JURASSIC WORLD: Fallen Kingdom (Dir. by J.A. Bayona, 128 min., USA, 2018)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return for what is now the second entry in the reboot/retcon of the Jurassic Park series Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom. Picking up three years after the fateful events on Isla Nublar, the film begins as the volcano on the island that once housed the dino theme park is about to erupt annihilating all life on the island. On the world stage, the US Senate is deliberating on whether or not they will intervene to save the island’s resurrected inhabitants or allow mother nature step in to fix man’s genetic meddling. After the official decision is made to let the dinosaurs once again succumb to extinction, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who now is a dino protection activist is contacted by John Hammonds former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). The mysterious and very philanthropic backer offers her a way to rescue a sampling of the park’s dinos and relocate them to a deserted tropical island, but of course there’s a catch. Along with being charged to save the more docile creatures, she also must recruit the now estranged Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to save the last living Velociraptor, Blue.
While all the previous films have causally skirted the horror genre, Fallen Kingdom dives head first after a fairly predictable double cross befalls Claire and Owen, putting a darker spin on the formula we’ve come to expect from these films. Much like the Indominus Rex, Fallen Kingdom is a striking hybrid of genres, which is why it may be a hard sell due its abrupt change in tone and setting. After Claire and Owen depart Isla Nublar after a brisk first act, the film then transforms from sci-fi to horror as they attempt to escape Lockwood’s estate. It’s here as the pair fight for their lives against both man and reptile that the film moves into some uncharted territory thematically as well. It’s surprising the films have never touched on some of these weightier issues associated with cloning until now, but introducing them here adds an exciting component to a very spoilery plot point.
While Fallen Kingdom is a fairly effective horror film, punctuated with moments of humorous release, it may prove too intense for its intended audience. The film while also playing with these edgier themes and subject matter, does suffer a bit from the fact that it is a PG-13 Blockbuster hitting at the start of summer. The film at times feels like it was culled just enough to keep it from going too far, whether it be violence, suspense, or possibly even having an openly gay character; you genuinely feel that the need to make the rating possibly kept this film from its achieving its possible potential. While Pratt and Howard once again fill the screen with their awkwardly touching chemistry, strangely enough the it’s a toss-up between Benjamin Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) and a particular Velociraptor that deliver the film’s more heart-breaking moments.
With previous director Colin Trevorrow stepping aside due to his work on Star Wars Episode IX, Spanish director J. A. Bayona is taking the reins of the franchise. Bayona is probably best known to American audiences for the horror film The Orphanage and the dark fantasy A Monster Calls. With a script by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, to compare it to a another franchise Fallen Kingdom like The Last Jedi is a huge departure from its nostalgia drunk predecessor and a film with a much bleaker outlook than its predecessors. Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is so different it could turn out to be the downfall of this almost unstoppable juggernaut. Even with the film’s issues, it’s a fun ride and I would love to see what’s next, but I do think it’s divisiveness could be its ultimate undoing. For me it’s akin to the darker direction the Planet of the Apes reboot took in how it approached its story after laying the groundwork of the first film. For such an established property it’s a daring move to push the boundaries of these films in this particular direction, but we also know fans can be extremely fickle when it comes to nostalgic properties. Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom leaves behind the sense of awe and wonder to confront the stark reality of the repercussions of Hammond’s dream, which is exposed and revealed to be the nightmare it always was.