Welcome back to the Jurassic Park retrospective! In today’s post we’re going to talk about the most recent entry in the franchise to date, 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom! After Jurassic World brought the franchise back to life, could Fallen Kingdom successfully keep the momentum going? Read on to find out…
Shortly after the huge success of Jurassic World (would anyone have predicted at the time that it would become the 3rd highest-grossing film ever?), Universal pictures announced that a sequel would be forthcoming on June 22, 2018. Colin Trevorrow originally considered coming back to direct the sequel, but Jurassic World made him an in-demand director and he was scooped up to direct Star Wars: Episode IX instead. As a result, he decided to take a step away from the franchise and move into a producer role alongside Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall.
Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly developed and wrote the script for the film, which would bring back Chris Pratt’s Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire from the previous film. It was initially rumoured that Omar Sy, Ty Simpkins and Jake Johnson could be making a return as well, but this did not pan out. There were also rumours that characters from previous Jurassic Park films could return. Trevorrow and Connolly developed the story over an eight-day road trip. They were inspired by the idea of the unpredictability of humans and dinosaurs being forced into co-existing and wanted to further explore the boundaries of genetic engineering in this universe. Trevorrow has stated that he didn’t want to make Fallen Kingdom yet another movie about dinosaurs chasing people around an island and the dangers of messing with science, he wanted to do something different and explore the consequences of the mistakes which had already been made in previous Jurassic Park films, something which would broaden the scope of the franchise.
J. A. Bayona, who had been previously considered to direct Jurassic World, was the favourite to direct Fallen Kingdom, although he had agreed to direct the sequel to World War Z and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to make it work with his schedule. However, Bayona eventually dropped that project and joined onto Fallen Kingdom after reading the script.
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were already signed on at this point and the only other returning character would be B. D. Wong’s Henry Wu. The new cast were filled out by Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Ted Levine, James Cromwell and Toby Jones. Casting also went out for a nine-year-old girl, which went to Isabella Sermon as her film debut. Also worth noting was that Geraldine Chaplin, a Bayona regular, was cast in a role. Finally, it was announced that Jeff Goldblum had been secured for a role in the film, and although he was all over the marketing, it would ultimately be little more than an over-glorified cameo.
Filming began in late Febraury 2017. Befitting a film of this size, the production was massive and used several locations. Much of the film was shot in England, while most of the Isla Nublar footage was filmed in Hawaii, and there was even a scene shot in Las Vegas. Whereas Jurassic World overloaded on CGI, Bayona chose to use animatronic dinosaurs whenever possible. This also extended to the action sequences – the scene where the gyrosphere goes over the cliff and starts sinking was achieved through mostly practical effects, as Bryce Dallas Howard and Justice Smith were sent rolling down a track for the fall and then this was spiced together with sequences in a dive tank where the gyrosphere (and actors inside) were actually submerged. It’s a highlight of the film and the way it was shot no doubt contributed to the excitement.
As Universal dictated, Fallen Kingdom released June 22, 2018. Anyone who thought that Jurassic World‘s enormous success was a fluke were surely silenced as Fallen Kingdom grossed $417.7 million domestically and $890.7 million overseas for a total box office haul of $1.308 billion (just shy of it’s predecessor’s $1.67 billion total).
Sometime after Jurassic World, a team of mercenaries infiltrate Isla Nublar to retrieve skeletal remains of the Indominous rex. A submarine crew retrieve a portion of the rib and send it to the surface, but are soon killed by the Mosasaurus. The ground crew are then attacked by the T-rex, but manage to escape only for one of their men to be killed by the Mosasaur as well before it escapes into the ocean.
The film then cuts to the present, where we discover that the volcano on Isla Nublar has become active and will soon erupt and wipe out the dinosaurs on the island. The U.S. Senate debate what to do about the situation, but Ian Malcolm tells them that they should be allowed to die. The Senate agrees and decide that they will not intervene. Meanwhile, we discover that Claire Dearing has taken command of the Dinosaur Protection Group, which seeks to secure their salvation. She is contacted by Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s former partner who helped bring the dinosaurs to life. Lockwood tells Claire that he plans to relocate the dinosaurs to a new island, but he needs her help in order to reactivate the park’s systems and track them successfully. Knowing that Blue, the last velociraptor, will be impossible to track down in time, she seeks out Owen Grady to try to join her in the rescue. While hesitant, Owen agrees and the pair are flown out alongside fellow DPG employees Franklin (a computer whiz) and Zia (a paleoveteranarian). They meet the head of the rescue team, a mercenary named Ken Wheatley, who takes Claire and Franklin to get the park’s tracking back online. He then leads Owen and Zia out to capture Blue. Owen is quickly able to find her, but Wheatley’s men move in too quickly and she panics, which results in a soldier being killed and Blue being shot. Wheatley turns on Owen, tranquilizing him and forcing Zia to join him to save Blue’s life. Meanwhile, Claire and Franklin are locked inside the tracking station and left for dead as the volcano begins to erupt. They manage to escape after a close call with a Baryonyx and reunite with Owen. The trio escape in a gyrosphere with a stampede of dinosaurs as the island explodes around them, just barely making it by riding off a cliff and swimming to a secluded beach. They manage to find Wheatley’s men and discover that they are loading dinosaurs aboard their ship. The trio sneak aboard the ship as the last dinosaurs left on the island are wiped out by the eruption.
We discover that Lockwood’s aide, Eli Mills, has secretly arranged to have the dinosaurs brought to the mansion to be auctioned off to the criminal underworld. He also needs Blue because Dr. Henry Wu has been developing a new weaponized dinosaur, the Indoraptor and requires Blue’s DNA in order to create the finalized version of the creature. Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie, discovers this and tries to warn her grandfather. He doesn’t believe her at first, but when he presents Mills with the accusation, Mills murders him as the dinosaurs and guests begin to arrive. Seeing what is happening, Owen and Claire attempt to stop the auction, but are captured by Wheatley, while Franklin is separated from the pair.
The auction then begins and several dinosaurs are sold and transported away. Using some quick thinking, Owen tricks a stygimoloch into breaking them free and then sets it loose in the auction. During the chaos, Wheatley breaks in and accidentally sets the Indoraptor loose in the building. It kills several people before it begins hunting Owen, Claire and Maisie. They are nearly cornered, until Blue arrives and begins fighting the hybrid dinosaur. Blue ultimately prevails and the Indoraptor is impaled on a fossilized triceratops skull.
However, Claire and Owen reunite with Franklin and Zia and soon discover that a gas leak is killing the last remaining dinosaurs trapped in the basement of the mansion. Claire initially decides to let the animals die, but Maisie releases them anyway – Mills revealed that she was a clone of Lockwood’s deceased daughter, not his actual grandchild, so she believes that she has a kinship with the dinosaurs. In any case, the dinosaurs escape into the wilds of America and Mills is killed by the T-rex in the process. Our heroes escape and contend with the new reality of a Jurassic World where humans and dinosaurs are now forced to coexist.
If nothing else, I love that Fallen Kingdom tries to evolve the Jurassic Park formula. I’ve criticized the previous sequels for always devolving into “running and screaming” as dinosaurs chase the protagonists around for an hour. There’s certainly some of that in Fallen Kingdom, but it shakes-up the formula far more than any previous Jurassic Park film and tries to tackle the “bigger ideas” inherent in the premise of genetically-engineered dinosaurs. J. A. Bayona’s direction is also the best we’ve seen in the franchise since Steven Spielberg left the director’s chair. The film’s opening sequence and the sinking gyrosphere aren’t on par with the legendary T-rex escape or the trailers getting knocked over the cliff in the first two films, but they’re still very well executed, exciting and above-average blockbuster action set pieces. Yeah, Fallen Kingdom shakes up the Jurassic Park franchise in some much-needed ways… but to paraphrase a certain famous mathematician: “Your [studio executives] were so preoccupied with whether they could [make a Jurassic Park franchise], they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Jurassic Park needed to change if it was going to continue, but Fallen Kingdom is evidence that it should have just stayed dead.
The main issue with Fallen Kingdom is that its story is Resident Evil-levels of stupid. Within the first few minutes, we have idiocy like no one checking to see if the Mosasaur was still alive and then it escapes because its enclosure is connected to the freaking ocean! Having Wheatley betray Owen and Zia was also super contrived… like, why did they feel the need to try to murder them in the middle of the mission? Owen’s pissed off but as far as he’s concerned they are all on the same side still (not to mention that one of Wheatley’s men just got freaking mauled to death), having Wheatley try to kill Owen just seems like they wanted to make him an evil asshole. And for that matter, are you telling me that Zia doesn’t try to get Wheatley to bring Owen, Claire and Franklin along with them…? Oh right, then we wouldn’t have a bunch of action sequences instead, silly me! Speaking of which, why the hell are the dinosaurs still trying to eat things while the island is literally blowing up around them!? The stupid baryonyx is even lighting itself on fire trying to get to Claire and Franklin, just cut your losses dude! If there was a white chocolate Reese’s within reach and all I had to do was avoid falling lava to get it, I’d peace out, especially if I already got several drops of lava on me in the process!
Imagine this exchange between Trevorrow and Connelly:
“We need an action sequence on the boat, how can we get Claire and Owen in the T-rex cage?”
“Maybe they need a blood transfusion to save Blue?”
“But that doesn’t make sense, their blood isn’t the same…”
“Whatever, just make the vet say that they’re both carnivores with two or three fingers, therefore their blood will be compatible. No one will question it.”
Look, I get it, we need an excuse to get this exciting action sequence and I’m okay with it in theory. The thing is, we don’t need an actual explanation – just imply that you don’t know for sure if it will work, take the blood and leave the exact science up to our imaginations when it turns out it’s fine! Just say that the T-rex is safest to extract from because it’s heavily tranquilized and the several other three-fingered predators aboard the boat are not! Bloody hell! Oh and all this culminates with Blue freaking crying because the filmmakers really need us to like her and can’t figure out how to do that with any subtlety.
Then when we get to the mansion, the stupidity just keeps coming. First of all, Lockwood is apparently a complete idiot. Not only is he somehow unaware that there is live dinosaur research going on in his own home, but he confronts Eli Mills and then tells him to turn himself over to the police! Mills, predictably, goes “lol no” and then kills the old bastard. We then get introduced to the Indoraptor and… hoo boy, this thing doesn’t hold a candle to the Indominus Rex in terms of being an effective villain. For one thing, it takes the “weaponized dinosaurs” idea even further and just goes to show why this idea has always been so goddamn stupid. The Indoraptor is hardcoded to pick targets by pointing a gun with a laser sight at them and then pressing a button to issue a sonic code to attack… so in other words, instead of just shooting the gun you already have pointed at a target, you tell the nearby Indoraptor to attack them instead (and that’s the thing, the Indoraptor has to be close to you for the sonic command to work, so it’s not like you can hide a kilometer away from the target and the raptor either). It’s clearly limited in usefulness and the fact that the Indoraptor starts killing everyone as soon as it can makes this idea even more stupid. Oh, but does the Indoraptor escape through clever guile? No, it escapes through Prometheus-levels of contrived idiocy. Wheatley’s given only two character traits – he’s demanding a bonus from Mills because he’s greedy, and he collects teeth from every dinosaurs because he’s an asshole. So he waltzes into the auction after some of the dinosaurs get loose, tranquilizes the Indoraptor and then immediately walks into the cage to steal its teeth!?! Again, I get that the Indoraptor has to escape for the story to progress and that is totally fine… but holy fuck movie, this is how you unleash your big villain? It doesn’t make the Indoraptor look clever or dangerous, it makes Wheatley look like an utter moron. It is far and away the stupidest moment in any Jurassic Park film.
Oh, and the whole reason half the plot revolves around recapturing Blue is certifiably insane. First of all, the Indoraptor apparently needs a mother to pacify it and because it’s part raptor it can view Blue as that mother… but also they need Blue’s DNA because they need to add that to the Indoraptor because Blue was controllable and the Indoraptor isn’t, despite the fact that they share the same velociraptor DNA… bloody hell, it doesn’t make sense and it’s the sort of thing you can miss because the movie basically drops the whole plotline about halfway through.
Then of course the movie ends with the dinosaurs escaping. The movie directly ties this into the ethical questions that were brought up in the opening of the film, as Claire has to decide whether the dinosaurs should be allowed to die, despite beginning the film trying to save them. She decides that they should die, but then Maisie gives the entire world a middle finger and unleashes them into the wild. I’m actually fine that Maisie is a clone, it’s a sensible and inevitable development in a world where you can clone dinosaurs back to live. The idea is barely explored though and ultimately feels like it was only introduced as an excuse for someone to willingly choose to unleash the dinosaurs on humanity. Hilariously, within ten seconds of being freed the dinosaurs indiscriminately murder three people (sure, these people captured the dinosaurs in the first place, but the dinosaurs don’t know that, they’d have been just as happy to stomp on a newborn baby).
That’s the thing about Fallen Kingdom, it has some legitimately great ideas and the plot beats make sense in isolation, but whenever the film needs to make something happen, it chooses to do so in the stupidest possible way and assumes we won’t notice or care. This even extends to the ending – oh no, dinosaurs are loose in North America! But… think about it for a few seconds and it’s not as bad as it seems. Several species, especially the particularly dangerous ones, don’t have any breeding pairs so at the very worst this problem is going to sort itself out within a decade or two (and that’s making the very huge assumption that the militias or US military aren’t going to do something about a single T-rex going around killing people and livestock; hell, even without getting into anti-material rifles, the real world already has anti-T-rex rounds… I give it a week tops before the T-rex gets mounted above a rich redneck’s mantle).
Fallen Kingdom is also not helped by its characters, all of which suck. Owen is still the same as he ever was, although they have made him a bit funnier (“If I don’t make it back, remember you’re the one who made me come here” got a legitimate laugh out of me) and toned down his alpha male bullshit somewhat (although they still reintroduce him by having him build his own cabin in the wilderness because he’s a manly man). Claire has had all the sexist overtones of her character shaved away, but she has been turned into a personality-less character. She’s capable, but she rarely does anything and she (like the other characters) has no real arc or development to speak of. Like, sure, she decides to let the dinosaurs die at the end, but it doesn’t come across like she’s learned anything or changed her mind about the dinosaurs, it’s just that the circumstances are now different (rehousing the dinosaurs onto an isolated island is way different than unleashing them into the wilds of America where they will definitely fuck people up). At least Trevorrow and Connelly don’t force in an overt rekindled love subplot, but some sort of arc for the characters would have been nice.
As for the new characters, both Franklin and Zia are insufferable. Franklin’s the obligatory computer guy, but he serves his purpose within the first half hour and then spends the rest of the movie screaming and getting shuffled around uselessly. Zia’s a different sort of annoying. They never confirm it in the film, but she’s clearly a stereotypically coded lesbian, which means the movie has to make her tough and stand-offish… but honestly, it just makes her come across as an asshole. She just feels like corporate, performative, “woke” box-ticking, especially because a deleted scene confirmed that she was indeed a lesbian. Somehow they fuck this up twice-over tough, because deleting it is cowtowing to conservative international film markets and because the scene itself is fucking stupid (nothing says “woke” like having your lesbian character mention out of nowhere that she thinks Chris Pratt is fuckable, holy shit). For further evidence of this, I’m convinced that Trevorrow and Connelly were aware of the backlash Jurassic World had about its sexism, so they made sure to pass the Bechdel test by having Zia and Claire talk to a female senator about the dinosaurs in their introductory scene. Can’t criticize us now, liberals! This is, of course, why the Bechdel test is more of a guideline about sexism in film rather than a rule, because any “wokeness” in Fallen Kingdom is performative at best.
Mills makes for a suitably slimy corporate villain. He’s nothing special, but Rafe Spall makes him eminently hateable, especially when he goes into his bullshit moral equivalency speeches (which, I’m sure, were not meant to come across as bullshit but here we are). As for Maisie… she’s fine, I guess. Again, she doesn’t get any real development and mostly just sneaks around the mansion. The fact that she’s a clone also doesn’t really seem to matter. Like… she’s a little girl either way, she’s grown up like any other child, what difference does it make? I do like the theory that the Indoraptor has human DNA and that it wants Maisie to be its mother. It’s a pretty interesting idea and there’s enough evidence in the film that I’d be willing to bet it was cut very late in post-production.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was a depressing experience for me. I hated it when I first saw it in theatres and rewatching it for this retrospective was just tiring. It’s made all the worse by the fact that the direction is the best since Spielberg left and that film tries to take risks and shake-up the formula, things I usually love in long-running franchises like this. Unfortunately, the writing completely tanks it, taking a film with interesting ideas and dumbing them down for the lowest possible common denominator. The longer this series goes on, the more it seems like Jurassic Park should have been a stand-alone story. At this point they’re having to contort the franchise into unrecognizable shapes in order to keep it alive when what should be done is put it out of its misery.
So where does the franchise go from here? Well, the next movie is slated for 2022 with the title Jurassic World: Dominion. After nuking his Hollywood goodwill on The Book of Henry and losing the Star Wars franchise as a result, Colin Trevorrow is back as director. It sounds like a bunch of actors from the franchise’s history are making returns, but I just can’t muster any excitement for this franchise. It’s the sort of thing I’ll probably continue to watch out of obligation but… like… we already know it’s not going to be good. Oh and Trevorrow and Universal sure suck at keeping their film crews from getting COVID-19, eh?