So we’ve reached the fifth installment of the Jurassic Park franchise. I never thought I’d see it. It’s a series doomed to diminishing returns by the very nature of its first chapter. “Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?”, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire asks Chris Pratt’s Owen during a rare quiet moment. Those of us old enough to remember watching the first movie in cinemas certainly do. It was a special effects breakthrough that ‘more of the same’ would never be able to top. Just as in the first Jurassic World, there are numerous deliberate callbacks to other movies in the series peppered throughout Fallen Kingdom, but the original film gets the most shout-outs. Of course it does. And the fanservice is starting to make me feel just a little bit sad.
Actually, I felt much the same back in 2015, but flawed as the first movie was, I had to confess that I enjoyed it all the same. The characters were a bit dumb, the dinosaurs didn’t look fantastic, and it didn’t feel especially Jurassic Park, but it was a highly refined Hollywood product that made me smile. Fallen Kingdom tended to make me scratch my head and wonder – did I really just see that?
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know the entire plot. Congratulations. The film opens with the revelation that Isla Nublar is now an active volcano (they built that park there why now?). The island’s explosive new geography threatens to kill off all the poor dinosaurs, which are now once again roaming free after Theme Park 2 collapsed. This has prompted a campaign to save them, because, gosh dang it, we can’t let the poor dears go extinct all over again. Genetically engineered abominations have feelings too. Claire (you know – high heels) is involved in the Dinosaur Protection Group, which is lobbying the US Congress to go and spirit the dinosaurs away to safety.
After listening to a brief speech by Ian Malcolm (token Goldblum cameo), Congress rejects this idea as totally bonkers, and Claire goes into a sulk. InGen/Masrani’s creations are all consumed by lava, and everyone gets on with their lives. The end.
Nah, of course not. Instead, Claire is contacted by a representative of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former business partner of John Hammond who essentially stands in for him in this movie. The ailing Lockwood wants to mount a private mission to rescue the dinosaurs and transport them to a new sanctuary. Isla Sorna? Nah, Isla Sorna isn’t accounted for in any kind of satisfactory way. It’s just…another island somewhere. Anyway, because he’s so sick and old, Lockwood lets his confidant Eli Badguy (Rafe Spall) run the show. Claire convinces Owen that he wants to go and save Raptor Blue because Owen has a sentimental attachment to the hideous theropod-frog mutant, and off they pop in a plane with a comic relief techie (Justice Smith) and a tough ex-Marine veterinarian (Daniella Pineda). They’re on the island before you can say Jurassic Park III.
But, surprise! The mercenary chaps who also accompany them, headed by a bloke (Ted Levine) who is such a Great White Hunter archetype the script feels the need to lampshade it, aren’t really interested in preserving the dinosaurs. They’re just in it for the money, as is Badguy, who wants the dinosaurs shipped back to the Lockwood estate to be auctioned (cue Toby Jones and his pointless American accent as the auctioneer). There are also shenanigans afoot involving Raptor Blue specifically. “It was all a lie!” Duh.
Lots of plainly nutty things happen very quickly in this movie, and it can be hard to keep up. An early scene, that involves hunting for Indominus remains in the dark, is expertly shot enough to give hope that maybe this director (J A Bayona) really gets it. Naturally, the mosasaur is involved, as is the T. rex, and for the first time since (early in) The Lost World, the T. rex is a sinister, lurking threat, hidden by darkness and foliage in spite of its size. Alas, that sort of thing is abandoned once the island explodes, and CGI dinosaurs are stampeding all over the screen. There is real enjoyment to be had in the absurd spectacle of watching all these disparate creatures tumble over each other, but it quickly becomes cartoonish.
About those dinosaurs. When I reviewed Jurassic World, I was careful to specifically mention Dr Wu (B D Wong)’s line about how the animals would ‘look quite different if their DNA was pure’. It’s a cop-out; it’s just a lame excuse for lazy, nostalgia-tastic reconstructions that are a good 20 years out of date. Given that most of the creatures were new creations for Jurassic World, the same magic-genetics could be used as the excuse to give us more up-to-date looking dinosaurs, but the filmmakers couldn’t be arsed. Well, whatever. For the most part, the creatures here do look a bit more convincing than they did last time. Of the newcomers, Carnotaurus is easily the best of the bunch, even sporting relatively accurate arms (and not terribly oversized). The skin textures look great, and we even get a few nice animatronics, including a partial T. rex.
Alas, the animators do often succumb to the need to give the creatures exaggerated, lolloping gaits, especially the theropods, which seem to bend and flex like rubber when they take a step. Maybe it’s just a happy accident brought about by the limitations in the tools available to the animators at the time, but the T. rex in the original film looks more convincing because it’s, well, stiffer. It’s not bouncy. Its legs work like pistons, like a huge bird. It looks like it’s carrying a lot of weight. The Dinosaurs in the Wild team understood this, but it seems like Hollywood doesn’t.
Which brings us to the all-new hybrid creation, a new, compact Indominus, rather boringly named the Indoraptor (Indian thief?). It’s part raptor, part vampire, and part Looney Tunes. Although only a prototype, this is a finely honed creation of mad science so inconceivably advanced that it even manages to break the fourth wall at one point. Admittedly, the ensuing mayhem when this new monstrosity gets loose is probably the highlight of the film simply because it feels like something genuinely new. Running amok among Lockwood’s Resident Evil mansion (complete with fabric-of-nature-tinkering lab in the basement) allows for some deft scenes and fresh scares that we haven’t had before. It also allows newcomer Isabella Sermon, who plays Lockwood’s granddaughter (OR IS SHE?) Maisie, to really shine as one of the best child actors in a Jurassic film.
And then, at the end…the inevitable happens, setting up a sequel that will either be far more interesting than this one, or fall flat on its face. Please, please let it be the former.
In short: this movie is all right. Many people are rating it more highly than the last one, mostly because it does do a few things that are genuinely new. There’s some very expensive-looking action, some funny beats, and a real sense that, just as Malcolm predicted, events are now getting chaotically out of hand. That feels exciting. However, it also features characters that are nothing more than broad archetypes and make unbelievably dumb decisions, while Chris Pratt’s Owen proves that it wasn’t Superman’s Kryptonian physiology that rendered him invulnerable, it was his sheer hunkiness. His survival of a pyroclastic flow in an early trailer was much remarked upon, but that’s just the start. The guy’s so hard to kill that one suspects that the next film will reveal that he was one of Dr Wu’s creations after all.
I’d draw parallels to The Last Jedi in its occasional subversion of fan expectations. It does literally blow up Nostalgia Island, and lingers on a shot of a brachiosaur being consumed by fire just to rub it in. But it should have gone further. I’ll grant you that chances are slim, but here’s hoping that the next film truly embraces a Brave New Jurassic World of delightful lunacy.