Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a Fall From Grace for the Franchise

Universal Pictures released their big summer tent-pole picture in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and I have no doubt that the film will make tons of money.  Watching CGI dinosaurs come to life on the big screen brings out the child in almost everyone.  It is that joy, innocence and wonder that has made the original film so enduring for the past 25 years.  Unfortunately, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom decides to take the franchise away from the adventure that most of the previous installments followed to become more of a horror film, making it meaner and darker.

We start the film off with a group of mercenaries going to the remnants of Jurassic World to collect the DNA of the Indominus Rex that is currently on the ocean floor. Things do not go as planned and a Mosasaurus is able to escape and swim out into the ocean (which is weird because we hardly see this dinosaur for the rest of the film).  I’ll give this sequence some credit because it reminded me of the opening of the original Jurassic Park.  In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom you do not fully see the dinosaurs until the end of the sequence.  I also immediately thought about how much better the original film was with its opening sequence, with the raptors being put in their cage, because the original film did it without letting the audience see a full shot of a raptor.  I think it would have been more effective if we didn’t see full on shots of the dinosaurs that attack the mercenaries, just to help build suspense.  For me, this was a bad sign of things to come.

Fast forward a couple of years later and Isla Nublar has become a hot button topic for animal rights activists. The volcano on the island is about to erupt and the public is pressuring the U.S. government to save the remaining dinosaurs.  They decide not to, which angers the organization run by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard).  Shortly after the decision occurs, Claire receives a phone call from a billionaire who happened to work with John Hammond back in the day. Upon arrival, Claire meets the billionaire’s adviser (Rafe Spall), who briefs her that they want her to go back to Isla Nublar with members of a mercenary group to save some of the dinosaurs.  Claire is all in and she is asked to recruit Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).  A few scenes later and we are back on Isla Nublar, and we get that moment of wonder when some of the new characters see a dinosaur for the first time.  This is the last moment of joy the film gave me, as it gets dark pretty quick.

Grady is tasked to find the velociraptor that he trained, but when Grady finds him, the mercenaries immediately tranquilize it and then accidentally shoot it with a bullet. The mercenaries turn on Grady, shooting him with a tranquilizer as well and leave him for dead.  At about the same time, the volcano begins to fully erupt and our heroes are left to try and get back to the loading dock before the mercenaries leave.  I wish the entire film stayed on the island and the plot was for them to free the dinosaurs while battling the volcano eruption, but that is only Act I.  The story takes us back to the billionaire’s mansion where we find out the true reasons why the dinosaurs were rescued, and it is up to Grady and Dearing to save the day.

As always, the question is, should you go see this film? Here are my thoughts:

The Outstanding

There are four shots that I thought were absolutely incredible and I praise director J.A. Bayona, his cinematographer Oscar Faura, and the technical and special effects crew for the following sequences:

  1. The long take of the Gyrosphere underwater where Grady has to try and save two characters. Watching the Gyrosphere fill up with water, then watching Grady fail on his first attempt, causing him to go back up for air, while keeping the camera squarely on the inside of the Gyrosphere added to the claustrophobia of the situation and I thought it was effectively done.
  2. The end of Act I where a dinosaur is standing on a dock as the cloud and smoke from the volcano surrounds it is easily the best shot of the film. I would love to get a frame from this shot, because I was quite impressed with how it looked and it effectively expressed the sadness that Isla Nublar was no more, without any dialogue needed.
  3. In the third act, there is a dinosaur that is on a rooftop and the camera follows it by doing a complete upside-down and back up camera rotation. I’m sure this was a very hard shot to film, but it looked great and I wish there was more technical innovation in the film such as that.
  4.  Also in Act III, there is a very short shot involving a supporting character looking through glass and the outline of a dinosaur appears. These shots are incredibly hard to light and shoot, so I appreciated the effort that was done to evoke a quick scare.

The Bad

The supporting characters were not very strong. Part of what made the original so enjoyable was that Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight and Sir Richard Attenborough were all supporting characters that were fully fleshed out and I was interested in what would happen to them.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has the exact opposite, in that I didn’t care what happened to any of the supporting characters.  I blame the script for this, because they even have two of the supporting protagonist characters disappear for long periods of time because they don’t have anything to do.  One character is a paleo-veterinarian who is tasked with looking after the dinosaurs while ordering others around.  The other is a tech wizard who gets mistaken as part of the mercenary crew and disappears for a very long stretch.  Even great actors like James Cromwell and Toby Jones are wasted in this film, because their characters are very one note.

The Awful

At the start of the review, I mentioned that the film was closer to being a horror film and not an effective one at that. The focus on the film seems to be to make the humans look stupid and put them in situations where they are going to get killed.  The humans are not bright in this film and you almost end up cheering for the dinosaurs as they kill the humans off, which is a terrible comment to make, but that’s how I felt.  One sequence that angered me when it happened involved a mercenary getting into a cage with a dinosaur that he believes is unconscious to collect one of its teeth (there is never an explanation why this one character has a dinosaur tooth fetish as he did it to another dinosaur earlier in the film without explanation as well).  The dinosaur literally opens one of its eyes, almost winking to the audience about what is going to happen next.  Tonally, I thought it was wrong for this self-aware moment to happen and just continued to add to the mean spirit of the film that yet another human was going to be killed off.

The entire film has dinosaurs getting shot, dinosaurs jumping out of nowhere to scare and kill people and dinosaurs being trained to be used as weapons. Not the most pleasant of subject matter.  Even the final battle takes place at night in the pouring rain as if to drive home the point that this is the darkest, meanest and baddest entry in the franchise.  If Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom strived to be the least enjoyable film of the franchise, then mission accomplished.  These films work best when there is a mixture of wonder and thrills.  You need that yin and yang to help find that perfect balance when watching the film. Unfortunately, the script provided very little wonder and decided to interpret thrills as constant scares, which for the most part, were not scary.  When the next film comes out, I hope that the screenwriters learn their lesson.

The screenwriters also took a serious leap of faith with a plot twist involving a minor supporting character, but it backfired in my eyes as the moment the reveal happened, I was completely taken out of the film. I am purposely being vague in order to not spoil anything, but I would be interested if anyone thought that the plot twist was a good one, because I thought it missed the mark completely.

Overall

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the most disappointing film that I have seen this summer. The characters are not interesting, the scares are really not that scary (unless you are a child, but considering that this film is rated 14A in Canada, it is not meant for children) and no one seems to be having any fun on the screen.  Even Jeff Goldblum’s appearance is very serious and it does not allow him to really have fun with the dialogue that he is given.  Part of the problem is that I hold Jurassic Park in such high regard that I expect the films to be on par or close to it, yet time and again, I have been let down. I think the film is a low point for the franchise and I really hope that the next film can make a course correction and set the franchise back on track.  I give the film 1.5 out of 4 stars.

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