REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Universal Pictures

The following is a review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — Directed by J. A. Bayona.

When Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World in 2015 tried to bring back the world that Spielberg perfected back in 1993, it came with the promise of a fully functioning park. But in living Hammond’s dream of a fully operational dinosaur park, we also knew it would eventually all fall apart — there wouldn’t be a movie if it didn’t.

So, the park fell apart, the dinosaurs broke out, and people fled the island en masse. Now, here comes the long awaited sequel from Spanish director J. A. Bayona — Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a film that, like both Jurassic Park III and The Lost World, brings us back to an island filled with dinosaurs — some that want to eat us, and some that just want us to stay out of their way.

After a brilliant, but predictably disastrous, opening sequence that reminds us just how deadly some of these creatures are, we are brought back up to speed in America, wherein an ongoing debate has split the nation. It is a simple question, really. Should we save the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar from the volcano that is about to erupt, or should we leave them to die?

During a Senate hearing, Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) explains his perspective, by saying that this is giving us a chance to correct our own mistake as these animals should never have been cloned. Malcolm wants us to let the dinosaurs die. The U.S. Senate agrees with Malcolm’s assessment, and therefore they cancel any official attempt to rescue the dinosaurs.

But Benjamin Lockwood (played by James Cromwell), who is supposed to have been John Hammond’s partner in creating the technology, isn’t ready to give up without a fight. So, his people get in touch with Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who is now a dinosaur-rights activist, and convince her to reach out to Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt), who they need so that they can find Blue, the friendly Velociraptor that he raised from birth. While it all sounds like a good-hearted rescue mission, our characters, eventually, find out that the real reason why Lockwood’s associates want to take the animals off the island is much more sinister than they realized.

You may be disappointed to learn that the trailers basically reveal the entire film to you. They have one of the final lines of dialogue, every blockbuster action story beat, and pretty much all of Jeff Goldblum’s lines. I need to tell you this, because if you are interested in seeing this film because of Ian Malcolm’s return, then you need to know that you absolutely will be disappointed by the role he has in this film. It isn’t a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo, but the only reason why he is in this movie is, marketing-wise, to get people to watch the movie, and, story-wise, to have a friendly face oppose the act of rescuing the dinosaurs.

The truth is that Fallen Kingdom has fallen victim to a poor pre-launch advertising campaign. One trailer made it look too similar to previous films, then, in an effort to then show that there might be something new to Fallen Kingdom, another trailer showed way too much of the story. In the end, the final product doesn’t bring much new to the series, except for a couple of scenes that definitely do give us an idea of the filmmaking sensibilities that made J. A. Bayona a good choice to direct this film.

To me, it feels like J. A. Bayona did the best that he possibly could with what certainly seems to have been a weak script. For one, some characters speak with oddly stilted expositional dialogue, the film absolutely does feel formulaic, and the villains in the film are cartoonishly designed. The film forgets about two comedic relief characters for the longest time, and one character’s background story feels forced into the film to such an extent that I thought the backstory ‘reveal’ was eye-roll inducing. Not only that, but the main characters make some dumb and indefensible decisions that drive the plot forward.

Fallen Kingdom is a tale of two halves. Roughly the first hour of the film is fairly exciting, which surprised me. When I watched the trailers, I thought the island scenes with the volcano seemed silly and over-the-top, but Bayona made that part of the film work really well. In the first half of the film, I thought the film had done a good job of making the dinosaurs seem scary again, and then, once the characters leave the island, the film gives us a punch to the gut as the lava overtakes Isla Nublar.

The second half of the film, which in the trailers had looked like a terrifying haunted house film with dinosaurs, does not work as well, though. Sure, the bedroom scene is pretty effective, but everything else we see here is unflatteringly stale for a franchise that we all want to see rediscover the Spielbergian magic.

With all of that having been said, I definitely sense that dinosaurs still excite audiences, and I think this will be a crowd-pleaser, even though some of the imagery is darker than audiences have gotten used to. There definitely are moments that could bring you to tears, but Chris Pratt is still here to please audiences with some fun and heartwarming scenes. Pratt still works very well for the franchise. As you may sense, I have mixed feelings about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. While I was somewhat impressed by the first half of the film — and I admired the idea of putting dinosaurs in a haunted house-like setting — Fallen Kingdom made the franchise feel stale to me.

5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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