Tired Characters Drift Through the Occasional Thrills of ‘Fallen Kingdom’

In Featured, Movie Reviews, Renard Bansale, Reviews by Impact Admin

(2018—Director: J.A. Bayona)

— by Renard N. Bansale

★★½
(out of 5 stars) 

“If I don’t make it back, remember…you’re the one who made me come.” — Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard)

Potential spoilers below

It took some by surprise when 2015’s Jurassic World became the first movie to gross over $500 million worldwide on its opening weekend. At the same time, it snatched the North American opening weekend record from 2012’s The Avengers by just over $1 million (a record, as of this review, now held by Avengers: Infinity War). Those surprised had their doubts: The franchise launched from the 1990 novel by Michael Crichton and its spectacular 1993 film adaptation by director Steven Spielberg had largely settled into legacy status after two lackluster film sequels in 1997 and 2001.

Yet despite its enormous commercial success, many today often struggle to recall anything specific about Jurassic World. The return of the dinosaurs delighted audiences, yet the story failed to match up to the blockbuster-scale visual effects that made the dinosaurs appear so real. It also did not help that Jurassic World’s success would get eclipsed by late 2015 with the success of Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens, not to mention the three additional Star Wars movies released since then. Any Jurassic World sequel—and the intent is to have a trilogy, after all—would need a script that would stand out from an entertainment landscape dominated by Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (both Disney-owned). Sadly, while Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (hereafter shortened to Fallen Kingdom) does push the new trilogy’s story forward on paper, the character dynamics within its two primary setpieces lack much-needed passion and punch.

Three years have passed since the premature destruction of the Jurassic World theme park on Isla Nublar, just off the coast of Costa Rica. The growing volcanic activity of the island’s Mt. Sibo has raised concerns among animal rights activists for the many genetically-engineered dinosaurs still living there. The government, advised by mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, in a small bookending appearance), chooses not to intervene.

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former Jurassic World operations manager turned dinosaur protection activist, is contacted by the wealthy but ailing Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Lockwood and his aide, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), confide to Claire their plan to move as many dinosaur species as possible to a new island sanctuary. However, capturing Blue, the last known living Velociraptor, presents a challenge. They request that Claire recruit Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), former Jurassic World behaviorist, Velociraptor trainer, and Claire’s ex-boyfriend, to assist in capturing Blue. Joined by two of Claire’s activist group employees, paleo-veterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), the group sets off for Isla Nublar, with Mt. Sibo’s violent eruption imminent.

Little does the group know that they have become pawns in a conspiracy to weaponize the dinosaurs across the globe.

While 2015’s Jurassic World amounted to an unfolding disaster across a vast island theme park, Fallen Kingdom can be roughly divided into two primary setpieces: The first is the race to locate and obtain Blue on Isla Nublar before Mt. Sibo erupts. The second is the auction/prison breakout at Sir Lockwood’s Gothic estate. This island and mainland division in settings keeps the movie from repeating its 2015 predecessor. Moreover, they lead to unique reactions from the dinosaurs. A combination of animatronics and computer-generated imagery, they remain as impressive to fear and behold as they were in 1993, despite the now-verified and mounting scientific inaccuracies (e.g., lack of feathers, among others) to maintain franchise continuity.

Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom stumbles with regards to characters. When the audience finds it difficult to invest in the characters, they find it difficult to invest in the story. Pratt and Howard fill stock hero and heroine roles and cannot rely on just their cute “will-they-or-won’t-they” flirting to arouse interest. Pineda’s assertive and sarcastic attitude soon turns unappealing and condescending, especially in contrast to Smith’s fragile and wimpy hacker, who disappears for much of the film’s latter half. The film alters the franchise’s backstory to include Cromwell as a key figure in the bioengineering that led to 1993’s Jurassic Park, while one can foresee Spall at once as the young blood using Lockwood’s money for his own nefarious and future-forward purposes. Finally, there is the young Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon, in her debut role), who plays the scared youth this movie does not need and whose origins, revealed late in the runtime, is one revelation too much. I would be hard-pressed to name one standout performance or character arc in all of Fallen Kingdom’s 128 minutes.

Overall, Fallen Kingdom struggles to recapture what surprising hype and limited thrills 2015’s Jurassic World had in its arsenal, much less the glory of the original 1993 Spielberg masterpiece. As a major fan of 2012’s The Impossible and 2016’s criminally underseen A Monster Calls, I can only mark Fallen Kingdom as a loss on director J.A. Bayona’s record. My one silver lining with Fallen Kingdom is this: It is not a disappointing chore like the non-Guillermo Del Toro-directed Pacific Rim: Uprising from last March. Rather, Fallen Kingdom has more of the murky functionality of 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence and 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. All three have endings that leave me hoping that any possible future installment can allow their respective franchises to go out with some sort of bang (or, in this case, a roar and a screech).

Even for blockbuster franchises, life…finds a way.

(Parental Note: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril”. It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “moderate threat, occasional bloody moments,” and “action violence”, and rated A-III (Adults) by the Catholic News Service for containing “much animal violence with occasional gore and a few gruesome images, some gunplay, a couple of profanities and milder oaths, a single rough and several crude and crass terms.”)

R.N.B.


About the Author

Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.

For more movie reviews by Renard, click here