[IN THEATERS NOW] JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

 

When it was released in 2015, JURASSIC WORLD was exactly what this franchise needed, at least in terms of box office viability. A nostalgic, exceedingly safe return to form that only sought to convince audiences that a decent sequel to this series was possible, Colin Trevorrow’s film was largely preoccupied with one recurring question: “remember JURASSIC PARK?” Three summers later, its follow-up arrives with a different preoccupation altogether, one that’s no longer a question but a mission statement: “let’s blow up JURASSIC PARK.” Aptly subtitled FALLEN KINGDOM, J.A. Bayona’s latest sequel cares not for your fond memories of this franchise, nor does it seek to recreate them: rather, this is about as daring a turn a multi-million dollar IP can take, as it looks to set fire to its predecessor and re-imagine the franchise’s flimsy premise into a different beast altogether. Whatever pretense JURASSIC PARK has left here is shed here as it embraces its lizard brain to become an unapologetic monster movie.

 

It announces its intentions to raze its predecessors to the ground early on, with the revelation that Isla Nublar has been home to what was thought to a dormant volcano that’s suddenly reactivated. A worldwide controversy arises surrounding the fate of its dinosaur inhabitants: should world governments intervene and protect the species, or leave them to go extinct all over again? Former Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has spearheaded a conservationist group that lobbies for legislation on the creatures’ behalf, only to have her efforts fall on deaf ears at Capitol Hill. However, she’s soon summoned to the estate of Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s estranged partner. Nearing death, he looks to fulfill both his and Hammond’s wish to see the dinosaurs moved to a sanctuary on a deserted island, and tasks Claire with supervising an expedition to rescue several species from Isla Nublar. With a ragtag crew — which includes former co-worker/lover/raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) — she returns to her old stomping grounds in a race against the clock to evacuate the island before its volcano erupts.

 

This stretch of the film is more or less the expected, natural follow-up to JURASSIC WORLD: a rousing, big-budget adventure film stuffed with spectacle and effects work, nearly all of it quite thrilling. Bayona is nothing if not a hell of a shooter, and FALLEN KINGDOM is a worthy successor to this franchise’s blockbuster ambitions, at least during this sequence, which finds the characters in increasingly perilous situations. If the dinosaurs don’t make mincemeat out of them, then the volcano rumbling in the distance, threatening to spew lava almost certainly will spell their doom. Predictably, the script has its cake and eats it too by having this portion of the film climax with a veritable nature-run-amok hell-scape swarming with dinosaurs and exploding volcano debris. Unruly creatures, smoke, fire, and even those pods from the previous film conspire for a pulse-pounding, anxiety-inducing sequence that feels big enough to be the climax in just about any other blockbuster. In fact, this was largely the movie the early marketing was selling with FALLEN KINGDOM: an action-packed eco-disaster thriller built on huge, stirring moments of bombast and spectacle.

 

What the marketing (rightfully) has hidden is that this island sequence also hinges on a betrayal that upends the movie — if not this entire franchise.  From the moment the team escapes the island, FALLEN KINGDOM mostly diminishes in scope and scale, at one point even focusing on the minutiae of saving a wounded dinosaur’s life via a blood transfusion as it’s transported to it — and the film’s — final destination: the Lockwood manor, where an entire conspiracy is unfolding to sell these monsters on the black market.  The threat of weaponizing these creations has been part of the franchise’s DNA since the beginning, when Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) conspired to steal embryos and sell them off to a rival corporation; FALLEN KINGDOM simply takes the implications — which only grew in volume in the previous film — and runs with them, leaving audiences with this bizarre little movie that unfolds inside this comically labyrinthine mansion.

 

Now less an adventure movie and more a haunted house thriller featuring a dinosaur (specifically the Indoraptor, a newly created raptor/T-rex/nightmare fuel hybrid) instead of a ghost, FALLEN KINGDOM moves this franchise into legitimately unchartered territory. At no point in my life could I ever imagine a JURASSIC PARK movie that could be described in such a fashion, and Bayona embraces it by digging back into the bag of horror movie tricks that served him so well in THE ORPHANAGE. Over a decade since that film’s release, we finally get another glimpse of that filmmaker, who tackles the prospect with reckless, gleeful abandon. By this point, FALLEN KINGDOM is unmistakably a monster movie that’s traded in any sense of grandeur and whimsy for a more claustrophobic, intense experience — it’s not rollicking so much as it’s unrelentingly vicious.

 

It makes for arguably the most satisfying stretch of any JURASSIC sequel, if only because it’s relatively audacious to grind one of the 20th century’s most beloved, crowd-pleasing blockbusters into such ridiculous schlock. Characters might as well come tagged with two categories: those who wouldn’t really be missed if they were eaten and those who we really, truly want to see eaten. Included in the former would be our leftovers from the previous film, plus their new, quip-happy associates (Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda); not that these types were ever virtues of character development (you might recall that Claire’s defining characteristic in JURASSIC WORLD was “workaholic who doesn’t want kids”), but they’re stretched even more thinly here, practically to the point where they exist only to be terrorized.

 

 

More interesting is the latter category, as FALLEN KINGDOM is stuffed full of goons and weasels, all of them realized by playful, outlandish turns by the likes of Ted Levine, Rafe Spall, and Toby Jones. Each represents some wing of the military-industrial complex, all of them united in their unrepentant, sleazy goals to profit from the rescued dinosaurs. Jones is especially sort of incredible, in that I really have no idea what his character’s specialty is, beyond flaunting a ridiculous hairstyle, sporting a strange vocal inflection, and serving as an auctioneer. This entire turn of events almost reminds me of the latter days of the Italian horror scene, where titles were attached to whatever nonsense producers drummed up as an excuse to exploit a known quantity.  Maybe that makes FALLEN KINGDOM the ZOMBIE 3 of this franchise. I’ll allow it, especially since Bayona does make a decent spectacle out of the dinosaurs eating these rich assholes, something I think we can all find cathartic at this point.

 

Not content to simply reduce this formula to such inelegant schlock, Bayona adds a glossy layer of gothic flourishes, completing this franchise’s transformation into a no-frills monster movie. Shadows and moonlight drape the Lockwood mansion, at one point allowing Bayona to pay homage to the famous silhouette shot from NOSFERATU, one of several striking images littered throughout the climax. Like any old dark house, the Lockwood house even hoards familial secrets, represented here by the old man’s granddaughter (Isabella Sermon), who spends most of the movie skulking through secret passageways, attempting to thwart the black market’s plans. If all of this sounds completely ludicrous, just know that at one point, the Indoraptor mounts the roof of the home and roars against a full moon.  We’re conditioned to expect howls with such an image, but rest assured, they still arrive—I don’t know how anyone could watch this without managing at least a good chuckle at the lunacy.

 

Of course, I could see one’s reservations depending on their attachment to this franchise.  Seeing as how none of the sequels have even approached the stature of Spielberg’s original, I’m fine with FALLEN KINGDOM’s decision to go in a different direction altogether.  This is a film that recognizes its franchise’s desperate need to rattle the mold that its predecessor was too precious about resetting.  If JURASSIC WORLD is a wistful trip down memory lane, then FALLEN KINGDOM is a nightmarish counterpart that’s unafraid to embrace the franchise’s pulp trappings.  Even John Williams’s signature motif is mostly subdued here, swallowed up by the grim mean streak often on display.

 

From the moment its prologue features a group of scavengers being menaced by the surviving species at the eerily dilapidated theme park, this film revels in its raison d’être.  Remember the scene in JURASSIC WORLD where the boys’ caretaker was snatched up by pterosaurs before falling into the maw of a Mosasaurus? FALLEN KINGDOM more or less aspires to that level of nastiness on a consistent basis. Where Trevorrow was hesitant to completely indulge such whims, Bayona has little compunction about diving headlong into them: nostalgia gazing is a secondary concern here, as even Jeff Goldblum’s cameo return as Ian Malcom (you’ve seen the entire bit in the trailer) feels more like gratuitous exploitation rather than a cozy glimmer of former glory.

 

Two other heavy-handed moments especially capture FALLEN KINGDOM’s appetite for destruction. The first comes early on, as the characters manage to just flee Isla Nublar and look back in horror to see a Brachiosaurus stranded on the shore, surrounded by smoke and fire. Here’s the creature that once coaxed wide-eyed, slack-jawed awe from both characters and audiences alike in the original film, now left to be engulfed by flames in an agonizing scene. The later moment is more fleeting but no more subtle: at one point during a struggle, John Hammond’s iconic cane topples over, its amber left shattered on the floor to provide a succinct visual metaphor for FALLEN KINGDOM, a film that isn’t here to lionize the past but rather chart a bold new future for the franchise.

 

It’s a future that admittedly looks to return to the stuff of disaster movies, albeit on a scale heretofore unseen in this franchise. Both a final montage and a post-credits scene inspire natural speculation for what comes next — after all, franchises like JURASSIC PARK have become perpetual motion machines in recent years especially, always inviting audiences to peek ahead. For the first time, I’m left with a JURASSIC sequel that actually leaves me excited to do so; however, I’m even more excited that this franchise now has a strange little entry in FALLEN KINGDOM. I’ll grant that it’s a far cry from the original film, so much so that they may as well not even hail from the same franchise — but maybe this is the sort of shake-up JURASSIC PARK has truly needed all this time.

 

 

 

Brett Gallman

Video store brat still easily suckered in by box art featuring severed heads. Writes about movies at @efilmcritic & @horror_reviews. @OFCS member.

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