The JURASSIC franchise, from the initial film to this latest offering — JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM — has long proven to have some of the best special effects of any franchise. Even JURASSIC PARK–age 24-plus years now–has the power to delight and surprise with its mix of conventional and CGI work. The franchise’s rendering of dinosaurs and the world they stomp around in — and on — has been, in a world, incredible.

However, one thing that PARK has over subsequent offerings–although 2015 does make some effort to bring back–was depth. Specifically, creating and observing a sense of wonder. Additionally, PARK let us feel that sense of wonder through a group of characters with depth. Several of them were not mere dinosaur chow on legs but had personalities that hooked the viewers.

With this film carrying over the two main characters from the previous installment — Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing and Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady — might FALLEN KINGDOM reclaim the kind of complete work that made JURASSIC PARK such a special offering?

FALLEN KINGDOM: Rarrrrrr
A dinosaur drops by for a little face time with Justice Smithin scene from JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Idea Behind JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, Part the First

Be warned, this plot proves so bonkers, I have to use two sections to fully elucidate it.

Isla Nublar — the setting of JURASSIC WORLD — seems certain to bury itself beneath hot lava in a very short amount of time. It’s formerly assumed dormant volcano has woken up and the writing is on the wall. Without some kind of intercession, the dinosaurs will become extinct once more. This time via fire, not ice or meteor, but the results will look remarkably similar.

Claire, perhaps seeking karmic balance, seeks to convince the government to save the once prehistoric beasts. However, democracy moves in fits and starts and the clock is ticking.

Salvation instead comes from Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell)–John Hammond’s former partner in resurrecting the “thunder lizards”. Through his foundation, run by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the plan is to rescue at least 11 different species. From there, they can move the creatures to a fenceless sanctuary island. The idea is that the dinosaurs can roam from separated from humanity’s influence. If nature deems them worthy, the dinosaur can continue to proliferate without endangering us.

In order to do so, they want Dearing–with her expertise on the island and codes for the tracking system. If she joins, they insist they can help even more than 11 before the volcano decimates everything. In particular, Mills explains, they want Blue–Grady’s closest raptor ally from WORLD. Blue may be the second smartest creature on the planet and is definitely the last of her kind.

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The Idea Behind JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, Part the Second

Claire convinces Owen to come along for the ride. She also wrangles two other dinosaur rights advocates. First is the paleo veterinarian for has never seen a dinosaur, Zia (Daniella Pineda), who is gung-ho for the experience. Less thrilled is tech head Franklin (Justice Smith). He’s committed to the cause but would rather it not involve air travel, lava, or applying pressure to wounds.

He’s a nerd in a movie is what I’m saying.

Of course, these things never end up as simple as they seem. Competing interests raise their ugly heads. Mercenaries go to the island to steal dinosaurs to sell to big business, massive criminal enterprises, and more. When Owen successfully locates Blue, they steal the raptor for their own ends.

Motivated by love for the dinosaurs and concern for humanity, the quartet commits to derailing the hunter’s plan. The plan involves the money from the dinosaurs sold to genetically create a whole new kind of dinosaur.

That’s right. The genetically modified killing machine from JURASSIC WORLD is dead. All hail the genetically modified killing machine from JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. This one is the Indominus Rex–last installment’s murdering monster–meets a raptor meets the sociopathy of a heartless murderer. Previously established genetic madman/doctor Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) returns once more to do the honors.

Like I said, bonkers.

FALLEN KINGDOM: From Exec to Advocate
Bryce Dallas Howard remembers that time she ran in heels through the jungle in JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Writing

Despite the decidedly more complicated and bizarre plotline, this script halved its screenwriting team. This time only Colin Trevorrow–director of JURASSIC WORLD–and Derek Connolly–one of the previous writers–return.

As noted above, the plotline laid out by the screenplay is WILD. As pointed out by a friend, JURASSIC WORLD had been about training dinosaurs already. That said, FALLEN KINGDOM takes that idea and pushes it as hard as it can go. The wall of suspended disbelief holds, but it certainly buckles a bit. Even considering this is a franchise about prehistoric animals resurrected by genetic science.

As a result, there is no denying the script has energy. It has concocted some impressive set pieces here. It brings the action better and more consistently than its predecessor.

However, alas, the script does fall down on achieving the magical alchemy I mentioned above. While the film is chock-a-block full of a sense of awe for nature–more on that later–the screenplay never manages to put the dinosaurs in line for that same kind of sense of wonder.

Similarly, the writing does not seem to put much stock in well-drawn characters. If anything, it smooths Owen and Claire out, dulls them up a bit, from their last go-round.

The script shares an obsession with LOST WORLD — as well as a similar feeling subtitle–of dinosaurs being let loose on the wider world. As a result, as the movie climaxes and wraps up, the tone swerves wildly. It takes viewers from slasher movie final battle to something more akin to a zombie movie postlude, complete with a long drive to safety that could actually mean doom.

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Casting the Leads of FALLEN KINGDOM

If you know Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, you know they both have chops. They are charismatic and competent performers, for sure, and both those skills are on display here. However, as hinted at above there just isn’t much time for them to do much. Much, that is, besides running, jumping, screaming, grunting, and weakly trying to resurrect sexual tension. It’s a strong reminder that sometimes incredible special effects can force your living breathing characters off the screen.

FALLEN KINGDOM: Squints
Chris Pratt takes in his surroundings in a scene from JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting the Rest of the FALLEN KINGDOM Call Sheet

With Howard and Pratt largely flattened, it falls to the supporting characters to make an impression. Justice Smith, who I knew predominantly as Books in THE GET DOWN, mines his nerd character for some good laughs. I initially planned to give him higher marks because Franklin is so different from Books, but then I recalled that Smith played a similar–albeit more well-rounded–character in PAPER TOWNS.

Isabelle Sermon makes her acting debut her as Maisie, Lockwood’s granddaughter. She gives good screams and captures Maisie’s fear and sadness, so I’d say it is a successful first outing.

Ted Levine as the leader of the hunters with a fetish for dino teeth Ken Wheatley is appropriately sleazy. His confrontation with the Indoraptor–the killer dino mentioned above–is a fun mix of incredible arrogance and pathetic sniveling. It gives the film as close to a great human villain as it gets.

Wong reprises as Wu makes the geneticist even more obsessive and creepier than last time out. Toby Jones’ auctioneer is a role just above cameo but I like his total lack of morality and dismissive bearing.

Disappointingly, Spall is too generic to register as much despite having more to do than most of the cast.

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Filming

In some ways, I thought J.A. Bayona did a better job directing FALLEN KINGDOM than Trevorrow did with the previous installment. The action scenes seem to have a better flow to them, a stronger sense of geography. As the movie increasing embraces the feel of a slasher film’s third act, Bayona slips into that style as well. He utilizes light, shadow, reflection, and jump scares, all to solid effect.

Additionally, while the dinosaurs are rarely given their deserved sense of awe, Bayona has an excellent eye for nature photography. The way he frames tree covered vistas and deserts at night is beautiful.

Additionally, he dodges some of the uglier aspects of the movie. This includes, especially, the overlong overly gruesome death of the assistant turned child wrangler. There is only one death that comes close in FALLEN KINGDOM. The victim is far more worthy of it here, for certain. Moreover, it plays out less like a sick joke or deserved punishment and more like the film honoring the JURASSIC franchise’s love of severed limbs.

FALLEN KINGDOM: In bed
Isabella Sermon cowers from dinos a-plenty in JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

That’s a Wrap

FALLEN KINGDOM is overstuffed if you couldn’t tell. I haven’t even touched the dumb decisions the film tries to depict as the best under the circumstances. However, that requires people to ignore the several obvious “half measure” selections that would be sensible and not inhumane

I also didn’t much explore Maisie’s plotline which is a needless complication and also incredibly obvious from the first foreshadowing. You can tell the movie expects to shock us but all it earns is shrugs

However, at its best, FALLEN KINGDOM has a sort of undeniable energy. When it does pause, it often offers incredible images. For example, the site of a massive herbivore swallowed by plumes of smoke, backlit by onrushing lava.

However, my favorite image, far and away, concerns a dinosaur overlooking a kind of new development suburb down below. As a piece of meta imagery, it is truly something. Steven Spielberg’s tech–his Frankenstein if you will–looks down, with malice, on the most common setting of his early masterpieces. Given this is the year that Spielberg returned to blockbuster popcorn fare with READY PLAYER ONE, the whole thing feels too rich to be accidental.

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