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Released: 6 June 2018 (UK)
Length: 128 Minutes
Director: J. A. Bayona
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, B. D. Wong and Jeff Goldblum
Dinosaurs in cinema have struck a tone with audiences over the past 25 years and after over a decade of absence, the long-awaited fourth Jurassic Park film roared (I couldn’t resist…) into cinemas, becoming one the highest grossing films of all time. Three years on and the sequel is hoping to repeat that success. While it’s an admirable shift in direction, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom lacks substance.
Three years since the Jurassic World theme park fell into ruin, the dinosaurs have lived free from human influence. But former members of the park still watch the island, while others want to recoup compensation costs. The former is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who learns of a plan to rescue the animals from an imminent volcanic eruption; eventually, she convinces dinosaur trainer Own Green (Chris Pratt) to come along and the journey begins to decide what to do with the creatures. The first act is very much like a disaster film, with the dinosaurs almost being placed as a sideshow to the environment falling apart around them; after this, however, the film does go in a direction different from any other film in the series. It moves away from the island and into the distant reaches of forest filled California. From here, the dinosaurs are in the hands of wealthy businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) and a former partner of park creator John Hammond named Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who both have different plans for the creatures.
Unfortunately, that’s where the narrative’s strengths mostly come to a halt. The first film’s larger scale and more consistent entertainment made it a capably enjoyable flick despite its problems, but the sequel has a much harder time in this regard as it must move things forward; new additions to the plot feel convenient at best and tacked on at worst, particularly the references to genetics. Thematically the film attempts to tap into the dangers of unchecked corporate greed, but this also falls flat due to reasons I’ll talk about in a moment. Often I was reminded of 1997's Jurassic Park: The Lost World as Fallen Kingdom treads fairly close to it in terms of occurrences and tone. This darker viewpoint does work somewhat, but it comes at the cost of the sense of wonder, something that every Jurassic Park sequel has suffered from to a certain extent. The final grievance comes with the plot holes; there’s a certain sea-faring monster shown off in a foreboding opening, but it never appears again until the film’s conclusion, rendering its appearance rather toothless.
Characterisation in Fallen Kingdom is heavily one-sided to its detriment. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard once again give their best charisma, even if their characters haven’t really gone anywhere arc-wise. Owen’s bond with the velociraptor Blue is well fleshed out too and I was surprised to see that child actress Isabella Sermon does a pretty good job as Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie, who gets caught up in the fray; a step up from the kids in the 2015 romp. Outside of these efforts though, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom really doesn’t care much for its characters. Newcomers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda fill in the niches of tech geek and hardened medic respectfully, but they don’t interact nearly enough to slot in with the main cast. The villains are all paper-thin as well; average business types who just want money. Most disappointingly of all though, Fallen Kingdom completely neglects the use of returning characters; B.D Wong’s Henry Wu, and Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcom, who turns up just to sit at a table and talk for a few minutes; Goldblum’s efforts to add some theoretical discussion to the proceedings fall short because his character (who happened to be one of the most popular in the original 1993 film) is so poorly used. Jurassic World’s characters weren’t great by any means, but they got the job done and played into the action sequences well, something the sequel does to a more inconsistent degree.
Fallen Kingdom has plenty of strong special effects to fall back on; it all starts with the destruction of the island from the first film which you’ve no doubt seen from the trailer. The volcanic eruption feels appropriately weighty and all the computer-generated dinosaurs clashing together make for an entertaining action scene. When talking about the former, the dinosaurs still look great and the computer effects still hold up even when we zoom in on their scaly skin and serrated teeth. On top of that, the film moves elegantly from wide-scale action to more claustrophobic affairs with capable editing for each; the scenes involving a new hybrid dinosaur spliced together feel especially tense. The soundtrack, however, isn’t nearly as memorable; it’s mostly a set of generic, slower-paced beats that don’t really capture the same feel as previous films in the franchise. Clearly, the lighting is what complements the darker tone the most; dimly lit underground laboratories and the isolated setting in the forest estate work to create a foreboding atmosphere. Sadly, because the characters aren’t always worth caring about, the frights don’t land with the best impact.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is merely average as a sequel; while I can give the film credit for not scrambling to go bigger like many follow-ups do, the characters and plot are rather thin and without these elements in place, the dinosaur rampages can only get it so far. It’s still mildly entertaining just like any summer popcorn flick but won’t offer much beyond that. It goes in a good direction, only to come up short by piling on more mistakes on top of those made by its predecessor.
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars (Mediocre)