When a horror film series ratchets up past the third entry, people are often cynical about the quality. Usually, by the time the fourth film rolls around, we start to see the basic aspects start to fall apart at the seams. If, of course, they haven’t already started to unravel from the previous sequels. Narrative elements begin to turn to mush as screenwriters struggle to piece story coherence together with looking to find new paths to take the story. Michael Myers started to have telepathic links to his niece in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989). Jigsaw had found himself a police apprentice in Saw 5 (2008). Freddy was having dream children in his fifth instalment and it’s best not to talk about Friday the 13th’s “New Beginning” (1985).
Horror films usually get dragged into the mud when it comes to series that have gone on too long, but save for the likes of Police Academy, it’s hard not to feel that tentpole franchises are given much more of a pass, despite suffering from similar issues of dubious choices. Just observe the mythology of the Fast and Furious franchise for instance. To this writer, it’s unsurprising that the likes of other popular franchises have accidentally fallen into irrational culture wars. As the universes of these movies grow larger, so does demand. However, it’s not a shock that such demands become more specific and what constitutes what goes into these movies become narrower.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a prime example of the oddball existence that blockbuster movies inhabit. As part of the Jurassic Park Franchise, it is the fifth entry of the series, but the renaming of the films since the 2015 behemoth clearly highlights the intentions. Jurassic Park four or five could sound tired. Jurassic World has the bizarre ability to associate and disassociate connections in one swoop. We want to know it’s a Jurassic Park movie. We may not want to be reminded that it’s number five.
Being the fifth film now means aggressive expansion. In the fourth film, the theme park that John Hammond has imagined had now opened, but was now so well known to people (who could afford it) that they wouldn’t even look up from their cellphones to observe the god complex creations standing in front of them. Of course, something goes wrong, and the creatures run amok. Now in Fallen Kingdom, we are informed that the volcano on the island that hosted the doomed park is now active and ready to explode and there is now a concentrated effort to rescue the dinosaurs that were left as they are endangered species. Heading this expedition is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), returning from the first Jurassic World exploits and returning with little to no PTSD from the first ordeal. Nor is there any signs of high heels, for critics of the first Jurassic World’s dubious gender roles.
What is also missing is any discernible plot logic. Colin Trevorrow, writer/director of the first Jurassic World, again returns to script this segment of the saga and once again, like the previous entry, decides to forgo any sense of lucidity because why not. Logic was never the highest on Jurassic Park’s list, however, the beauty of Micheal Crichton’s novel and Steven Spielberg’s original blockbuster lies in their ability to build universes solid enough to suspend the notion of disbelief without causing too many issues. Now in JW: Fallen Kingdom we have a screenplay which not only hinges on ludicrous and hilariously dated plot turns (one twist is so egregious, I questioned my reason of being as well as the plot point’s) but now delivers a disregard of physics that even Wil E Coyote would raise an eyebrow to.
This is where the discord in the discourse between critics and audiences often kicks in. Audiences often warrant their larger features to have a decent amount of spectacle and escapism; critics and film writers usually want such broad and sizeable feats to feel less like the bland and structureless cash cows these sugary features so often are. So often when it comes to such movies, I sit in the middle, admiring the spectacle to a point, yet lamenting the lack of care in the creation of many aspects of plot and characters because of Hollywood’s reliance on the idea that audiences want to watch “stupid” movies. Jurassic World could be considered a stupid movie. It’s a film that doesn’t hold a lot of sense and yet, despite this, there’s enough within the film to make it an enjoyable one time watch.
Director J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage) may not have the best screenplay to hand but holds enough talent and eye to craft entertaining set pieces. Fallen Kingdom is as dumb as a bag of hammers, but Bayona ensures that this film, despite a particularly baggy second act, is about the dinosaurs. The film’s last third is certainly in the director’s wheelhouse, creating what can only be considered a haunted house filled with dinosaurs. It’s a smart move that allows the director to pay homage to his own work, but also Spielberg’s original. He also does so without the snarky, pandering tone that flooded Jurassic World. Visually, some of the tropes are clearly wearing thin. There’s only so often a particular raptor sequence can be made without being a tad annoyed that it’s merely being mimicked but in a different room. This doesn’t stop Bayona and his go-to cinematographer Oscar Faura from creating some visually arresting moments. One sequence, featuring brontosaurs facing a particularly grim fate is a moment visual storytelling craft that one wishes could have been in a film which didn’t play so fast and loose with everything else. However, this writer is clearly in the minority as it’s clear that people would rather see Chris Pratt as the Indiana Jones of Dinosaurs; flopping around like Leonardo Di Caprio in the Wolf of Wall Street (2015) on Quaaludes as lava threateningly crawls towards him.
The presence of Pratt highlights some of the cons with Fallen Kingdom as a modern blockbuster as well as its pros. Pratt is an enjoyable presence, good-looking and charismatic. He bounces off Howard well and is enjoyable to watch. But his character is also the kind of jack of all trades hero that can do it all, lacking the quiet modesty of Sam Neil and the feeling that he is in any sense of real danger at all. This is the issue with Fallen Kingdom. In spite of its fun set pieces, it’s a strange combination of dubious 90s style plotting and modern-day blockbuster antics where nothing carries much weight, with a need to be everything to everyone, yet certainly looks great while trying. Fallen Kingdom gives audiences a screenplay that’s only a step and a half away from a naff SyFy Channel feature and sets a good example as to how far removed we are from the source material. Thanks to the work of J. A. Bayona, however, people hopefully won’t look at this the same way they look at The Dream Child or The Revenge of Micheal Myers. However, to look at it in the same light as Spielberg’s first entry or even the second film is tough going. It may require squinting.