The big bad dinosaur villain in 2015’s Jurassic World was Indominus Rex: a genetically-engineered hybrid dinosaur. Continuing in the same vein, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is back with another manmade creature – Indoraptor. Fallen Kingdom is as much a hybrid as Indoraptor. Its DNA is drawn from environmental disaster movies, the original Jurassic Park films, military conspiracy thrillers and even gothic horror. But unlike the franchise’s hybrid dinosaurs, Fallen Kingdom is not as effective. The movie is an incoherent jumble, rather than a sleek, ruthless Jurassic machine.
Fallen Kingdom picks up the story a few years after Jurassic World, opening on the brink of an eco-catastrophe for the dinosaurs remaining on the site of the abandoned Jurassic World theme park. A volcano is about to erupt, obliterating life on the island, and public debate over what human intervention should be taken is in full flow. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard), the park’s former CEO advocates saving the dinosaurs, but others argue they should be left to their fate. Just as it seems the dinosaurs are doomed, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) approaches Claire with a plan to deliver the dinosaurs to an island sanctuary. She needs to convince her ex Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to help her to capture the velociraptor with whom he has a special bond. Joining them on their mission are Zia (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin (Justice Smith). Chaos and betrayal unsurprisingly ensue.
Fallen Kingdom is at its most intriguing when director Juan Antonio García Bayona, best known for the Spanish horror The Orphanage (2007), introduces elements of gothic horror in the film’s second half: dinosaurs track humans through the corridors of a dark and spooky mansion in the woods, roar in front of the moon like werewolves, and creep softly into a child’s bedroom. One of the most effective sequences has our protagonists moving cautiously through darkened dinosaur dioramas while the Indoraptor stalks them from behind panes of glass. These moments gesture at what Fallen Kingdom might have been if the filmmakers had the courage to break free of the blockbuster mould. Instead, such sequences are frequently resolved with repetitive dinosaur-on-dinosaur action. The gothic elements are also at odds with the disaster-movie themes of the film’s first half, resulting in incoherence.
There is also little sense that Fallen Kingdom’s protagonists are genuinely at risk. Despite volcanos, explosions, guns and dinosaurs running amok, tension levels are low, especially since it is totally inconceivable that any of the good guys would be killed off. Nor do they seem to suffer any lasting consequences from their injuries. When Claire gets stabbed in the leg by Indoraptor’s claw, she nobly insists that Owen should go on without her to save a child. But a few minutes later, she is back on her feet, gun in hand, saving the day. Not even a limp or occasional grimace serve as a reminder of her injury. Similarly, no fewer than three characters lose their glasses. Yet none of them are remotely bothered. We do not even see them squinting and rubbing their eyes. Glasses, it seems, are purely a signifier of nerdiness, not actual aids to vision.
Gender and relationship dynamics fail to live up to the standard set by the original Jurassic Park. Owen is the same boorish creep that he was in the previous film. He spends his first scene with Claire jeering at her, speculating intrusively about her current love-life. Yet such sniping and total incompatibility is portrayed as an indication of sexual tension. Despite Owen and Claire apparently only being able to get along during crisis situations, their romantic reunion is inevitable. How different from the mutually respectful partnership of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) in Jurassic Park, which is shown in Jurassic Park III to have shifted to a still strong friendship – no jibes involved.
It is disappointing that the Jurassic World films have fallen back on promoting a standard macho, wise-cracking, muscular model of masculinity, especially given the less stereotypical male leads of the original franchise. Not only does Fallen Kingdom elevate these macho traits as aspirational, it actively denigrates technician Franklin for failing to fit such a model. He is the butt of the film’s humour for being everything that Owen is not. Fearful, glasses-wearing, risk-averse, Franklin is closer to fitting the Jurassic Park hero Ian Malcolm mould in many ways, and yet he is mocked for it.
In a conversation with palaeo-zoologist Darren Naish, a Twitter user accurately remarked that the first Jurassic Park ‘was a movie about animals (however inaccurate,) the rest of them are monster movies’. This holds true for Fallen Kingdom, and it is the worse for it. The film is so big and overblown that it fails to feel real or convince the viewer that the stakes are worth caring about. It gestures towards environmental questions and concerns about genetic engineering, but it is not really invested in the answers. Lacking the sense of wonder that even the first Jurassic World had, let alone the original Jurassic Park, Fallen Kingdom has entertaining elements but is ultimately a monster disappointment.