Directed By: J.A. Bayona
Written By: Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, just like its immediate predecessor (Jurassic World,) is to no small extent an allegory for its own making: a bottom-line issued revival of a past wonder; a bigger, technologically flashier, but ultimately shadowy imitation of a prior concept; an ill-disciplined exploitation of the central, prehistoric creation; a financial juggernaut propagated by talented yet misguided artists who refuse to learn from the mistakes of their antecedents.
To be fair to Fallen Kingdom (directed by J.A Bayona) the film is not all doom and gloom, indeed it may even be the strongest of all Jurassic Park sequels; it dares to journey to corners less travelled before it eventually consigns to its fate as a nearly brainless monster flick.
Written by Colin Trevorrow (director of Jurassic World) and Derek Connolly, Fallen Kingdom is the fifth Jurassic movie, and the first to genuinely put a spin on the reoccurring subtext which underscores each of its predecessors. Where the franchise’s prior instalments all circled the idea of man’s desire to play God and the follies of that hubris, Fallen Kingdom skews towards dialogues that might have been at home in a Phillip K. Dick novel— philosophical enquiries into the validity of synthetic life: are the lives of the dinosaurs (built in labs) worth less than the lives of the world’s natural fauna? Do humans have a moral obligation to protect the very species that they de-extinguished against nature’s will? Should we let nature take its course in rendering these creatures extinct once again (in the form of an impending volcanic eruption which is threatening to consume the now dilapidated island of Isla Nublar following the events of Jurassic World) when it was us humans who meddled in nature to begin with? These are intriguing questions, so intriguing that the franchise’s most colourful personality is called upon to weigh in on them—the all too briefly returning Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum,) offering his eccentric genius at a senatorial hearing on the matter.
The fact that the film is never entirely sure of how to grapple with its own ethos—Trevorrow and Connolly’s screenplay ultimately conflates its enquiries into the validity of synthetic life with enquiries into when, if ever, the will of nature is to be questioned—is secondary to the fact that there are even ideas to be conflated in a franchise’s fifth episode. But if one thought that Bayona and the screenplay from which he is working would be able sustain such intellectual ambition for the duration of the picture, sadly, they would be wrong.
That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. Spectacle is the true currency of the Jurassic saga; even Spielberg’s masterful original ultimately dropped its ideas in favour of chase sequences and theatrics. So how does Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom deliver on that altogether bawdier front? Partially is the answer, but it begins with a lot promise.
Trevorrow and Connolly find a way to legitimately raise the quotient of spectacle from the gargantuan levels rendered by Spielberg in 1993. Commissioned by Benjamin Lockwood (dinosaur lover and former John Hammond associate, played by James Cromwell) Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and on-again-off-again beau Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) return to Isla Nublar (a ragtag team of military men and tech experts—geeky and sassy alike—in toe) to shepherd what remains of the marooned dinosaurs to safer territory.
What ensues is the standard Jurassic Park fare in which measly humans are pursued by roaring, destruction-thirsty reptiles, culminating in a string of millimetre tight disaster aversions. This time, however, it’s all complimented by the eye-catching addition of volcanic explosions, a marriage as bombastic as it is genuinely intoxicating; it’s Steven Spielberg meets Irwin Allen, a monster movie PLUS a disaster movie.
It’s a one-two punch of spectacle just crazy enough to work, even if the extraneous, non-dino calamity threatens to distract from the creatures that rightly still comprise the bedrock of the film. But if one thought that Bayona and the screenplay from which he is working would be able to sustain such levels of intoxicating roller-coaster verbosity, sadly, they would be wrong.
What ought to constitute the film’s finale, with brazen set-pieces including a partially paralysed Chris Pratt attempting to slither away from encroaching lava, a neurotic I.T nerd clumsily attempting to escape a T-Rex by scaling a ladder to a jammed door, and more than one death defying plummet from a cliff’s edge, is instead relegated to first act pyrotechnics.
The crux of the action rather transpires in a basement at Lockwood’s Californian estate, where unbeknownst to him, his assistant Eli (Rafe Spall) is orchestrating a black-market auction of the world’s remaining dinosaurs.
It’s a decidedly less epic arena than that which has housed these creatures in the past, and whilst one can spot the potential novelty in a haunted house twist on the action where raptors roam corridors instead of ghouls, it’s a setting which lacks the deserved majesty to befit its prehistoric inhabitants, and a setting which in the process constricts the dinosaurs to the role of faceless action movie participants.
Spielberg’s original movie framed its creatures with towering grandiosity and reverence; it understood their mere presence on screen could supply a cinematic thrill, with the director distilling as much awe from a Brachiosaurus munching on a tree branch as a T-Rex violently pursuing a jeep full of panicked bodies. Fallen Kingdom doesn’t seem to trust its dinosaurs to deliver the requisite spectacle on their own, instead feeling compelled to have them crash through walls and battle caricature militants as though they were more Jack Reacher than reptile to get the job done, a process which gradually bleeds the dinosaurs of personality and presence alike. With each passing Jurassic movie the inherent wonder of the dinosaurs goes less and less tapped, as though the filmmakers, like their arrogant human subjects, have lost the respect they ought to have for their prehistoric counterparts.
A similar fate befalls the film’s human characters. Pratt and Howard, whilst individually luminous, struggle to conjure the romantic chemistry their dynamic so sorely needs, a platitude heightened by the papery personalities they’ve been assigned in which their characters can be summarised with a single trait: he’s a maverick, she’s a sympathiser.
Chomping the scenery with his eye-smelting teeth and Trumpian hair, Toby Jones bring as much panache to proceedings as his similarly one-dimensional villain allows, whilst Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith, playing giddy and fear-stricken visitors to the island respectively, supply a wavering pulse of energy.
Bayona’s work behind the camera also manages to conjure a wavering pulse of its own, the director exhibiting genuine flashes of a craftsman’s penchant for theatricality. Bayona’s calibrated use of shadow and his subtle patience for waiting on a set-piece, playing on his audience’s anticipation with finesse, validate that with greater assurance in the subjects, Fallen Kingdom might have served as a genuine pop-corn thriller worthy of the title from which it derives. A tableau of cineliteracy drip-fed throughout the action further hints at Bayona’s craftsman abilities; visual allusions to Nosferatu, and most substantially the Jurassic saga’s original work helps to develop a fleeting glimpse of affection that never quite permeates the action as it might have, and indeed, should have.
The whole thing inevitably feels shackled, caged and confined like the dinosaurs themselves, longing to burst free and exhibit their true potential. For all of Bayona’s flair, and for all of Trevorrow and Connolly’s philosophical riffing, one can’t help but feel that Fallen Kingdom’s finer qualities were destined to suffocate under the film’s true, corporate preoccupations, a preoccupation doubly difficult to transcend given the film’s allotted role of bridging piece—the mere obligatory connective tissue to join the two truly salient parts of the saga. After all, if one thought that J.A Bayona’s direction, and the screenplay from which he worked wasn’t ultimately geared towards the next Jurassic instalment rather than geared to delivering the goods in its own right, sadly, they would be wrong. That’s the sort of cynical money first mentality that would have Ian Malcolm quavering in his boots—the film’s producers too preoccupied with whether they could, that they never stopped to think whether they should.