The critical reaction to Jurassic World:Fallen Kingdom is mixed as mixed can be. Sitting at exactly 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie teeters precisely at the threshold of being perfectly indecisive. The film seems to have satisfied fans and moviegoers slightly better (as the big blockbusters usually do), given its A- Cinemascore and user ratings in the mid 60s on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb; but none of these scores are the kinds of numbers Universal would like to see on a movie whose predecessor made over $1.6 billion at the global box office in 2015.
So what, exactly, happened? Has society’s infatuation with Chris Pratt and dinosaurs finally run its course? Are superhero spandex and mediocre one-liners the only way to secure widespread approval in a new world of luxury loungers? Is the Jurassic Park franchise forever sequel-proof due to the definitive destruction of the park in each first movie in their respective trilogies? The answer to all of these questions is a hearty, “No!”… Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom simply didn’t live up to some viewer’s expectations. It tried something different than the whole “we need to return to the island and spend at least 90% of the movie there” shtick that didn’t work in 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park and 2001’s Jurassic Park III. What we ended up with was a movie that felt more like the original Resident Evil video game than any of the previous entries in the storied Jurassic Park franchise. Apparently, this didn’t work for everybody, but at least they tried something different!
Granted, unless you were paying close attention to the development of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, you likely had no idea that they were even planning on trying something different. The movie’s poster looks like a perfect companion to Jurassic World, complete with open fields, running dinos, and those big glass sphere thingies. The early promotional images had Pratt interacting with baby Blue, and the trailers focused heavily on Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard locked in slick action sequences on the famous Isla Nublar. But the problem is, those scenes account for maybe twenty minutes of the film’s two hour run time. The rest is a dark and genre-defying tale set in a massive isolated mansion on the California coast. Futuristic compounds and brightly-lit theme park locales are replaced with ornate woods and dusty old corridors. Instead of a massive story and generous camera shots which swept the span of the entire park in 2015, Fallen Kingdom focuses on family drama and dwells in the claustrophobia of its tight hallways. In many ways it’s the exact opposite of what took place in Jurassic World. And that starts to make sense when you consider the fact that J.A. Bayona- the adept director of 2007’s masterful Spanish horror film, The Orphanage, and A Monster Calls- was hired to direct this film in the first place, and that Bayona and writer/producer Colin Trevorrow have been hinting for months that Fallen Kingdom was going to have heavy horror influences and be more of a “haunted house” movie.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is essentially a creepy breather in between a massive initial entry and what promises to be a colossal climax. It absolutely breaks the rules of conventional wisdom, which suggest that blockbusters need to get bigger and better with each new iteration… but that philosophy hasn’t worked for the Jurassic Park franchise since its inception. The Lost World: Jurassic Park had its moments because it was still operating under Michael Crichton’s canon and it still had Steven Spielberg at the helm, but Jurassic Park III quickly devolved into parody as it collapsed under the weight of its own flimsy excess. How many times to we need to see bearded musclemen return to the untamed island of a failed dinosaur park before we realize that such a story is untellable? The crown jewel of the Jurassic Park franchise has always been the fall of the park… once you get beyond that moment it’s difficult to keep the momentum of the story going. That’s why I think it was brilliant that Owen and Claire only return to the island long enough to get the beasties off of it and onto another locale. The terminal volcano was another clever stroke, as it made it so no one could ever go back as the series progresses. This keeps the magic of the 2015 film unique and distinct, and it provides a creative challenge to the filmmakers to venture into new territory.
While the locale of a sprawling mansion is the exact opposite of what you might think of when you consider the Jurassic Park brand, there’s something ironically satisfying about dinosaurs roaming the home of a crotchety rich man considering the fact that the rest of the series is about the artificial world created overseas by a crotchety rich man. James Cromwell’s Benjamin Lockwood in his old age is in many ways the opposite of John Hammond at the opening of the park in 1993. His ego and his belief that his excessive wealth and privilege means he can do anything- despite the ethical and moral dilemmas they produce- has long since faded in favor of more immediate needs like family and personal legacy. The dinosaurs literally come back to his home to wreak havoc as he is metaphorically haunted by the consequences of his earlier decisions. Did the filmmakers have to tweak some of the characters and play with the timeline a little to get to this kind of place with their storytelling? Sure! But the result is a movie that defies expectations in a refreshing and entertaining way. The mansion is absolutely gorgeous, and every ornate nook and cranny adds to a rich tapestry of gloomy visual delight which could never before be offered in the series.
Make no mistake, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom offers the same kind of dino-damage that fans expect from the franchise, but it’s tailored to meet the requirements of the unique location. This means Owen and Claire are often stuffed into much tighter quarters with the dinosaurs than ever before. Sometimes it’s played for thrills (like when the newest genetic monstrosity stalks them through the mansion’s museum), and other times it’s played for laughs (like when a particularly hard-headed lizard butts its way through the chambers of the laboratory). What made these moments truly engaging, though, is the fact that they haven’t been attempted by the franchise before. In an industry where summer movies are so dependent upon a paint-by-numbers storytelling approach, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom managed to be engaging from the moment it boldly left the constraints of Isla Nublar.
The ending of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom essentially promises a conclusion to the new trilogy that will dwarf the mega-sized 2015 film, and fans of that kind of larger-than-life storytelling will surely be excited by such a prospect. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that, in an industry where movies live or die by metrics and opening weekend statistics, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom took a breather and tried something different. While such a significant change in tone and pacing may not be everybody’s cup of tea, it’s important that the movie studios take chances and take their stories in new directions so we don’t run the increasing risk that every movie at the megaplex regurgitate the same exact story while utilizing the same exact crowd-pleasing gags and stunts. So, thank you, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, for trying something different and being the first- and likely, only- entry in the “dinosaurs in a creepy old mansion” movie genre! While you may be at odds with the marketing department’s bright and tropical vision for advertising, your risky endeavor made for a refreshing and unique visit to the cinema during what is usually the most boringly bloated and mindnumbingly unremarkable time of the year!