Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Movie Review – A tonally uneven thrill ride.

The original Jurassic Park film is special to me because it was the first thing I remember truly igniting my imagination, when I was a child. It literally made me obsessed with dinosaurs for such a long time, and whilst I obviously no longer play with dinosaur toys, my fascination with them still remains. For that reason I can’t help but get a little excited when a new film in the Jurassic franchise comes along. I enjoyed Jurassic World a lot more than most people and I had optimistic expectations for this sequel.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom once again follows Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) as they come together to mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs on the island, because the island’s dormant volcano is now starting to erupt which will result in yet another extinction of the dinosaurs.

This film opens in superb fashion with a sequence that is suspense driven and filled with an impending sense of dread. This is the best opening sequence in the franchise, It’s so meticulously constructed that every aspect of the scene works to maximum effect. It’s a rather terrifying sequence that features elements of horror, which set the tone in a manner that raised my anticipation even higher for what the rest of the film could be. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t maintain this dark and suspenseful tone throughout. This is essentially the most disappointing thing about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it’s tonally uneven. After the fantastic opening, the film quickly switches to a more lighthearted and comedic tone, similar to what was present in the first Jurassic World film. This lasts up until somewhere around the half way point, and it’s only then where the film begins to find it’s stride again in terms of the tone, that then lasts from the half way point until the climax. It’s a big shame because the opening gets you so onboard with the idea of a dinosaur horror film. If it was able to stick to that tone throughout then I think this film would end up being something truly special.

This sequel is absolutely at it’s best whenever J.A. Bayona is flexing his horror tendencies. There’s some really intense sequences that fantastically utilise darkness and minimal lighting to amplify the suspense. His fingerprints are all over these sequences and they made me realise how much of an inspired choice he was for directing this film. I just can’t help but feel like he was held back a little, and forced to conform and match some of the elements from the $1.6 billion grossing previous instalment, which would be somewhat understandable on Universal’s part if that were the case. Obviously they want to maintain their large success following on from the last film, but I just think that tonal imbalance hurts the film. Bayona teamed up with his frequent cinematographer Oscar Faura and at times they managed to create some striking imagery, that certainly stuck with me after I walked out the cinema. There’s beautiful imagery such as a dinosaur roaring upon a rooftop, with the moon shining bright in the background as if it were a shot from a Werewolf film. There’s other moment’s where the silhouette of dinosaurs are revealed masterfully, using quick flashes of light amongst the darkness. Those are some examples of the terrific blends of cinematography and direction that are present during this film.

In terms of the narrative I was left a little underwhelmed. The skeleton of a great story is there, but the focus of the story isn’t always in the right place. My optimism lead me to believe this story had the potential to do some really interesting and different things that the previous films haven’t. Now this film sort of does, but also kind of doesn’t. In the most basic form, the ideas are there but the narrative doesn’t expand upon them like I hoped it would. It was lacking the substance to propel these themes and ideas to a deeper level. Towards the start of the story some interesting things are introduced that can be related to the real world, such as animal rights activists who want to protect the dinosaurs. Instead of fleshing out that perspective even more in grander sense, that plot thread just gets lost once the film really gets going which is a little frustrating. There is a twist in involving a particular character, that is somewhat interesting in it’s concept and because of what the ramifications could be. So I hope that revelation is explored in the next film so that it’s inclusion in this film is worthwhile.

I really enjoyed Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s chemistry in the first Jurassic World film, and I can say the same thing about their chemistry in this instalment. They are fun to watch as they interact with one another, and both actors handle their more intense sequences admirably. As for the rest of the cast, well I wasn’t that impressed. A large majority of them felt rather hammy, I think this due to a mixture of the dialogue they are given as well as the actors performances. Rafe Spall portrays Eli Mills who is the person responsible for hiring Owen and Claire to rescue the dinosaurs. His character motivations are touched upon at face value, but they aren’t expanded upon in any way that’ll result in him being a compelling character. With last years indie horror The Ritual, Rafe Spall showcased his talents for dramatic emotionally charged acting. I don’t think he was poorly cast for this role, I just think the role itself was underwritten for an actor such as him, which results in the performance and the character feeling very bland and one dimensional. Also the comedy didn’t resonate with me the majority of the time, it often felt forced. Justice Smith’s character Franklin felt like nothing but a vessel for comic relief, with him often making cartoonish expressions and loud squeals.

Now I’m by no means trying to imply the film is without a myriad of enjoyment moments because there are plenty. What I would say is before you watch the film you should revise your expectations, so that you don’t go in wanting more of that philosophical substance and depth within the narrative, because it’s just not there. The dinosaurs are a blast to watch on screen and there is wide variety of them that we get to see this time round. The standouts for me were the T-Rex because of how she was used in the films opening and my other standout is the latest genetically modified dinosaur, The Indoraptor. This new dinosaur is rather horrifying to look at and when it’s finally given it’s time to shine during the later half of the film, it really leaves a great impression. Bayona uses the creature to throw the film back into the suspense heavy nature in which the film started in. This results in the final thirty minutes being really thrilling.

For the most part I’d say the visual effects were great, particularly in the sequence with the volcano erupting. Most of the dinosaurs looked great throughout the film and of course the moments where animatronics were used, helped heighten the believability of the dinosaurs. There were a few shots that didn’t look as visually polished as others, but those few anomalies didn’t hurt the viewing experience that much. I also want to quickly highlight that if you are a fan of the franchise then there are a number of visual references and Easter eggs, that in someways pay homage to moments from the other films. With that being said I do think the film relies on these callbacks a little too much in some of the films key moments.

Lastly I want to briefly speak about the musical score. It left me with much to be desired. The iconic Jurassic Park theme is rarely present, and aside from some of the newer themes composed in the last film that return, what’s there instead isn’t memorable.

To conclude, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a mixed bag for me, It’s at it’s best when J.A. Bayona is flourishing in his own directorial style, crafting sequences of suspense and horror that’ll likely terrify children. I was left wishing the whole film followed that trajectory but unfortunately an uneven tone, one note supporting characters and a lack of real narrative depth prevents this film from being as great as it could’ve been.

★★★

(3 Stars out of 5)

-T.Graham.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom –  Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda.

Directed by J.A. Bayona.

Now showing in cinemas.

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