The original “Jurassic Park” is one of the best films ever made. Under Steven Spielberg’s direction, the film displays what can happen when filmmakers work at the very peak of their craft. Many remember its groundbreaking visuals or tense action set pieces, but at its core, the film is a study of the hierarchy of nature as seen through the lens of grounded characters.
The subsequent three “Jurassic” movies failed to recapture that perfect blend of spectacle and character-work. However, while I walked away from 2015’s “Jurassic World” feeling somewhat underwhelmed, I was still intrigued by “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” Unfortunately, though, I was let down again; “Fallen Kingdom” clearly has a lot on its mind, but ultimately says very little.
“Fallen Kingdom” picks up three years after “Jurassic World.” After the horrific events that occurred in the theme park, humans have abandoned the dinosaurs and the island they live on, Isla Nublar. However, when a dormant volcano on the island becomes active, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) lead a rescue mission to save as many dinosaurs as possible from extinction — including the raptor Blue — and bring them back to a sanctuary on the mainland.
Let’s get the positives out of the way first — of which there are a fair amount. J.A. Bayona slides into the director’s chair this time around, replacing Colin Trevorrow (who pens the script alongside Derek Connolly). In fact, this was one of the main reasons I was excited about this movie; Bayona is proving himself to be a masterful director with past films like “A Monster Calls,” and his take on the “Jurassic World” franchise feels fresh and nuanced, making for a visually stunning movie. The colors are vibrant, the action set-pieces are lively, and the cinematography is dynamic, adding to the movie’s more tense moments. Pratt and Howard are likable leads, and while their characters don’t really develop in a meaningful way, they are entertaining to watch.
For all its visual splendor, the actual content of the story is lacking. From the outset of the film, the revelation that the volcano on Isla Nublar is erupting raises an interesting question: should the dinosaurs on this island be saved, or should they go extinct? Some, like fan favorite Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, who is in this movie for exactly one hot second) believes, as he always has, that these creatures should be left to die. They are unnatural, man-made animals, and the volcano is simply nature’s way of correcting the problem. Others, like Claire Dearing, cannot stomach the idea of letting these animals die.
That is a fascinating debate because it plays on “Jurassic Park”’s central theme of man versus nature. Had “Fallen Kingdom” dove deeper into this concept, it would have made for a more compelling movie. Instead, it incorporates extraneous subplots involving black market dinosaur trading, weaponization and DNA tampering — all of which have been explored in previous installments. There’s another hybrid animal created by generic villains motivated by — gasp! — money.
“Fallen Kingdom” is also littered with contradictions and plot holes. It tries to preach the message that weaponizing and manipulating these creatures is bad, but at one point, Owen literally sets a dinosaur lose on a group of people in order to stop the bad guys in their tracks. There were so many moments like this that just made me through my hands up and internally shout, “Why?!”
This movie also introduces Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who was apparently John Hammond’s partner back when they were developing the technology to clone dinosaurs. This character introduction didn’t bother me — although it does invite questions as to why he was never mentioned until now. What raised some red flags for me was the inclusion of his granddaughter, Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), a curious girl who lives with him in his large estate. She’s likeable enough as a character, but her story arc feels very forced. No spoilers, but a major revelation about her gets dropped in with little explanation. It seems like the filmmakers are setting things up for a future installment, but given the nature of this revelation, I have concerns with where that road may lead.
To be clear, “Fallen Kingdom” isn’t a bad movie. It’s probably about as good as “The Lost World,” and definitely better than “Jurassic World.” The ending actually makes me intrigued to see what the next “Jurassic World” movie will bring, but the way it gets to that point in the story feels unearned. “Fallen Kingdom” had potential to do so much more. I wish it had lived up to its scope.