'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' gives the franchise fresh legs
Just how much can you squeeze out of a franchise that retreads the same territory over and over? Man makes dinosaurs, something goes terribly wrong, dinosaurs eat man.
There’s been very little variance in the plots of the Jurassic franchise, especially with 2015’s Jurassic World which was pretty much a sequel-slash-remake of the 1993 original with a bigger park and bigger dinosaurs.
Jurassic World made the inevitable leap towards designer dinosaurs as one of their theme park attraction. Of course, that turned out about as well as one could expect considering that the movie's scientists made a ridiculously dangerous hybrid predator instead of a cute and cuddly herbivore. The moral lesson of every Jurassic film is that man not only never learns, but man does some really stupid things, too.
So, do things change in Fallen Kingdom? Don’t be silly. Where’s the fun in that?
The story picks up three years after the events in Jurassic World, and we learn that the dinosaur island of Isla Nublar is home to an active volcano that threatens to erupt and wipe out all life on the island. Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) makes a solid case against saving the resurrected reptiles, and it falls to the hands of raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his on-again off-again paramour Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), now a dinosaur rights activist, to save a few species with the backing of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell).
Grady and Dearing's team consists of jumpy computer whiz Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and spunky palaeoveterinarian—turns out it’s a thing in Jurassic world—Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), tasked to foray into Isla Nublar and track down the heroic velociraptor Blue from the previous film. To round off the cast, the youthful protagonist, a staple in this franchise, is Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who might just be the most complex character in the entire franchise and possibly the key to its future.
Lockwood, retconned into the story as a hitherto unknown partner to Jurassic Park’s John Hammond, is all too convenient as a plot device, but where would this franchise be without its kooky billionaires and their dinosaur obsessions?
This retcon is only one of a few ways that Fallen Kingdom breathes new life into the franchise by taking it unexpected directions. Just when you think it’s the same old tricks we’ve seen from 25 years ago, screenwriters Colin Trevorrow (who directed Jurassic World) and Derek Connolly throw a curve ball into the very premise of the dinosaur fantasy. Life, as Ian Malcolm put it, finds a way.
Spanish director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls) exercises his horror movie chops and delivers some truly hair-raising scenes, on Isla Nublar and on Lockwood’s vast estate, where the movie takes place. Look out for the oversized aquatic mosasaurus, and for that scene where a velociraptor chases down Lex Murphy, echoing the original film’s knuckle-whitening sequence, this time with a new theropod terror, the Baryonyx.
Bayona deftly balances the action and the scares, meshing the requisite paramilitary thugs, motley assortment of good guys, and of course, the dinosaurs, in one raucous romp of a movie.
It’s also noticeable how much less of a part the actual dinosaurs play in Fallen Kingdom, especially after the eruption of Isla Nublar and the poignant decimation of all that remained there. Instead, the focus narrowed down on some 11 species and far too much attention was given to the somewhat generic Indoraptor, Fallen Kingdom’s hybrid designer dino.
A hybrid of the Indominus Rex and a velociraptor, the Indoraptor is a downgrade from the chameleon-like, hyperintelligent killer from the first film. Although supposedly created to expressly be a killing machine, the Indoraptor is just a velociraptor in a new body.
It’s a shame that Fallen Kingdom didn’t shine the spotlight on other cool, real dinosaurs. The baryonyx, for example, wasn’t even really named other than being described as “not a T-Rex”. The 1993 film had such an impact on the popular knowledge of dinosaurs that everyone practically knew what a velociraptor was; it even became the name of a basketball team. (Imagine if Fallen Kingdom managed to ignite the same cultural spark. Maybe we’d get the Cainta Carnotaurs or Albay Allosaurs.) There are enough actual prehistoric creatures that could’ve been used, like the very real albeit gigantified mosasaur which could very well be the star of spin-off.
Fallen Kingdom attempts to break from Jurassic tradition by hedging its bets on the potentials and dangers of engineering life from scratch, but only dips its reptilian claws.
It still has all the hallmarks of a Jurassic film, complete with T-Rex swooping in from out of frame to chomp on a lesser dinosaur to save our heroes, and the ageless B.D. Wong playing Dr. Henry Wu. It’s close enough to the formula to feel like a Jurassic film, but opens the door to exciting new possibilities.
Twenty-five years after Jurassic Park, humans are still making the same mistakes. But what makes Fallen Kingdom so much more fun is that humans are also making brand new ones.