"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" (2018) Review
So, Jurassic World is one of those movies I go back and forth on a lot. It has a few undeniably fun set-pieces throughout, but its characters were truly loathsome, the plot felt slapped together in the second half, and that one death scene... I still don't know how that ended up in a movie (if you don't know what I'm talking about, it's the one with the pterodactyls and I'll leave that at that).
Combine those expectations with the fact that none of the sequels to Jurassic Park have ever lived up to the legacy of the original and you can see why my expectations for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom were so low. And maybe that's why I enjoyed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom so damn much, but I don't think that's the whole reason I enjoyed it. I'm not being ironic, I'm not being snarky, I really enjoyed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and while it shares many problems with the previous entry, it's still a super stylish monster romp that the ten-year-old version of me would have gone completely insane over.
While previous entries of the series have waded in the pool of B-movie influences, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom literally dives in headfirst into the pool during a prologue that basically doubles as a horror short film. After the prologue, a few news reports fill in the three year gap between this film and the last. It turns out the island that the park was built on was a dormant volcano (just roll with it) and that it's set to go off at any moment. Activists debate whether the dinosaurs should be saved or whether they should be left to die. Trying to save them is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who forms a partnership with Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), a charismatic businessman in charge of the estate of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). It turns out that Lockwood was John Hammond's original partner during the earliest days of the park, but Hammond eventually kicked out Lockwood for reasons that remain a mystery. Mills wants to save the dinosaurs, but needs Claire's expertise and the assistance of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Once they get to the island though, it becomes clear that there's more to the rescue mission than they'd been told.
I'll say that it shouldn't come as a surprise that the corporate interests in this film are a tad evil, but the grand master plan they have of auctioning off dinosaurs to black market arms dealers is so bizarre that I kind of love it. Bizarre might be one of the better words to describe the turns that the plot takes, in particular the mystery of Benjamin Lockwood's separation with Hammond. It has a resolution that's so completely out of its mind that I can't believe it's in the final film.
I probably don't have to even say it at this point, but the story isn't exactly the film's strongest suit. The characters mostly get the job done, but a few secondary characters feel like they don't really need to be there for the most part. There are also some truly baffling decisions made by the characters throughout, but especially in the last third of the movie. The leads mostly get the job done, but the film's set-pieces are its bread and butter. It's what the film nails and this is where I have to praise the ever-living hell out of J.A. Bayona, the film's director.
Bayona has literally turned in some of the best imagery the franchise has ever seen. There are about a dozen individual shots that I'm still thinking about as I type this, and most of them are straight up horror in composition. I'll get back to the horror in a bit, but there's one scene in particular that's heartbreaking and beautiful to look at that might be the best sequence any director outside of Spielberg himself has ever contributed to the franchise. You'll know it when you see it.
But the horror imagery is the film's strongest suit by far. J.A. Bayona directed The Orphanage back in 2007, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a severe reminder of his horror roots, especially once the film is mostly set inside the Lockwood mansion. As lame as partially remaking the "raptors in the kitchen" scene sounds on paper, it's pretty awesome when it's happening in a Gothic mansion filled with dinosaur bones. There are shots that look like an old school Hammer horror film, except with huge-ass dinosaurs running through and eating people. Or, hunting a little girl as she hides in her bedroom. It's super creepy stuff, and I loved every bit of it.
I wish more of the film leaned harder into its clear Gothic horror influences and that the screenplay was much stronger, but Bayona really stepped up to the plate on this one with his cinematographer Oscar Faura (who also worked on The Orphanage, and boy oh boy does it show). Make no mistake, it's a wildly uneven film that probably should have leaned in harder to its B-movie influences instead of trying as hard as it does to make the audience feel for its characters, but I had such a good time with the set-pieces that it doesn't even matter to me.
The ending is kind of a sticking point for a lot of people though, and it is slightly for me. I like where the film ends and what it sets up, but how the film gets there is easily the dumbest part of the entire film. If I typed out exactly what the film did, you might not even believe me, but that's how the Jurassic Park franchise rolls.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is an insane Gothic horror/B-movie mash-up with dinosaurs in the fray. It's some of the most fun I've had with the series since the Spielberg original, but it comes with huge drawbacks in terms of story and character. As a delivery mechanism for incredible imagery and tense as hell set-pieces though? It works like no one's business.
Oh! Two more things. Jeff Goldblum is barely in it, and that's fine. And while no one asked, I'm going to end this review by ranking the series from best to worst (in my personal opinion):
- Jurassic Park
- The Lost World
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
- Jurassic World
- Jurassic Park III