Although it probably won’t be as divisive as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom nevertheless takes a decades-old franchise and spins it in a new direction. You wouldn’t know it until about halfway through the movie, but then you’re suddenly no longer witnessing a wondrous adventure fantasy, but instead, a terrifying gothic horror movie.
Let’s talk about the first half. As the volcano on Isla Nublar threatens to erupt and destroy the dinosaurs on the island, a worldwide debate continues about the ethical ramifications. On one hand, the “animals” aren’t natural creations. They were never intended to exist, so their extinction should be allowed. On the other hand, well… they’re dinosaurs! They’re cool and (mostly) cute, so they deserve to live.
This point is where the Jurassic Park/World saga has a wonderful opportunity to evolve. Dinosaurs have been in existence for 25 years in real time, and probably longer in “movie time.” New generations have grown up with them being as common as cats and dogs. The same old stories about an amusement park where things go wrong are redundant. They’re not sustainable.
Therefore, the perfect plot point is to destroy the island, while somehow allowing the dinosaurs to live. That means they have to go somewhere else. That’s exactly what philanthropist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) wants to do: rescue them and relocate them to a sanctuary that, in a bit of revisionist history, he has been designing concurrently with events of the previous movies.
Lockwood is old and frail, though, so his right-hand man, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) hires returning heroes Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to lead the recovery mission. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? One thing that won’t change in a Jurassic movie, however, is a bad guy who makes something simple more complex (and dangerous.)
When everyone arrives on Isla Nublar and the double-cross happens, Owen, Claire and their protégées, Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), find themselves with their dinosaur friends in a race against time to escape before the volcano blows. This sequence is perhaps the most action-packed, exciting and entertaining of the entire franchise.
Now, let’s talk about the second half. I kid you not, it takes place in an old, dark house in a remote location… while a storm rages outside. The dinosaur(s) chasing potential victims through its halls may as well be monster(s) that have escaped from a mad scientist’s dungeon. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what one of them is, a secretly-developed hybrid known as an “Endoraptor.”
Firmly entrenched in this format, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom unfortunately embraces the cliches of a horror film. First, people make stupid decisions. Granted, that’s happened in other Jurassic movies, but a move by one of the bad guys, Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), ranks among the dumbest. It’s set up properly and makes sense to trigger a pivotal event, but it caused the audience to yell at him.
Next, outcomes are predictable. Just as you know that Michael Myers is going to rise again or that the sun is going to rise to kill Dracula, you can easily predict who or what is going to save the day… and exactly when. Like the stupid decisions, this cliché is earned within the script by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow; it doesn’t arrive out of the blue. But, on the other hand, it’s certainly not original.
Helmed by J.A. Bayona this time around, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom runs a fast 128 minutes and, in a way, contains a combination of themes explored in two of his previous movies: The Orphanage (2007) and The Impossible (2012). It’s got the gothic horror of the former and the big-scale disaster of the latter. I like the combination and I like this movie.
Perhaps the biggest selling point I can share is that by the end, the franchise is ready to spin in yet another direction. It leaves me eagerly awaiting the next chapter. Be warned that Fallen Kingdom is not your parents’ old Jurassic Park. It cannily uses elements from the original that we love, while simultaneously updating them and creating something entirely new. This fact impresses and amazes me.