Jurassic World Dominion has clumsily stomped the Jurassic Park franchise to an apparent conclusion, and with it the legacy of the Jurassic World trilogy of films is hard to parse. The films have maintained sizable box office hauls but with each new entry, the trilogy’s reception steadily declined critically and among the fandom. Looking at the first and third films, it’s not hard to see why they’re so often picked apart. Director-writer Colin Trevorrow pieces together Frankenstein monsters of nostalgia, neat new ideas, very ill-advised decisions, and a consistent lack of grasp on the new franchise leads. The spectacle is there, yet it’s unclear what, if any, impact these films will have ten years from now. However, the same can not be said for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Somehow, director J.A. Bayona found a way to sneak in one of the most bonkers, personality-driven blockbusters of recent memory into the middle of a largely unremarkable trilogy.
The most striking aspect of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the most obvious. Fallen Kingdom has an undeniable, jaw-droppingly gorgeous visual style. Then again, what did we expect from the director of The Orphanage? Cinematographer/long-time Bayona collaborator Óscar Faura goes nuts in this dream of a sandbox. Take for example the opening scene of the film, where a submarine plunges to the depths of Isla Nublar to find the remains of the Indominus Rex. Water takes on an otherworldly effect; closer to fog in a graveyard than liquid. A lightning strike reveals the shadow of the Mosasaurus, creating a fear that only grows until the sub comes face to face with the creature. In this scene, and many others, the intention is clear: get a rise out of the audience in any way possible.
While shot on digital and in the more conventional 2:39.1 wide “cinemascope” aspect ratio – the only sequel in the franchise to do either – Bayona and Faura make Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feel massive, though not necessarily in the traditional way where the image is taller from top to bottom but more boxed in on the sides, a la Steven Spielberg’s more square 1.85:1 ratio for Jurassic Park. The new wide-screen image closes the characters in, raising the emotional stakes tenfold by making the audience wonder what kind of horrors could come from the newly freed sides of the screen. Regarding the switch to digital, there’s nothing lost in the transition due to Bayona’s commitment to heavy stylization. There’s undeniable existential terror seeing lava swallow up Isla Nublar’s synthetic wildlife. They enforce a sense of nature’s wrath in a way that puts the more excessive work of Roland Emmerich to shame. This can be weaponized for awe, terror, or even deep sadness, as with the silhouette of a Brachiosaurus being swallowed up by a cloud of smoke.
When the movie switches gears to the Lockwood estate midway through, so does its aesthetics. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom pivots to an equally effective claustrophobic nightmare, where shadows hide all manner of cool, vicious dinos, not the least of which is the Indoraptor that Faura’s camerawork does the heavy lifting in instilling an aura of menace around. The trailer-ready shot where the Indoraptor’s gnarly curved claws slowly creep from the side of the frame onto the bed where a scared child attempts to hide under her blankets might as well be a tech demo for the benefits of the wide aspect ratio. Hell, the film’s climax is a Gothic rooftop battle between two raptors under a full moon! Not since the original Jurassic Park has a dinosaur movie been this much of a sight to behold. Moviegoers owe that mostly to the crew going for something a lot more subjective and, dare I say, cinematic.
Part of that is because Bayona and co. know exactly what type of film they’re making. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is pure pulp fiction. It’s the kind of movie that introduces an as-of-yet unmentioned co-founder of Jurassic Park, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), as if he’s been there the whole time, then hinges the majority of the storyline around his “granddaughter” Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who turns out to be a clone of Lockwood’s daughter. For John Hammond’s sake, the entire second half of the film revolves around a black market auction of dinosaurs! Fallen Kingdom once and for all eschews any notions of realism, which allows writing partners Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly to write a straight-up creature feature, going further than what they could barely hint at in Jurassic World. This approach grants Bayona the rare chance to really run wild in the pursuit of popcorn-munching escapist entertainment.
Speaking of Trevorrow and Connolly, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom deserves significant praise for its willingness to push the series into entirely new territory. At the outset of the film, the concept of Dinosaur Rights Activists is introduced, something that’s honestly shocking it took them this long to implement, only somewhat being touched upon in The Lost World. Really, the entire film does wonders in establishing empathy for the creatures like never before. Which makes it hurt all the more when Fallen Kingdom blows up the iconic island and completely shifts into a narrative about the exploitation of creatures by humankind. Trevorrow, in the single instance of this entire trilogy, quite literally blows up the premise and shifts gears.
Sure, the environmental narrative has always been somewhat a part of Jurassic Park, but Fallen Kingdom reinforces the idea that messing with the natural order of things will lead chaos into its logical next step: we, as a species, have to live with what our science has wrought and are forced into adaptation. The central thesis of Fallen Kingdom is well embodied in the character of Maisie, a clone who decides that the dinosaurs should be allowed to roam free, just like her, unleashing the creatures onto the world. It’s powerful, it’s subversive, it’s fresh. It’s the kind of full-force science fiction exploration that original Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton himself might have been proud of.
For all that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom nails, there’s a key area where it stumbles: its characters and some recycled concepts. To the second charge, yes, we’re going back to Isla Nublar. Even so, the purpose of that is simply to rip the comfort of a classic Jurassic Park adventure from us. Moreover, the very concept of the Indoraptor has been torn apart by critics of the film, as it’s not much more than a miniature version of the Jurassic World Indominus Rex. Yet, where Jurassic World threw the dinosaur at you, Trevorrow saying “have fun with this” and not bringing much else to the table other than the cool design and consistent plot armor, the Indoraptor’s threat is omnipresent. The camera leers over him, making him a classic horror movie monster. Trevorrow covered the same general species before, Bayona did it better.
When it comes to the franchise leads, that’s a point that can’t be defended. Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) remain nothing characters, two empty vessels for the actors to put their (limited) personalities into. Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda are fine as the two dino rights activists that join the group, but the script just doesn’t give them anything significant to do. Maisie Lockwood comes out of the film mostly unscathed, as do a trio of hammy villain performances from Rafe Spall, Ted Levine, and Toby Jones. Don’t worry, there’s always a very forced Jeff Goldblum cameo to sour that just a scene away. Perplexingly, the Jurassic World trilogy, and really any Jurassic Park film other than the original, just can’t get a handle on giving the audience a reason to care about its characters. Therefore, all the sequels have been extremely spectacle-dependent, wherein the protagonists are audience surrogates for whatever the filmmakers have planned. Thankfully, Fallen Kingdom’s spectacle is more than enough.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the finest of the Jurassic World trilogy, and quite possibly the best sequel since the original. Through the excellent combination of decadent visuals, a firm grasp on tone, and a script willing to try out new things constantly, Fallen Kingdom harkens back to a time when making a sequel wasn’t a cash-in, but an opportunity. Upon release, Fallen Kingdom wasn’t received very well, despite still being the second highest-grossing of the franchise. So much so that Dominion chose to walk back many of its boldest choices. Try not to grimace when it’s revealed that the newly freed dinosaurs sort of just stay in their own areas of the world in that film’s opening. Nevertheless, you can only hope that will change, especially in light of Dominion’s franchise-low critical reception.
For as overplayed as a comparison this is, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is every bit of what The Last Jedi was to Star Wars, a sequel that goes out of its way to reinvent what a franchise is and could be right after the success of a relatively safe reintroduction. The bitter irony here is that Colin Trevorrow was initially going to be the writer/director of Episode IX (titled Duel of the Fates). Despite having a script that many online consider is better than JJ Abram’s The Rise of Skywalker, Trevorrow ended up making the kind of nostalgia bait, messy picture he wanted to avoid with his aborted Star Wars finale in Jurassic World: Dominion. Perhaps it’s time audiences embrace movies like Fallen Kingdom. Movies that see a filmmaker bring all the tools at their disposal to have a blast playing in exciting sandboxes, throwing caution to the wind and making them like it’s the last movie they’ll ever get to do. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom represents a version of this franchise where Trevorrow and Connolly continued to refine their ideas while letting a new director run amok and bring their own DNA on board with each new entry. Most importantly, however, it’s simply a damn good dinosaur flick.
If Dominion is The Rise of Skywalker, Fallen Kingdom is The Last Jedi, in a good way.
Not to mention the boundary breaking special effects work, which proved that neither practical nor CGI is above the other, but the perfect blend of the two mediums is what makes for beauty.