In 2015, the Star Wars and Jurassic Park franchises relaunched with new films, both achieving massive box office success. While both were widely considered a return to form following sequels that failed to deliver on quality, they were also subject to the same criticism – that they essentially recreated the original film in their respective series.
So how do you follow those films up? Well, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film that went in an unexpected direction, reframing much of the familiar set-up work in The Force Awakens as misdirection and gleefully subverting well-established Star Wars tropes. There were those, of course, who didn’t take having the rug pulled out from under them too kindly, and Rian Johnson’s film will now have to contend with cries of ‘Worst Star Wars ever!’ from some disenchanted corners of a galaxy far, far away.
Following up Jurassic World is a different prospect. There are several successful Star Wars stories that The Last Jedi could have drawn influence from, guiding both our expectations and the path of the filmmakers. The team behind Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom faced creating a sequel in a series where the films that aren’t about a theme park going wrong haven’t quite worked.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, then, is a film being released to massive but ill-defined expectations.
Screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly (both were credited screenwriters on Jurassic World, which Trevorrow also directed) have come up with a continuation that, when reduced to a spoiler-free synopsis, seems to bear the influence of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, even if the film doesn’t much.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom finds Jurassic World survivors Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) returning to Isla Nublar to try to rescue the surviving dinosaurs, with a second extinction looming. However, it soon becomes apparent that they’ve been sent there by a team whose intentions are less altruistic than they were originally portrayed. Damned dino smugglers!
Given that the team behind this Jurassic sequel have done such a good job of keeping the plot under wraps, we’ll stop there to preserve your viewing experience.
The opening sequence of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels like it could have been directed by Steven Spielberg himself. Simple yet thrilling, the segment deftly recreates the hold-your-breath horror and edge-of-your-seat excitement of the 1993 original. Combined with jaw-dropping visuals, it’s one of the very best sequences in the entire series.
From there, as small an amount of time as they can get away with, including the majority of Jeff Goldblum’s ‘is that it?’ appearance, is set aside to place the characters ready for the action set pieces to begin.
Those set pieces are, for the most part, a lot of fun. A success of craft rather than invention, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom can’t let its characters escape through a door without meeting them with an even more dangerous dinosaur behind it. The simple and effective problem-solution-problem structure of the sequences serves to provide extended periods of pure, joyful entertainment. This is a blockbuster movie to eat popcorn to.
Jettisoning much of the iconography of the previous films, director Bayona creates a film that is, at times, strikingly beautiful. It’s not a film that’s able to conjure the sense of awe the original Jurassic Park did for its dinosaurs, but Bayona’s film is able to elicit at least a similar response from how he captures some of the landscapes in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. His style of shooting enhances those action sequences too, as he lays everything out with a visual clarity.
The film has two different looks, with a more colourful section in the first half and a darker look in the second. It’s in the first half that Bayona produces the films most powerful image, one that’s been rattling around in my head since I saw the film.
By the time you reach the final action sequences, though, the film is full on with gothic imagery and Michael Giacchino’s roaring choral score, likely prompting you to question whether you’re still watching a Jurassic Park movie at all.
There’s more to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom than just fun action sequences. It’s a film that’s full of ideas and thoughtful comment on the balance of nature, humanity and science. It’s also got a few spiky political references, too. When we think of franchises being micromanaged to maximise merchandising revenues, it’s hard to know how some of the things in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom made it to the screen.
There’s even exploration of the other things that might come about from living in a world where cloning dinosuars is possible. Massive ideas are pitched at your head full speed, zinging past before you’ve had a proper chance to look at them.
Where Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom really frustrates, though, is in its story, which feels slight. Perhaps it’s that the main characters (an on form Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) never seem to know who the bad guys are, or that they spend chunks of the film with only vague motivation. The villains are good fun (Toby Jones is outrageously smug while Ted Levine’s hateful turn is brilliantly pitched) but the tone of their scenes is at odds with how the franchise has played to date.
At the end of the two hour runtime, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve watched a feature length adaptation of a Saturday morning adventure cartoon.
Another issue that niggles all the way through is that the dinosaurs simply don’t feel right. They’re easily controlled and seem small. In fact, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom never seems to be able to sell its scale, save for a notable sequence later on. A location in the second half of the film feels impossibly big while the previously expansive Isla Nublar feels shrunken.
There’s so much on the screen that’s interesting and unexpected, good and bad, that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a dizzying experience. Emerging from the auditorium, there’s a sense that it’s a film that won’t settle in your mind until you’ve seen it a couple of times and sorted through it. It’s in that way that I’d liken it to, of all films, The Last Jedi. It may yet prove as divisive, too (for the sake of our comments section, please may that not be the case).
Even on first watch, though, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom impresses as a brave, beautiful and fun summer popcorn flick.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in UK cinemas from June 6th.
We’ve rounded up some of the coolest Jurassic Park merchandise here