film. To that effect the addition of the Indoraptor feels repetitive. I think it would have been better to see the real dinosaurs unleash chaos rather than one that never existed. We even get to see the real dinos do their stuff in the opening scene which further proves my point. The Indoraptor makes “Fallen Kingdom” feel more like a generic monster movie at times than a dinosaur-based thriller and puts the series’ most iconic predators in the back seat while a new monster terrorizes the cast. This worked in “Jurassic World” because there was a balance between the Indominous Rex and the other dinosaurs who got to share the spotlight. Here though the whole second act makes the real dinos supporting players and the Indoraptor the star. I would have loved to see real dinos let loose on the mansion and cause mischief. That would have been a better interpretation of the risks of even trying to save these creatures in the first place would it not?
The Indoraptor isn’t the only problem with the movie. Far from it. There are plenty of clichés to go around including over the top, unrealistically survivable action scenes, a bland secondary villain in a tooth collecting mercenary played by Buffalo Bill himself Ted Levine, and an extremely forgettable main human villain in Rafe Spall’s Eli Mills (pictured above) who is a near carbon copy of Peter Ludlow from “The Lost World” and just as uninteresting. I also feel like the dinosaur designs overall took a step back, not to “Jurassic Park III” levels of blandness but still bland all the same. There are some cool details in the dinosaurs and we do get to see some neat new creatures like the Baryonyx and the Stygimoloch added in for some spice but overall I feel there was more detail put into the Indoraptor than the real dinosaurs. This series has run into this problem before I’ll admit, but with “Fallen Kingdom” it feels especially lazy considering that “Jurassic World” was a big step forward back in the right direction. Probably the best designed real-world dino is Blue but that’s because she needs to have her specific color design. It feels like production cut corners wherever they could because they knew seeing the dinosaurs would be enough for the audience, but in a franchise built to capture the imagination of its subject matter I feel this entry is a bit lacking.
I don’t usually look too heavily at the musical score of a movie but with the “Jurassic” franchise it’s hard not to considering its iconic score from the 90s. “Fallen Kingdom” actually ditches this score except for the credits and a few small snippets here and there and adds its own unique soundtrack. Now this would be commendable if the music was anywhere near memorable, but it’s not. A credit to the crew for trying something new, but the great Michael Giacchino, who also scored the first movie in 2015, misses the mark with this sequel. The score is bland and uninteresting especially since I spent the entire film waiting for that oh-so familiar tune to kick in and add to the epicness of the adventure. It never does and the music that replaced it never really hits those heights. It’s a decision I admittedly only noticed because of how important the original tune was to the magic of the first movie, but it was a formula that worked and it’s one of the few times using what’s already there would have actually added to the product. It creates an odd separation between “Fallen Kingdom” and previous entries that’s hard to explain but is obvious and evident. This one attempt to give “Fallen Kingdom” its own identity was directly responsible for taking me out of the movie, even if only on a minuscule level.
The final point I want to make with “Fallen Kingdom” is that it pretty much settles for being the midpoint of the new trilogy and you can feel that throughout the entire movie. Like many films before it with predetermined sequels, “Fallen Kingdom” takes on the lofty task of building on its predecessor while also preparing for the (expected) final entry in the franchise. To that end while this movie offers a lot in terms of world building and conflict resolution when compared to the previous four, for the first time we also have a project that doesn’t feel like something all its own. The story elements and ideas are all tools to get to the third part of the story. The Indoraptor, taking the dinosaurs off the island, and even the character relationships all feel like their building up to something that is never realized at the end of this movie because it was clearly saved for the next film, which we’ll have to wait until 2021 to see. This means “Fallen Kingdom” as a project all its own offers little closure for the audience to grasp when the story completes, and I think the idea of the predetermined sequel was directly responsible for some of the more questionable ideas in the production. For example, it’s possible the Indoraptor was introduced to avoid overusing the T-Rex to keep the third film fresh. “Fallen Kingdom” is a fun entry in the franchise and among the better of the three sequels in the series, but it doesn’t try to be much more than a bridge film to bind together a pre-planned trilogy of reboot movies living off of the nostalgia of its source material.
As a fan and a critic I enjoyed “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”, but I can see why it’s such a divisive product. I admit that when compared to the previous sequels “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III” (“Jurassic World” was a reboot rather than a sequel in my eyes) it is the superior entry of the three, taking elements from both of those movies and improving on them greatly, but it’s still not as wondrous or memorable as “Jurassic Park” or “Jurassic World”. Like many critics who actually praised the film I believe “Fallen Kingdom” is a GOOD movie. It’s fun, engaging, and offers some great closure to the moral dilemmas that were the foundation of the franchise from the start as well as escaping the confines of the island once and for all. It balances dark and lighthearted tones nicely and provides enough action and suspense to give fans what they want, even if it’s not EVERYTHING they want. However, it’s not a GREAT film by any definition. It leans heavily on cliché villains and overdone action sequences, presents a forgettable soundtrack while forsaking the impact of the original score and seems to settle for its “bridge film” status which prevents it from taking advantage of everything great about the creatures that first captured the imagination of the audience 25 years ago. In some ways it forgets what made this film series so mind-blowing in the first place and in other ways it takes the series in a fresh direction that foretells a promising conclusion. After giving myself a day to think on the movie as both a fan and a reviewer I admit I feel like the film is much more good than bad. Even if it’s not what it should have been it’s what it needs to be in order to help the reboot trilogy reach the next level. It has its flaws and doesn’t fully cash in on everything it has to say, nor does it properly respect the nostalgia that made its predecessor such a hit, but “Fallen Kingdom” is passable as a monster movie popcorn science fiction thriller on its own to say the least and will keep you entertained through it’s 2 hour run time while also gearing you up for an epic conclusion I personally can’t wait to experience.