When the island's dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event. (from IMDB)
When Jurassic World debuted in 2015, the franchise had laid dormant for fourteen years before being awoken for a soft reboot. Jurassic World introduced new characters, a new take on a familiar concept, and had been helmed by a new director (for the franchise), all while taking place in the same world as the original trilogy that spanned from 1993 to 2001. Rising star Chris Pratt headlined the film alongside Ron Howard's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, who was also a critically acclaimed actress. In this film's story, a new park had been created on Isla Nublar -- home to the original Jurassic Park. And while the first park never got a chance to open, Jurassic World was a thriving business, bringing fans of the long-extinct beasts to the island to see them alive and well, thanks to mankind's meddling with cloning and genetics. But that film proved that genetic splicing and messing with nature wasn't going to end well, and the man-made Indominus Rex ended up being the main beastie to wreak havoc on our new heroes and the new park.
In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we pick up three years after the events of the 2015 film. The park, Jurassic World, never recovered from the mayhem that ensued following the Indominus Rex's escape, and volcanic activity threatens to kill everything on Isla Nublar. (I guess the park would have had a shelf life of three more years anyway if it hadn't closed, huh?) However, much of Fallen Kingdom takes cues from the follow-up to Jurassic Park, the franchise's first sequel, 1997's The Lost World (and, incidentally, both films are the only sequels to have subtitles). In The Lost World, we're introduced to Isla Sorna, AKA "Site B," where apparently many of the animals were bred initially before being moved to Isla Nublar. In The Lost World, a team is tasked by creator John Hammond to study the dinosaurs in their natural habitats before InGen (Hammond's company that he lost control of) comes to the island to take dinosaurs from there back to North America. But Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ignores this completely. With the volcano about to erupt, everyone talks as if the destruction of Isla Nublar would signal the end of the dinosaurs on Earth as we know it (again). Isla Sorna is never, ever mentioned. (At this point, you could just watch Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and get a complete story.)
But several things happen in Fallen Kingdom that parallel what happened in Lost World, which seems ironic given that it isn't a popular film in the franchise (although, I personally do have a guilty soft spot for it -- let's call it nostalgia). Both films even open with a guy in a mansion who had something to do with the original Jurassic Park (in this case, introducing a never before spoken of business partner of John Hammond's) bringing in characters from the previous film to go back to the island, which results in dinosaurs being taken off the island and back to the States. Other scenes even serve as less-than-subtle callbacks, including a scene involving the good guys nursing a wounded dinosaur (by the bad guys). It's nice to have some callbacks, but it does reach a point where you start to feel a bit cheated. Fallen Kingdom does take strides to do some new things and eventually take the franchise in a potential all-new direction, but we retread a lot of previously forged paths to get there. In the end, Fallen Kingdom does some things better than its 2015 predecessor, but it also falls short as well.
Jurassic World rode the nostalgia train to make fans fall in love again and buy into a new cast and direction. Fallen Kingdom is light on the nostalgia this time around, but it's certainly there -- whether it's verbally referencing Hammond and his vision, or composer Michael Giacchino is offering slight, subtle nods to the brilliant and iconic John Williams theme. But Giacchino is no Williams and he knows it (don't get me wrong, I have often loved his work, so that isn't a dig), so he works hard to create an entirely new style for the franchise here. Big choruses of voices join the music -- which is a franchise first -- while he opts to go darker with the tone overall. The musical cues that call back to the first Jurassic World handle the theme better than the first time around (maybe because it sounds less bubbly and theme park-ish?), but it also serves as a reminder at how much better and more memorable Williams' original theme is. Still, Giacchino proves he has the might to make the rest of the score work, and his little new themes and cues throughout the film work to serve the scenes well, creating a tone that is more horror in nature, and sense of dread.
Pratt and Howard are great to have back in their roles as Owen and Claire. We learn quickly that they didn't "stick together" as they promised to at the end of Jurassic World, but they seem to get right back into the swing of getting along again rather swiftly, so it doesn't quite feel as disappointing as such a revelation like this normally would. (I've often hated when sequels undo the happy ending of the previous film by revealing that main characters have split up between films... despite it being somewhat more realistic that way.) We're also introduced to many, many new characters who surround Owen and Claire -- some good, some bad. Most of the new characters feel somewhat cartoonish, but none seemed instantly irritating (I have found the two, bickering brothers in Jurassic World more annoying with each viewing, sadly), while newcomer Isabella Sermon stands out as exceptional as Maisie. The younger actors in the franchise have always varied a bit (Lex and Tim in the original were always arguably the best), and Isabella is an inspired choice to have join the cast. Owen and Claire also graduate to more of the central focus of the film, with Maisie being a supporting character (unlike the brothers being a main focus in the previous film), and it all seems to serve the story better for it.
The villains - and there are several of them - feel like caricatures in many ways (much like in The Lost World), and their motivations are largely the same - capitalism and personal gain, without much thought for what hazards it may cause. It also feels a bit like "old hat" in that regard (as if having dinosaurs being the main antagonists isn't enough villainy for essentially what is a monster movie), but it also allows the film's body count to be higher without sacrificing too many heroes in the process. The experiences with the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park felt more personal, intimate, and scary. The franchise has largely lost most of that with each sequel, and while Fallen Kingdom tries hard to recapture it (mostly by hiding the graphic content less), I'm not entirely sure it does. Maybe the heavy reliance of CG in recent films has something to do with it, I'm not sure, but the synthetic nature of the creatures definitely makes things feel less tangible at times.
The film also continues to develop dinosaurs as actual characters, which is much different for the franchise. The T-rex in this film is the same one from both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, so there's a sense of familiarity there. Furthermore, the story of Blue the velociraptor is continued, making her just as integral to the cast as the human players, which is an interesting take on the franchise. But it's also these kinds of story progressions that make these new films feel much less grounded.
The content for this one may be the most gruesome of any of the films yet. In The Lost World, we saw a character get pulled in half by two tyrannosaurus rex's in a dimly lit scene. In this one, a man's arm is bitten off and eaten as he drops to the ground and is then attacked while screaming in a somewhat obscured view in the background. Another scene shows a dinosaur being operated on, with a scalpel going into its skin and blood squirting out onto a person's face at one point. A velociraptor attacking a man's face as he screams is barely obscured by a leaf in the foreground as blood squirts onto the camera. We get a couple more shots of it, too, before it's no longer focused on. Another scene shows several dinosaurs attacking a man and ripping him apart rather quickly (also in a dimly lit sequence), but we clearly see his clothed leg separated from his body and then eaten by a dinosaur. We briefly see a talon dig into a person's leg and then we briefly see the wound close-up before it is covered. A character also frequently uses pliers to remove teeth from dead or unconscious dinosaurs, with a little blood shown. While not gory, a character is murdered off screen by being suffocated with a pillow. The scene cuts before anything is shown, but it's heavily implied, and we later just see the dead person lying there. Other content includes some infrequent profanity, but it includes some blasphemy (even spoken by Pratt), with 3 uses of "J-sus," 1 incomplete "S" word and one spoken clearly, 1 "S.O.B," 1 "*ssh*le," and a handful of other cuss words like "h*ll," "d*mn," and "*ss." It's a little lighter than the last Jurassic World, but it still seemed unnecessary.
Overall, if you like this franchise (warts and all) and can't wait to see dinosaurs wreaking havoc on screen again, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom delivers. But if the flaws of the films get to you, Fallen Kingdom doesn't really improve upon them. In some ways, it's more satisfying than the first Jurassic World, but in other ways, it doesn't quite have the excitement factor that seeing the 2015 film the first time did. Often silly but also still enjoyable to watch, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is, in many ways, a hot mess that still should scratch the itch of the less discriminating dinosaur movie lovers.
Side note: There actually IS a tiny little bonus scene all the way at the end of the credits. It's nothing super important, but dinosaur lovers may enjoy the little added bonus.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/24/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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