Synopsis – When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.
My Take – It’s been 25 years since American author, screenwriter, film director and producer Michael Crichton‘s 1990 novel, Jurassic Park, found its way onto the big screen with mammoth success. While the series found imminent found itself in an uncomfortable territory due to the mixed reception of the 2001 film, Jurassic Park III, the series found itself back in film goers favor three years ago, with director Colin Trevorow who not only brought to life the dying interest of the viewer to the prehistoric inhabitants of the Earth, but also found ways in repeating concepts initiated by Steven Spielberg in the earlier films.
It was a beautiful love letter to the original films, deeply rooted in nostalgia, but it also amped up the action and gave us a new set of characters to fall in love with. Following a billion dollars at the box office, despite no apparent need, this sequel is a completely new monster. With director J.A. Bayona, known for his works on films like The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster’s Call, at the helm this time around, he brings a new perspective to the sweeping action set pieces and a dark, riveting tone that isn’t present in any of the other franchise entries. Sure, it’s far from perfect, with a screenplay that veers between breathtaking and breathtakingly silly. But there’s a lot of thought and quite a bit of bravery invested in everything on display: from story, character and thematic development, to where this dinosaur driven series can go in the future.
Set three years after the events of the earlier film, the story follows Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former operations manager now dinosaur rights activist, who along with Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), a former IT technician for Jurassic World who is now the Dinosaur Protection Group’s systems analyst and hacker, Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a former Marine who is now the Dinosaur Protection Group’s paleoveterinarian and her ex-boyfriend and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a Velociraptor-wrangler, who head back to the island of Isla Nublar, the former theme park of Jurassic World.
Abandoned following constant threats, the island has finally found itself in an imminent state of destruction as previously dormant volcano has finally became active. Swayed by chaos theory expert Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a US senate committee decides to do absolutely nothing and letting the dinosaurs roaming on the island freely face extinction again. However, when Claire’s Save the Dinosaurs initiative seems lost, she is contacted by philanthropist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), former partner of Jurassic Park founder Hammond, who is willing to relocate all the animals to a new island where they can live undisturbed. However, once the group is on the island, they find the whole thing to be facade orchestrated by Lockwood’s right-hand, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) and geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), who have other plans for this creatures and decide to bring them into the mainland.
On the surface, the plot is simple enough and doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking, but what works refreshingly well is how the film approaches the serious moral questions raised by the very premise of the entire Jurassic Park franchise. What happens when human beings play God, and bring dinosaurs back to life? How far can we push this power to manipulate genetic destiny? And do human beings have an ethical duty to preserve and protect a species that, by all the laws of nature, shouldn’t even exist? This film doesn’t just flirt with these questions, as its predecessors did. It places them squarely in the foreground, however uncomfortable this may become for the film’s characters or audiences. The film also has several references to environmental issues, such as preventing the extinction, and questions probability of a coexistence between man and dinosaurs. The main question, however, is about should people ever save what already extinct and was re-created? The answer is given, but not in straightforward way, this is a pleasant surprise in such kind of films.
Just as uncharacteristic is its intellectual musings about conservation and evolution. Now that mankind has brought the dinosaurs back to life from the dead, should we make an effort to conserve them given the impending extinction extent on Isla Nublar, as we would any other endangered species? Or should we accept our actions as an aberration of nature, and therefore let nature take its own course henceforth? That conundrum forms a running theme throughout the film, underlining the difficult choices that our heroes are faced with and bookending the brief but effective appearance of a bearded and greying Dr Ian Malcolm. The film’s biggest triumph, however, is that it dares to take the franchise out of the story trope it’s been stuck with since the first film, and expanding it beyond the confines of the electric fences and isolated islands. This is where the film works best, as the entire tone shifts from immense monster spectacle to a chilling monster thriller.
After the massive, sprawling set piece on Isla Nublar, director Bayona confines the action and the dinosaurs into the cramped surrounding of the mansion for the second half of the film, creating a more suspenseful atmosphere for the franchise’s latest Big Dino Threat – the vicious and smart Indoraptor – to stalk its prey. The claustrophobic setting of the film’s second half is atmospheric gothic horror meets creature feature. It’s something I never thought I would say about any Jurassic film, but it felt exciting and new and certainly nothing like what we’ve seen previously. It adds another dimension to the world the dinosaurs inhabit, and proves that there is still life in the fossils of this franchise. Nevertheless, the series has always been about taut human-versus-dinosaur showdowns, and this film too has plenty of that to spare. If you were expecting action and dinosaurs, you’ll get that, as director Bayona throws back to previous installments with certain sequences but this is most definitely a film with his fingerprints all over it. He delivers plenty of thrilling action but he combines it impressively with elements of horror to ensure that kids may find dinosaurs scary again. The opening scene of the film should be enough to convince you because it genuinely had me excited at what else director Bayona had in store for the rest of the film.
But one thing that surprised was there were quite a few emotional scenes in it. With director J.A. Bayona‘s remarkable ability to balance the epic and the intimate, as showcased so expertly in his tsunami drama, The Impossible, at its best, this film serves up grand moments so startlingly effective in emotional terms that they might make you cry – whether it’s Blue being, briefly, betrayed; or the sight of Isla Numbar retreating in the distance, the fiery backdrop for a sole dinosaur as it rages against the dying of the light. There’s a truly eye-popping technical masterpiece of a scene that features humans and dinosaurs tumbling down a landscape ravaged by flame and fire. But the top-notch visual effects aren’t the point. It’s what the scene means, how it makes audiences feel – hearts lodging in throats at the prospect of innocent lives lost.
As much as Bayona deserves credit for unearthing the heart and humanity in the film, the screenplay by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly deserves some praise too. It contains some canny decisions that strengthen the franchise and its characters going forward. Claire, in particular, actually evolves – once the park’s by-the-books operations manager, she is now a bad ass activist who dares to fight for what she believes is right. There’s a great deal of potential, too, to the new character of Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the plucky young granddaughter of one of Jurassic Park’s co-founders. A separate mention is worthy of the story-line of Raptor Blue and Owen Grady. According to the previous film, we remember that Owen was training the raptors, and some of them showed amazing learning abilities. Blue was the most capable of them. And therefore the most tenacious. The sequel continues the line of uneasy relationships between man and predator, and, perhaps, this is the strongest side of the the sequel. The themes of greed and extinction also lead to some interesting scenes spread throughout the film, and I definitely got a bit of a classic Jurassic Park vibe to the film in small doses.
As much as there’s a mayhem and fun in the film, the film lacks the heft to stand out in the franchise. That’s a bit of a letdown for anyone expecting a worthy homage to the original. After such an adrenaline pumping first half, it is normal for anyone to expect an even more jam packed second half, but director Bayona sticks to the emotional plot and that brings down the pace a bit. Also, the scenes leading to the climax have been dragged, slightly slowing down the tempo. The film also makes some narrative choices that seem silly even on paper, much less on screen. Daniella Pineda’s spunky Zia Rodriguez is a fun addition as a paleoveterinarian – except she’s never encountered a dinosaur in her entire life. Why didn’t they just make her a former Jurassic World employee, like Owen? Similarly, the screenwriters demonstrate a bizarre disconnect from the real world when they put prices on the rescued dinosaurs – still insanely rare for being history made flesh – and come up with paltry amounts like $10 million each, what kind of criminals can you carry out for that amount of money?, it makes the film’s avaricious antagonists, Eli Mills and Gunnar Eversoll (Toby Jones), come across as pantomime villains instead of criminal masterminds. Once again, the hyped Mosasaurus that featured in the trailer is just seen in the initial episodes of the film. Surprisingly, the makers have opted not to bring this creature into the frame even when they had the chance in the latter parts of the first half.
Coming to the performances, as they did with Jurassic World, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard serve the film well. Pratt just has that charisma to make just about any role he plays insanely likeable, which makes it clear to see how he’s forging such a career for himself. Bryce Dallas Howard gets most screen time and steps up her game as the new face of the franchise. Jeff Goldblum‘s cameo didn’t feel wasted and made sense in the plot of the film. Rafe Spall and Ted Levine’s trophy-collecting poacher also manage to be wicked enough villains that you actually feel a sense of satisfaction when they get their comeuppance. New additions. Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda manage to make their mark. In smaller roles, James Cromwell, B. D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin and Toby Jones are alright, while first timer Isabella Sermon is likable. On the whole, ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom‘ is yet another dark and explosive blockbuster which despite minor flaws, manages to entertain and take the series in an exciting new direction.
Directed – J.A. Bayona
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 128 minutes