If pride truly comes before the fall, greed can’t be too far behind. For the sequel to 2015’s well-received Jurassic World, mankind still hasn’t learned to leave the dinosaurs alone. And this time, the issue becomes politicized and weaponized in Fallen Kingdom.
Our stalwart heroes, cavalier raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and former Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) venture back to the abandoned island to save the remaining dinosaurs from a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The government has declined to intervene, arguing that this “act of God” will correct our wrongs in creating the park. However, Owen and Claire believe they’ve found an ally in Rafe Spall (Eli Mills), ambitious spokesman for the estate of Jurassic Park co-creator Benjamin Lockwood. Spall promises to fund their expedition to bring back the animals and provide sanctuary.
Unfortunately, Mills turns out to be a bloodthirsty venture capitalist who sees the dinosaurs as lucrative chattel to be sold off the highest bidder. Along with Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), he creates a deadly new raptor prototype named the Indoraptor, which hunts on command and can even knows how to play dead to lure in unsuspecting victims.
The Jurassic franchise continues to have its best moments when the humans become the hunted prey. The opening is ripe with tension as a T-Rex chases down a helicopter while the leviathan-like Mosasaurus simultaneously stalks a submarine. Later, the Indoraptor tears through the Lockwood mansion while trying to make a young girl into a meal. While low on gore, you see enough of the claw slashes and kill bites to convey the merciless efficiency of these creatures.
A persistent problem with the film is the attempt to appease all audiences. With young kids loving the franchise, there’s a noticeable attempt to make some of dinosaurs give you the warm and fuzzies you’d get from pet dog. A triceratops licks an unconscious Owen’s face in the midst of a volcanic eruption. The styimoloch, a hard-shelled dino that likes to charge people rhino-style, gets goaded by Owen into taking out his aggression on the bad guys. We can understand this affection with the raptor Blue (who Owen trained). With other dinos, it comes off hammy and clashes with the tone set by the apex predators’ unpredictable natures. Moments like the young triceratops cuddling against its mother while caged, or the saintly brontosaurus perishing at the edge of the island from the volcano, are much more poignant in humanizing the animals.
The surface battle of this film is deciding in what capacity these ancient beasts should exist – living free and protected, or exploited genetically to become weapons of war? The philosophical dilemma, spoken through cameos from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldbum), is how to reconcile and adjust to the reality of a society where we are no longer the dominant species. In other words, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle.
Like many middle films in a sequel, it’s hard for Fallen Kingdom to shake the stigma of being a placeholder. Yes, we’re finally off the island but we don’t truly get the “dinosaurs unleashed on the world” that the trailers promised until the very end, dangling another film to sort out the intriguing details. While Fallen Kingdom indeed plays like a by the numbers summer blockbuster, there’s enough captivating dinosaur action to carry the middling storyline and keep the franchise afloat.