“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?”
By the time you get to the fourth sequel of a film the results are usually not very good. Even a groundbreaking film like Jurassic Park has been followed by at least one terrible sequel. The problem with these kinds of things is pretty easy to figure out. You can’t please all of any film’s diehard fans, and it’s hard to continue to deliver on the formula’s expectations, all the while breaking new ground without the result feeling more contrived than original. That’s certainly all been true of this franchise. When Jurassic World set all kinds of box office records three years ago, it appeared that those entrusted with this franchise had found a way to turn it around. Now the expectations have jumped even higher. There appears no place to go but down, and for the first hour of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that’s exactly what appeared was going to happen. But then somewhere around the third act, the film took a turn that suddenly sent the franchise into an entirely new genre. The last third of Fallen Kingdom accomplishes something that should have always been where this whole ride headed. Fallen Kingdom is a rehash of the previous films in many ways. There are the iconic poses and the regurgitated scenes. But before the credits start to roll on this one, it becomes something terribly wonderful. It is genuinely scary. Now certainly the previous films had some scary moments. There was some of it in the first film’s kitchen chase. But for all of its scares, it was really just more dinosaurs chasing people. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m really cool with that, but been there, seen that. You see, Fallen Kingdom takes that fright to an entirely new level. Science fiction and horror haven’t combined this well since Alien.
The film begins with news reports that the Jurassic World island has pretty much been abandoned since the events of the last film. But now a volcano has become active, and it’s started a huge debate from the classroom to the halls of Congress. Should something be done to save the animals, or should we just let nature take its course to extinction… once again. A cameo by Jeff Goldblum reprising his Malcolm character takes the position that we should indeed let the dinosaurs perish. But there are groups dedicated to raising awareness and the funding to save them. Count Claire (Howard) in that group. The fate of the dinosaurs appears sealed when she gets a call to visit Benjamin Lockwood (Cromwell), who was Hammond’s partner back in the beginning. He wants to send a force to rescue the dinosaurs and bring them to a sanctuary island that appears perfect. It’s isolated and has enough natural boundaries to keep them safe and away from human interaction. So Claire puts together a team of veterinarian Zia (Pineda) and computer tech Franklin (Smith), and they convince Owen (Pratt) to join them by pulling at his heart strings to save Blue. They reach the island and meet Ken Wheatley (Levine), who is in charge of the operation. But he and Lockwood’s assistant Eli (Spall) have other more mercenary plans for the dinosaurs. The result is that instead of ending up in the sanctuary, they end up in California at the Lockwood estate for a power auction. But that’s not all that’s at the estate.
BD Wong returns as Dr. Wu, and they have created a new creature that combines the DNA of a raptor with that of the Indominous Rex. This is the ultimate weaponized animal that combines the intelligence and trainability of the raptors with a larger more deadly and vicious creature. The discovery is made by young Maisie Lockwood (Sermon), who under the care of Iris (Chaplin) lives at her grandfather’s estate. She’s also the subject of something I won’t reveal here. It’s given almost as a throwaway plot line here, but I suspect it heralds the direction of the third film in this planned Jurassic World trilogy.
The beginning of the film plays out too much like The Lost World: Jurassic Park played out. It deals with the capture of dinosaurs and the expected betrayals. Plenty of folks running from and trying to capture dinosaurs. The exception to the reused plot and visuals is the stunning destruction of the island volcano. Believe it or not, the dinosaurs really play second to the f/x of the decaying island. The segment is short and so not quite the focus of the film as the trailers and early buzz have you believe. It’s really just an elaborate setup, and one that gives way to a much more original and compelling drama.
Suspense is allowed the build as the animals are being transported and our heroes attempt to get the upper hand. The auction turns out about as well as you’d expect, and a King Kong-styled escape of the new terrifying creature fills the remaining moments of the film. Unlike the T-Rex romp in the second film that always felt tacked on, this is a more intimate encounter that is far more satisfying than the worn monster on the loose in a big city that has become a bit overdone. This is more of a stalk than a romp, and we get a lot closer to the action, because it doesn’t expand. Here I was reminded of some of the old Ray Harryhausen films, and I could swear there were attempts to create moments where the creature would take on some of the characteristics of a stop-motion creature. The moments were short and in no way take away from the incredible modern f/x this creature demonstrates. But those flashes brought a wave of emotional nostalgia for me that made it all the more compelling. For the first time in a long time a film held me to the edge of my seat, and I was completely drawn into the moment. The final moments of Fallen Kingdom rival anything I experienced in any of the previous four films which I had just gotten to watch recently in 4K. This film might have had a shaky start, but it finishes strong, leaving the audience with some nice refreshing chills. “There’s no going back now”.