Director: J.A. Bayona
Writers: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow. Based on the book by Michael Crichton.
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
It’s hard to believe that it has been twenty-five years since Jurassic Park premiered! It’s now considered a classic that still surprisingly holds up today, thanks in part for its reliance on practical effects over the computer graphics that were available back in 1993. Even more unexpected is that the franchise is still going strong. While not every film in the first trilogy followed the content in Michael Crichton’s books, each movie depicted human civilization breaking down further and further, with Jurassic Park III leaving the protagonists fending for themselves out in the wilderness.
Then, fourteen years later, the fourth movie, Jurassic World, graced the big screen, continuing the story but also operating as a reboot of sorts. The film delivered what Jurassic Park teased, where we finally witnessed the absolute carnage in a fully operational dinosaur theme park. It was an immense success, and a trilogy has now been confirmed, making Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom the awkward middle child. Given that Jurassic Park and Jurassic World shared similar story beats, some are beginning to wonder if this new trilogy will be a rehash of the first.
Life may “find a way” but how many different paths can be taken? How will Fallen Kingdom be different from The Lost World, where humans try to figure out how to restore some semblance of control? Critics are questioning the longevity of this franchise, and whether there’s anything left to explore with this narrative. So does Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom present fresh ideas, or is it a dying relic of the past?
Violence/Scary Images: Carnivorous dinosaurs attack and kill humans and other dinosaurs. They slash, bite, dismember, devour and snap the necks of larger prey. The camera will cut away most of the time. There is little to no blood seen despite the severity of the injuries. There is a volcanic explosion. Dinosaurs are gassed to death. There are numerous close calls with being burnt by lava. A number of humans display murderous intent towards others. A character is intentionally smothered to death off-screen. There is gun violence and hand-to-hand combat–characters are shot with tranquilizer darts. Both a scary, dangerous dinosaur and a human hunt a young girl. Animal cruelty is frequently depicted; stun batons, aggressive handling, and negligent attitudes to their wellbeing.
Language/Crude Humor: The s-word is almost said but interrupted partway. H*ll, p*ssed off, and d*mn are said, while Jesus’ name is used in vain.
Drug/Alcohol References: There is a scene set in a bar where two characters chat over a bottle of beer. Other patrons are seen drinking socially.
Sexual Content: An unmarried man and woman share a passionate kiss. There is some flirting. A man and woman sleep next to each other, but it isn’t sexual.
Spiritual Content: Characters in the film question whether it’s the will of God to allow the dinosaurs to naturally go extinct once again and whether humans have the wisdom to interfere.
Other Negative Content: Many characters are extraordinarily greedy and prefer money over morality. Some characters express a desire to train dinosaurs purely to harm other humans.
Positive Content: The film raises the issues surrounding genetic innovations and how it is a technology that cannot be regulated.
Oh, Jurassic Park, how far you’ve fallen.
Well, one good thing I can say about this film is that it’s aptly titled!
Let’s start with the positives. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a beautifully shot spectacle of a movie. For the most part, the CGI is gorgeously rendered, and once again the practical effects are on point. There are some tense action scenes, and if all you’re looking for is a film that simply has humans pitted against dinosaurs, then it’s a perfectly serviceable movie.
Honestly, I’m like an allosaurus trying to chomp on a human’s ever-evading foot over here, just wishing I could tear this film into shreds. So much went wrong with this movie, and it’s torturous that I can’t give it the ripping it deserves because this review will head straight into spoiler territory as a result. Not that the studio seems to mind. Once again, they committed the sin of showing practically the entire movie in the trailer. If you haven’t seen the second trailer for this film–don’t. At least then you’ll experience some surprises, before feeling disappointed like the rest of us.
The more I reflect on Fallen Kingdom, the more problems pop up. The hatred this film will attract will not originate from a nit-picky fandom. This is not like a pimple cream commercial where someone’s freaking out over one zit whilst the rest of their face is blemish free. I wish it were that simple. No, sadly Fallen Kingdom’s narrative issues cannot be rectified by topical cream, but rather general anesthetic and invasive surgery.
If I had to pick the film’s biggest flaw, then I’d have to say that it’s the complete inability to suspend the audience’s sense of disbelief. When people watch a movie, they make an unconscious contract with the piece, willing to set aside a certain amount of reason and logic in order to receive an entertaining story. It’s the film that sets the rules, and people will play by them provided the fictional construct isn’t unexpectedly broken. Fallen Kingdom loses the audience’s trust within the first ten minutes and never gains it back. The film is a barrage of nonsensical character motivations, illogical decisions and solutions, contrived scenarios, and plot-derived inconsistencies (for instance, a dinosaur’s strength will vary depending on whether it’s useful for building suspense).
Without that suspension of disbelief, viewers remain detached and never emotionally invest in the film’s narrative, leaving the story nowhere to hide. It’s laid bare, and all can see that this is a shallow piece that’s designed from its inception to create money from people’s nostalgia. Good films will develop their characters first and determine the plot’s direction from their reaction to external pressures. Fallen Kingdom does the exact opposite; it manufactures as many human and dinosaur interactions as possible, and slots the characters in-between the planned action scenes. Characters are then forced to make insipidly stupid decisions as an excuse to segue into the next CGI-infested sequence.
Character motivations make little to no sense, not that any role is properly developed in the first place. There are no character journeys. Everyone is the same person as when they started. This is a far cry from the days of Jurassic Park where Grant questions whether he should let go of the past, or The Lost World’s Roland, who was a hunter looking for excitement but eventually understands his own folly. In Fallen Kingdom, only Claire seems to undergo a change of heart. Yes, Claire. The one-dimensional cardboard cut-out from Jurassic World. I must give credit where it is due and commend Fallen Kingdom for adjusting her character. She’s tolerable now, though it may be because the supporting cast has taken her stereotypical place.
Owen, Claire, Ian Malcolm, and Dr. Wu are the only characters that have an ounce of depth, and unfortunately, the latter two are only given a minute of screen time each. The rest of the roles seem to have been ordered off a stock list. Greedy villain? Check! Animal-hating hunter? Check! Nerd that can’t handle life outside the lab? Check! Vaguely annoying child? Well, you definitely need one of those–it’s part of the Jurassic Park franchise after all!
There are a lot of nods to the first movie. Some shots are replicated for no reason other than to wink at the audience, hoping they’ll receive a dose of nostalgia and forgive the film’s other misgivings. Only one instance held any emotional weight, signifying an end to an era as the ship pulls away from the island. Otherwise, the usual suspects are all present; the T-Rex pulling a ninja stealth kill before roaring, the brachiosaurus making the first appearance with everyone gawking, and as mentioned before, a child that’s central to the plot.
This archetypal character has always tested an audience’s tolerance, though in the past they’ve been likable enough to garner some empathy. However, Fallen Kingdom feels the most contrived with the inclusion of its youngest cast member, Maisie, played by Isabella Sermon. For this film, she is only needed for the final act, but to avoid the problem with having her suddenly appear, the film pointlessly cuts away from the main action to focus on her banal life. But it pays off–Maisie wins the award for committing the stupidest, ill thought out action in the entire franchise thus far. Literally, face palmed whilst I was in the cinema. Don’t worry; you’re not anti-child for loathing this character. She also completely undermines Claire’s tiny character arc in the process. Well done! That’s no easy feat, Maisie!
Yet none of the characters really make any sense. Horribly black and white in their worldview, they’ll either have the goal of getting rich, or favor animal welfare above all else. There is no in-between and somehow both motives are mutually exclusive. It gets to the point of ridiculousness, leaving the audience to quizzically ponder why everyone is comically hardwired into only wanting one of the two things when in actuality there are many times when both parties could have easily worked together. But, you know, they’ve got to force the characters into the next action setup.
Even the dinosaurs’ motives are unintentionally eye-roll worthy. These prehistoric carnivores have the strongest prey-drive out of any animal ever observed on earth! There is only one moment in the entire movie where they are not jumping and attacking every creature within close proximity. Otherwise they are seemingly hunting all of the time. They are so food motivated that it tops their sense of self-preservation. It’s hilariously unrealistic.
Yet supposedly the Indominus Rex was the only dinosaur to hunt for sport, as stated in Jurassic World. So are they just constantly hungry? If so, how are there any dinosaurs still alive on Isla Nublar when all the carnivores have such a voracious appetite? This is what I mean. The more one thinks about this film, the worse it gets. Sure, call me nit-picky, but there’s only so many times a dinosaur can snap at someone before it gets boring. It’s now at the point where there’d be more tension if a dinosaur simply stood and observed someone from a distance, only to slink away with disinterest.
One of Fallen Kingdom’s greatest crimes is that it does confuse the canon. It highlights some of the plot holes of the previous trilogy, bringing to light issues that were otherwise ignored. The events in the earlier films would have also offered a solution to the current problem faced in Fallen Kingdom, but it’s never addressed at all. It’s difficult to say whether The Lost World and Jurassic Park III are still canon.
When it comes to story, theme, and tone, Fallen Kingdom treads the same ground as The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, except the older films covered their respective elements better. I now shake my head in disbelief that I ever thought that The Lost World’s ending was weak. In terms of quality, it trumps Fallen Kingdom in every way, from its exploration of genetics to its character development. Jurassic Park III is a flawed film, but at least it committed to being more of a light horror as opposed to sci-fi. The characters were cringe-worthy but justified. They were clueless civilians but they had a jolly good reason to be there. The stereotypes in Fallen Kingdom cannot be so easily forgiven.
This film is a soft horror masquerading as a sci-fi. However, it’s a master of none. It features more dinosaur attacks than all the other films before it yet doesn’t want to commit to any gore. It avoids depicting violence, though it features the most morally bankrupt characters in the franchise thus far. Essentially it’s not clear with what it wants to be. Unlike the previous films, there’s also no standout scene. It’s just one long blur of close calls. For this reason, I actually prefer Jurassic Park III to this film. It also helps that it has the shorter runtime.
The reason why the first two films were so popular was that they spent some time discussing the moral implications of Hammond’s emerging genetic technology. Fallen Kingdom tries its best to shoehorn in some intellectual debate, but it’s brief and has no real bearing on the plot. At one stage, the film drops a nuclear-sized piece of information that challenges all of the movie’s themes. Yet the way it’s handled is equivalent to how Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen addressed the fact that Transformers could now disguise themselves as humans… that is, they completely ignored it. Despite being game-changing information, the issue is quickly swept under the proverbial rug as the protagonists need to evade the constantly hungry dinosaurs. The action never stops, but even if it did allow some time for the heroes to hold a quiet, reflective discussion, I wonder if the film had much to say anyway.
There are many issues with the second half of the movie, though I can’t comment at length, as it would spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen the trailers. Needless to say, the story adopts a line that is completely out-dated in the robotic age. It tries to question the ethics of an idea that’s a laughably bad premise in the first place. In order to sell the concept, we really needed to see it in action. In many ways, the second half of Fallen Kingdom is unnecessary. The juicier story is what’s to come next.
So despite the film’s misgivings, I still want to see the third, with this movie acting as merely a stepping-stone to get to that next stage. Though the painful truth is that all the core events of this film could have been covered with a few sentences of exposition in the following movie. There’s no real reason why Fallen Kingdom needed to exist.
Oh wait, they wanted to make money.
I could commiserate with someone over the mishandled plot for over an hour, but apart from the script, the other filmic elements are not that bad. This definitely isn’t J.A. Bayona’s best stint as director, though he manages to craft some lovely moments despite a crippled screenplay. For the most part, it does feel like he accepted this high-paying Hollywood project for the cash. The actors do the best job they can with such poorly written characters, with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s contained performances mercifully rounding out the more extreme personalities. The sound and lighting design are inspired, though the film’s musical score will never live up to John William’s uplifting piece.
Fallen Kingdom is offered in 3D, though personally, I didn’t think it was worth the extra money. Then again, I don’t think this film is worth a full-priced ticket. It’s visually stunning to see it on the big screen, though since there isn’t much to spoil, patrons have the luxury of waiting a few weeks with this one, especially if their local theatre offers discounts on films once they’ve been out for a while. Once again, if all you’re looking for is a bit of fun and dinosaur shenanigans, then Fallen Kingdom will meet your needs… as that is all it offers. Fans that loved the sci-fi elements of the previous films and mulling over their moral implications, however, will be sorely disappointed in this intellectually insulting CGI fest. Be sure to hang in there right to the end though–there is an additional scene after the credits.
The Bottom Line