Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, AKA Jurassic World 2, AKA Jurassic Park 5, is a frustrating film. At times, it’s more or less a personification of everything that’s wrong with the bad blockbusters of today. It has paper thin characters, especially in the case of the villains, who’s “I only care about money” attitudes seem plucked straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. The plot goes from acceptable (return to the island to rescue the dinosaurs before a volcano wipes them out) to suddenly doubling down on the most ludicrous idea introduced in Jurassic World (militarized dinos). It’s a movie that’s trying to say something with substance, going so far as to bring back Jeff Goldblum to deliver a speech on Capitol Hill about the moral, ecological, and environmental implications of saving the dinosaurs versus rescuing them.
But Fallen Kingdom doesn’t actually seem to be about much of anything in the end. The film is overly eager to get from one action set piece to the next, awkwardly filling the time in between with rapid fire exposition and humor that never quite lands. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (a sleepwalking Chris Pratt) both return, however they’re no longer together. Both clearly still have feelings for each other though, putting them in the exact same dynamic they were in the first film instead of trying something new. Not that it matters much. Besides a forced kiss between the two, neither of these lead characters go through any sort of arc or change by the end of the film. About a dozen new characters are quickly introduced to us, with one or two, like Daniella Pineda’s Zia Rodriguez, managing to stand out, while most simply play 2-D caricatures.
And yet, despite all of this, Jurassic World; Fallen Kingdom still brings us the most engaging and thrilling scenes of the Jurassic Park franchise since Steven Spielberg himself was at the helm. Credit goes to J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, A Monster Calls), taking over director duties from Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow. Bayona is just an all-around better, and more capable, director, and his staging and execution of the film’s massive action set pieces are handled brilliantly. Paired with his longtime cinematographer Oscar Faura, Bayona creates incredible suspense, allowing the camera to control the entirety of not just what the audience is seeing, but what they’re feeling as well. Of particular note is the scene where the island’s volcano finally erupts, forcing dinosaurs and humans alike to flee for their lives as smoke and lava rapidly approach behind them and flaming rocks crash down around them.
The scene features a truly impressive continuous shot where the camera itself feels like it becomes a character, moving back, forth, and all around in search of an exit as the situation becomes more and more desperate. Later on, Bayona manages to capture the claustrophobia of being trapped in a house with a killer dinosaur perfectly, using the tighter space as a fresh way to create white-knuckle suspense that calls back to the original Jurassic Park’s kitchen scene. Fallen Kingdom also brings back beautifully detailed animatronics and practical effects to the franchise, making the dinosaurs look the best they have since the originals, actually filling the scene with something tangible that the actors can interact with.
Fallen Kingdom contains gorgeous shots and imagery throughout its inspired and thrilling action scenes, but it’s not enough to break through the thin and lackluster script. Trevorrow and Derek Connolly penned the screenplay just as they did for Jurassic World, and their shortfalls in the first film become even more glaring here. It struggles to decide on the tone in the first half, especially the very opening scene, which comes across as a B-movie you might catch on the SyFy channel, cheesy dialogue and all. As stated before, the characters are significantly flat; one villain (out of the several in this movie) is your typical big game hunter, no nonsense military man, a cliche that we’ve seen in countless movies. There are no layers to anyone in the film, but there is one bright spot. Fallen Kingdom has a bit of a stronger emotional core than its predecessor, due to a significant portion of its runtime being dedicated to the relationship between Owen and Blue the velociraptor. It’s something that anyone who’s ever had a special bond with an animal can relate to and feel for, and the film does a great job tugging on those heartstrings without it ever becoming too much.
Fallen Kingdom is a mixed bag. If you’re going in simply for the spectacle, you’ll leave the theater satisfied. If you’re looking for something with a little more nuance and depth, you won’t find it here. And it’s a shame. I resent the idea that the Jurassic Park / World franchise can never be anything more than what it currently is; that it can only be silly summer entertainment with loud dinos filling the screen at every chance. There’s so much potential within the source material, and as the original and Fallen Kingdom shows, in the hands of a great director, it can become something truly great. Trevorrow’s vision for this trilogy might have the right concept overall, but the writing and foundation of it is simply too weak. The film ends on a note that opens up a world (pun intended) of new possibilities and directions this franchise can go, and I hope that the future is bright. Fallen Kingdom is no masterpiece, but Bayona saves it from being a complete stumble. Which is good, because the world, and everyone’s inner child, can always use more dinosaur movies.