2015’s Jurassic World ceremoniously revived the long-dead Jurassic Park franchise by modernizing the theme park, yet giving us a delectably old-school dinosaur adventure. While it played off nostalgia for a handful of its recycled thrills, there was at least an attempt from director Colin Trevorrow to steer the Jurassic franchise in a new direction – at least, in theory, as Jurassic World failed to really separate the new series from its more ambitious predecessors. Enter Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the sequel that everybody expected, but nobody really knew what to expect from the film itself. Marketed as a kind of disaster movie on the island of Isla Nublar, Fallen Kingdom manages to subvert expectations and deliver something more akin to a new, and successfully bold, direction.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes place three years after the events of Jurassic World, which saw the new theme park ravaged by the genetic hybrid predator, the Indominus Rex. Still dealing with the calamities of that event, former park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) forms a dinosaur protection agency that attempts to rescue the prehistoric animals from an impending volcano about to erupt on the island. She reluctantly recruits former raptor trainer - and former boyfriend - Owen (Chris Pratt), along with a handful of activists, to journey to the island and rescue the remaining species there in partnership with the corporation, Ingen, who naturally possess their own selfish agenda.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is two halves of a movie, but oddly feels like a cohesive whole. The first half of the film – everything shown in the marketing – primarily takes place on the deteriorating Isla Nublar. The dinosaurs face extinction once again by way of a volatile volcano, and only a handful of activists can save them. Needless to say, things go wrong and we find ourselves flung into the second half of the movie; a second half that’s vastly superior to the first half in tone and directing. The second hour of the movie wisely shifts to a more contained location, a millionaire’s mansion in the middle of the woods. Here, the film transforms into a more claustrophobic, tense thriller that plays to the strengths of director J.A. Bayona, who is best known for making horror films.
Almost everything that I can praise about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom boils down to Bayona and his sure-handed directing. Unlike Trevorrow who suffers to find a coherent style in his filmmaking, Bayona grasps this film with an iron fist and his signature aesthetic is sprinkled throughout - particularly in the way he effectively uses shadows, beautiful wide shots, and quiet moments of tension to construct a compelling action sequence.
This is especially made evident in the second half, where the confined spaces of the mansion not only make for more focused storytelling, but add to the greatest strength of the film; a much-needed change of pace for the series. We’ve seen the island adventures of characters running away from dinosaurs far too often, so I applaud the filmmaker for taking incentive and steering the franchise in a completely unexpected – and very risky – direction. This is where I feel many will leave the film disappointed at the fact that it’s less an action/adventure film in the spirit of the original (well, for the second half anyway) and more of an experiment in claustrophobic terror that one might find in your science fiction horror film like Alien.
This all leads to one of my favourite aspects of the movie; the IndoRaptor, a genetic hybrid monstrosity like the Indominus Rex, only bred to be an instinctive killing machine for the military. While I was lukewarm to the I-Rex from the first film, the IndoRaptor shines in both its gorgeous design and malevolent demeanour. It’s the closest thing we’ve gotten in this series to a singular, terrifying antagonist – yes, even more than the humans in Ingen, who continue to be generic villains twiddling their thumbs and doing dastardly things, mustaches not included. Bayona also utilizes the IndoRaptor in the same way you’d expect a xenomorph or Freddy Kruger, constantly lurking but always has a ferocious presence. It’s certainly more intriguing than the I-Rex, but I only wish it had a little more screen time outside of the third act, which it dominated.
Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom isn’t a perfect movie, as it does suffer from underdeveloped human characters and a few gaping flaws. The velociraptor, Blue, which was trained by Owen from a young age, gets a surprisingly emotional backstory and elevates Pratt’s character as well, but the rest of the human characters are just placeholders to be eaten or spout pointless exposition. The film also focuses on the granddaughter of the mansion’s owner, along with a complete backstory for her that pays off in a pretty eye-opening, but ultimately meaningless, twist that reveals the weaker elements in the supporting humans. One of the new faces, a bumbling character named Franklin, proved to be an annoyance. Thankfully, he has little screen time outside of the initial half hour, but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t get on my nerves at least once.
The cliffhanger ending might also be a deal-breaker for some, as it intentionally leaves audiences hanging for an inevitable third film. The ending does set up something far grander to come, so hopefully it delivers on its ambiguity.
Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a far more ambitious sequel than its predecessor, opting to take the “less is more” approach while somehow giving us more dinosaurs, and less of the blatant filler that we’ve come to expect from previous installments. The film is anchored by pretty good performances across the board, a superb directing job from J.A. Bayona, and a second half that highlights one of the best dinosaurs ever put in a Jurassic movie to date. It passes being more than your run-of-the-mill, trope-heavy Hollywood sequels, but isn’t above being an exceptionally entertaining and thriller-oriented blockbuster that hits a few bumps here and there.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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20 June 2018
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