Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's Story Is Weaker
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom gets some things right, chiefly anything where it's pure action and thus overwhelmingly reliant on J.A. Bayona's skills as a director. From the opening Moasasurus/T-Rex double-tap to the Indoraptor showdown, he constructs elaborate, roaming set pieces that take great advantage of varied locations and carefully build up the tension. There's a unique style that hasn't been felt in the franchise since Steven Spielberg in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (while there's certainly plenty of backlighting, this feels different). Bayona also delivers the franchise's most genuinely affecting moment, understanding the emotional attachment audiences have to not just dinosaurs, but the specific creatures of the Jurassic series.
It's just a shame that all of this is framed by a really weak story. Jurassic World may have been a retread, but there was a clear goal and purpose to all its plot threads. The story of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a muddle. It's really two plots in one - a gung-ho action-adventure rescue of the dinosaurs from a volcano that unexpectedly transitions into a high-adrenaline gothic horror - and while both of those ideas has merit and concepts to explore, they don't exactly gel together; little of the first act on Isla Nublar has any direct impact on what comes later at the Lockwood estate, and bringing together two gimmicky ideas means the tonal dissonance is high.
Warning: Spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in the next paragraph.
That lack of real direction is compounded by Fallen Kingdom's ending, which tries to rely on everything prior, yet ultimately plays out at random. The characters are given a moral conundrum of whether to save the dinosaurs - inaction leads to their extinction - that is clumsily established and relies on arbitrary decisions. Credit where its due, there is an attempt to give every member of the sprawling ensemble cast a clear throughline arc, but we ultimately learn so little about them that whether they will free the creatures or not is up to not human decision but the requirements of the screenplay: Owen, Claire, Franklin or Zia could have all pushed the literal button and it would have fit what we knew of them. That it's Maisie, the human clone, makes the most sense, sure, although that only draws attention to how underserved her world-changing existence is. Ultimately, though, the final turn of the dinosaurs being released is less about resolving the story, and more trying to set up Jurassic World 3, itself confusing as the film seems to miss that only a dozen or so prehistoric animals were actually released in a very specific part of the world.
It feels very much like there was an idea for a Jurassic World trilogy that started with an active park and ended with the dinosaurs on the loose but no coherent bridge. Fallen Kingdom is simultaneously an franchise-changing movie and filler. And it shows, especially when looking at what it's trying to say.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Doesn't Know What It's About
Both Jurassic World films have their strengths and weaknesses. What makes the first stand above Fallen Kingdom is less plot and more themes. As already established, the original had a clear idea but was just incapable of fully conveying it. In contrast, Jurassic World 2 doesn't seem to even know what it wants to say.
The sequel is mostly concerned with the ethical question of what happens after dinosaurs exist, but can't quite make its mind up on the basics of this. Is John Hammond a capitalist monster or egalitarian conservationist? Was genetically-engineering dinosaurs (which are not actually dinosaurs, rather replicas made using frog DNA, something Fallen Kingdom completely ignores) a major step forward for science or a blasphemous insult to Mother Nature? The movie suggests both interchangeably with so little consistency that it can't make any big conclusion. Instead, there's a lot of weight put on the broader themes of man vs. nature - literally spelled out by Jeff Goldblum's cameo - but thanks to the plot and character arcs having so little direction it can't explore these with any sense of depth.
When you lack any overriding goal with a movie - which also gets in some jabs at Trump to no real end - the whole thing has a limit on what it can do. It's a similar case of reach exceeding grasp as with Jurassic World, except Fallen Kingdom doesn't seem to understand what it's reaching for.
Which Jurassic World film is better does in part come down to personal critical theory. Is an ideologically-confused-but-serviceable film better or worse than an aimless-if-driven one? You can't say there wasn't greater filmmaking brio put into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it just wasn't enough to save the weak script.
- Jurassic World 3 (2021) release date: Jun 11, 2021