This article contains spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and all films in the Jurassic Park series
For several years now, my favourite game to play in the arcade of my nearest bowling alley has been the on rails shooter Jurassic Park Arcade. In it two people can play through multiple flashy set pieces on a mission to rescue certain dinosaurs from Isla Nublar, the first Jurassic Park island, while gunning through hordes of Velociraptors and Pteranodons who I can only guess aren't worth saving themselves because they're capable of reproduction through spontaneous generation anyway.
I mention this in part to establish that a fondness for the Jurassic Park series has stayed with me since childhood, leading a grown man to surrender more pound pieces to a children's game than wisdom should allow (i.e. more than none), but more importantly because if you sit for long enough through the introductory cinematics, you'll discover that this game, released in 2015, has the same main plot as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: a volcano has gone off on the island full of dinosaurs, and a team is going in to try to save some.
I'm not saying this to suggest that the filmmakers cribbed the story from a game whose plot even most people who play it won't be aware of, and in the film the volcano and dinosaur rescues are the catalyst for further happenings rather than the entirety of it, but it does speak to how limited a scope for stories the Jurassic Park/World universe really offers. Consider these brief synopses of the films:
- Jurassic Park (1993): An island theme park of genetically engineered dinosaurs has been created and is visited by a small group. A disaster plus corporate warfare shenanigans lead to jeopardy.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997): A second island of genetically engineered dinosaurs is visited by a small group and a large group, the latter of of which plans to take dinosaurs from the island. Corporate warfare shenanigans lead to jeopardy.
- Jurassic Park III (2001): A small group visits the second island and is almost immediately in jeopardy. There's only the slightest hint of corporate warfare shenanigans, unless you count a bathroom & kitchen remodeller cutting a bad cheque for a paleontologist.
- Jurassic World (2015): 14 years after the last one, the first island once again has been made into a theme park of genetically engineered dinosaurs. A disaster leads to jeopardy.
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018): A large group visits the island to take dinosaurs from it. Corporate warfare shenanigans lead to jeopardy.
As you can see, you could write down several concepts on a piece of paper, cut it up, throw the pieces in the air and outline a new Jurassic Park film based on how they land. As much as we may want exciting chases and battles with animatronic dinosaurs, where story is concerned the Jurassic Park universe is inherently limited; indeed, Michael Crichton, the author of the original novel, had to have his arm twisted into writing a sequel after the runaway success of the first film, and the original film itself seemingly ruled out any sequels by briefly mentioning the 'lysine contingency': that the dinosaurs have been bred without the ability to produce a vital enzyme, so that without park staff to supply it to them, they would fall into a coma and die.
For what it's worth, my favourite of the franchise may in fact be the much-maligned Jurassic Park III; while it is the simplest and so perhaps the most unsatisfying entry, and certainly has its fair share of dodgy plotting and contrivance, in offering the stripped down story of basically some people being chased by dinosaurs in a series of exciting action sequences, it seeks to deliver the core of what I really enjoy about these films; it certainly reverses the course attempted by the overblown first sequel The Lost Word: Jurassic Park, and while it may lack the creation and procreation subtext of the original film (John Hammond's dreams and despair in creating Jurassic Park and coming to terms with its failure; Dr. Alan Grant's confronting and overcoming his discomfort around children; nature finding a way to overcome the dinosaurs' inbuilt infecundity), the Spinosaurus totally rocked.
Despite the limits in its concept then, there has long been demand for more Jurassic Park, particularly in this age of remakes, reboots and rehashes. In fairness to the previous instalment, 2015's Jurassic World, it did as much as it could to justify its soft reboot retread of material so familiar from the original film; it showed us a convincing theme park in operation with crowds of patrons and opened up the new narrative avenue of an entirely new dinosaur engineered to entertain an in-universe audience who are no longer enthralled by the spectacle of living dinosaurs. That this confected specimen, the Indominus Rex, was bred to be the ultimate dinosaur to the point of conning the characters into thinking it had escaped its enclosure and then being impossible to capture and the most deadly predator seen in the series belies that this creation was intended to be entertaining to the real world audience rather than the in-universe one, who would have been more captivated by a troupe of synchronised swimming Loch Ness Monsters than trying to spot a grumpy chameleon with gigantism through a plastic window.
Jurassic World did, though, manage to wave off a particular criticism of the series, in that the dinosaurs now look out of date according to more recent paleontological understanding as regards some anatomical inaccuracies such as lacking feathers, by pointing out that all these dinosaurs are reconstructions to some degree, as all the original dinosaur genomes had gaps that had to be filled in. That provided some contentment to my inner nitpicker, who on the one hand wants accuracy in these things while at the same times didn't want to watch a theme park of giant living CGI feather boas.
Jurassic World's other addition to the ongoing narrative of the series, however, is more unwelcome to me: that military types want genetically engineered dinosaurs. This is a plot thread straight out of James Cameron's Aliens, and it was silly there too; when will it ever be more cost effective to invest in genetically engineering obedient raptors (which already sounds daft) than guns and tanks? This smaller element of the 2015 movie has become central to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which even likens the military applications of the dinosaurs to how armies in history used horses and elephants, without of course following the logic through to why they no longer do. This is even demonstrated when the most pliable dinosaur of military interest up to that point, the Velociraptor Blue, is brought down with one bullet and saving its life becomes a major concern. Combat-ready and effective dinosaurs should be way down the list compared to, say, training dolphins to find naval mines.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park already had the nastier corporate types kidnapping dinosaurs just to start a new theme park though; something new has to be done with the idea, and you can't just sell these beasts off so rich people can ride them like in The Flintstones. This leaves Fallen Kingdom with a variant on the military option, and the dinos are auctioned off to shady folk with the occasional funny accent as weapons, though shady folk whose activities must be criminal and so must remain clandestine using dinosaurs as weapons is a level even sillier than a state army trying to do so. We're jumping ahead though, so let's look at Fallen Kingdom from the start.
The film opens with two men in a submersible retrieving a bone of the Indominus Rex from the underwater enclosure of the Mosasaurus; as they open the underwater gates, one assures the other that anything left in there would be long since dead considering how long it has been abandoned, so naturally it wasn't, and instead this particularly horrifying monster who provided the most shocking and, narratively, mean-spirited death of the previous film provides an entirely predictable and mean-spirited death at the end of this sequence (not to mention a later shot of an innocent surfer about to meet his maker in the brute's tummy). This operation takes place at night though whereas, had it been during the daytime, they would have spotted the big silhouette above them immediately in the suitably chilling first glimpse. You could arguably justify this operation as needing the cover of night as they're mercenaries, but as it transpires that they're getting this bone to give a DNA sample to the same scientist who created the Indominus Rex in the first place, it's baffling that it needed doing at all when he ought to have a fridge full of dinosaur chunks ready as required.
From there we're introduced to the plot of the volcano going off, and people lobbying the US government to rescue the dinosaurs. The heroes of the first film, Owen and Claire, haven't maintained their relationship because he wouldn't let her have a turn driving their van, but she convinces him to join her on a rescue mission to save his favourite pet Blue, taking a couple of others along to help: a latina 'paleoveterinarian' with an attitude named Zia who we're presumably meant to find sassy and a perpetually terrified black computer nerd named Franklin whose one-note shtick is reasonable comic relief, and together they neatly check the diversity boxes on the hero team (as a sidenote, from her reaction to the first dinosaur they see, it seems Zia's never actually seen a dinosaur before, so how she managed to gain accreditation as a paleoveterinarian I don't know). The team discover that the mercenaries they've been sent with, led by a gruff man's man/toxic masculinist named Wheatley who collects a trophy from each captured creature by yanking a tooth, aren't as Greenpeace about things as they are.
This first section of the film provides some effective moments of peril, one including my childhood favourite dinosaur Baryonyx and another tremendous sequence of one long shot as Claire and Franklin are trapped in a gyrosphere underwater, having rolled off a cliff. The brilliant construction of this scene is then betrayed by rather jarring continuity as, from coming off a cliff, they then immediately cut to washing up exhausted on a flat beach without the cliff in sight and then cut again to being up at a high level spying on the mercenaries loading the captured dinosaurs onto a ship. Our heroes then manage to race the one truck left behind onto the ship just as it departs with its hold still open. In a reversal of quality again, the tedious convenience of this shlocky action scene gives way to the heartbreaking spectacle of an agitated Brachiosaurus stood at the end of the dock as the island burns up behind it with nowhere left to escape to.
A small girl in the cinema sat in the row in front of me started crying at this sight, and it may be the most moving part of the whole film, though I was distracted wondering who'd take a child so young to a 12A. Earlier were scenes of protestors against leaving the dinosaurs to die, and Senate hearings on the subject including Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as Dr Ian Malcolm, insisting that the dinosaurs should be left to face the volcano as though it's merely nature correcting itself, and seeming like the crazy Ancient Aliens guy from the meme. Like all tragedies, confronting the reality is a world apart from cold analysis of the abstract, and seeing the poor Brachiosaurus brought it all home. That said, one wonders what kind of volcano could devastate an island of this size so completely; the establishing shots of the plane ride to the island convey the enormity of Isla Nublar better than ever before in the series and, while I'm no geologist, the absolute destruction wrought doesn't seem feasible.
From here the action moved entirely to a large estate in California, that of original Park creator John Hammond's retroactively invented old partner Benjamin Lockwood, and it is confined here for the rest of the duration. This may seem like a radical departure for a series which only previously took the action away from the islands once (during the Tyrannosaurus rampage in San Diego at the end of The Lost World), but it's almost entirely kept indoors, and we've seen plenty of indoor locations before. The amount of huge areas that the estate must contain considering everything we see strains credulity (not to mention the big dinos on site), and so too does the bravery of Lockwood's young 'granddaughter' Maisie who thinks very little of climbing around a narrow ledge multiple storeys up or clambering around to overhear conversations of company intrigue, but the story continues apace. Lockwood's villainous aide Eli Mills contracts the outright pantomime villain of Gunnar Everoll to auction off the dinosaurs as mentioned earlier, including the all new creation the Indoraptor, created from the Indominus Rex's retrieved DNA.
The more you think about this auction, the less sense it makes. The prices the dinosaurs fetch are worth only a few dinosaur skeletons which, considering that these are the last living specimens left, is extraordinarily cheap. It's mentioned near the start that the company which ran the Jurassic World park, Masrani, has had to pay out $800 million in compensation to park patrons caught in the disaster of the previous film, so perhaps these quick sales were necessary to recapitalise the business. Is Lockwood's business the same as Masrani though, or even part of it? Both have Dr Henry Wu making dinosaurs for it, but it's not clear. As mentioned earlier too, though the obvious implication is that the auctioned dinosaurs have military applications, it's hard to see how the bidders can use them in that way; at best maybe they can keep a snappy dino under a trapdoor at a James Bond villain-style lair, to do away with unwanted intruders or unsuspecting pizza delivery boys.
The captured Owen and Claire escape by getting the conveniently hard-skulled Pachycephalosaurus in the cell next to them to headbutt down the wall and then the cell door; this dino, not seen since 1997's The Lost World, was referenced in the previous film over the radio, a group having escaped and named as an abbreviation quite politically incorrect in this country, raising a few titters in the cinema when I saw it. Perhaps though, as the dinosaur is literally the means of escape here, this was a planned foreshadowing? We can but speculate.
A fantastical scene (even for a film about living dinosaurs) follows as Owen manages to fight his way through the auction room of trained security like a scene from Kill Bill, and this leads us to the climax as all the villains suffer their supposedly karmically nasty deaths. The most unpleasant is given to the mercenary commander Wheatley, in a shockingly nasty scene played, I could scarcely believe, for laughs; a crass political overtone is present as he earlier called Zia 'a nasty women' á la Donald Trump, and it involves the Indoraptor playing possum when he shoots two tranquilisers into it. Naturally he dies crying, because the last thing you'd expect from a tough mercenary is to actually face death stoically.
This, I believe, is supposed to hint at the nature of the Indoraptor, as one can infer from the previous film that the Indominus Rex in fact contained some human DNA giving it its intelligence (confirmed further by the dabbling of these scientists in human cloning, given the later revelation about Maisie), though as the Indoraptor must be fairly young and certainly sheltered, it's hard to believe that just a bit of extra brainpower will give it the knowledge to know immediately that a tranquiliser is meant to knock it out and drop to the ground like an am-dram ham, nor the emotional depth to grin to itself about teasing Wheatley to his demise. In what may or may not be another Trump hint, Everoll's curious hair is shown blowing before he's killed by the same beast after a dark game with a lift. As with the death in the opening scene and Everoll's, Eli Mills' comeuppance is yet another nasty one where he narrowly survives a sequence of events only to be killed anyway. This overused trick has got old by then and the near survival followed by nasty death is a long established means of trying to be darkly comic, going back at least to Boris Grishenko in Goldeneye. If you're the sort of person who looks for these things, you may also notice that the diversity in the heroes certainly isn't matched in the villains.
Another letdown is the soundtrack, by Michael Giacchino. As the go-to man these days to score the big blockbusters, you could say he's the modern equivalent of John Williams, but unfortunately there's not a single memorable original motif, and hints of the original theme are scarce. What he does certainly matches what goes on on screen, but you won't be humming any of it when you leave the cinema, and for a film not short of callbacks to its predecessors to shy away from reflecting them musically is a real shame. The CGI is decent though and, with one or two exceptions, I didn't really notice it (which is to say, it didn't stand out to me as lacking the verisimilitude to take me out of the experience).
Despite my criticisms of the ropey-as-ever plot, it really is ultimately a framework for the action sequences, which are generally excellent, up to and including the final chases involving Owen, Claire, Maisie, Blue and the Indoraptor; the beast's eventual demise, though convenient (it takes a tumble and is impaled on the horns of a Triceraptops skull, which must be a toughened replica given the fragility of dinosaur bones in reality) brings a sense of relief, a sure sign of investment in proceedings. At the climax, punctured tanks of hydrogen cyanide from the laboratory (I don't know enough to say whether they'd legitimately be in a lab of this kind, so I'll give it the benefit of my cynicism) have been channelled to the dinosaur holding cages via ventilation jiggery-pokery, and a character takes the decision whether to release them into the wilds of California rather than die. Though there can't be many more than a couple of dozen creatures so far as I can tell, it's presented as a momentous change to Earth's ecosystem, as Dr Ian Malcolm returns in voiceover to quote John Hammond from the end of The Lost World saying that 'these creatures require our absence to survive, not our help'. How that gels with the fact that our absence would have consigned every last non-flying one to fiery oblivion I don't know, but the collection of scenes as a lion and a Tyrannosaurus have a roar-off and Mososaurus closes in to bag his surfer are effective.
As a film delivering compelling action then, Fallen Kingdom is a success, though you have to let the plot wash over you without too much scrutiny, and not be bothered by the slight infection of hashtag resist. With a franchise like Jurassic Park which touched so many millennial childhoods, it can be hard to view it as objectively as one otherwise might; there are callbacks to classic scenes from the original films, though how much is intended and how many are false positives is up for debate; the multiple references to the raptors in the kitchen from the original are clear, as is the Indoraptor's careful opening of handles as the raptors before him (an ability become a proclivity considering how unnecessary it is for the window in this instance), but is it entirely my own inference that Eli Mills in his glasses looks a lot like Peter Ludlow, who served a similar role in The Lost World? Or that the battle between Blue and the Indoraptor was an antitype to the climactic fight of the 1993 original? Perhaps the limited pallet that a concept like Jurassic Park can paint from means similarities like these are inevitable, or perhaps drawing on our nostalgia like this is a unique tool that the makers of this series are happy to keep employing.
It's impossible to imagine that this series could ever produce another film with the thematic richness and groundbreaking cinematic contributions of the original Jurassic Park, but as an entry in a now longrunning series, and taking into account the quality of the other sequels, Fallen Kingdom is at least not a disappointment. We may be right to worry about what directions are left to take the series, particularly now that the original island has been destroyed, but for now we can enjoy it for what it is: a competent flick of people being chased by dinosaurs.