JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM Blows Up Your Childhood
Jurassic Park is an almost hallowed property, revered equally among both cinephiles and genre lovers alike. For the casual moviegoer, Jurassic Park is a premier blockbuster, a mélange of terror, stellar visuals, mainstream sensibilities, and– frankly– still unmatched awe. In the twenty-eight years since release, there’s still been nothing else quite like it (which, perhaps, accounts for its recurrent re-release every couple of years).
Genre fans, especially those who were either born or came of age in the nineties, contextualize Jurassic Park differently. Its legacy as a gateway property is undeniable. How many young people, both entranced and terrified by the serpentine raptors and screeching Dilophosaurus, later sought out adjacent horror properties? Giant monsters are an elemental horror presence, hulking behemoths that both invite and intimidate, and Jurassic Park welcomed not only a new generation of moviegoers to the wonders and possibilities of the big screen, but a new generation of horror fans as well. A generation that loved monsters.
Juan Antonio Bayona had the unenviable task of following up 2015’s Jurassic World, the long-gestating fourth sequel in the Jurassic Park franchise, and the first in a new planned trilogy. Jurassic World was (at the time) an unprecedented box office success, a return to sacred ground that, while not perfect, engendered reasonably good faith in the future. World, though, was propped up on nostalgia, a rose-colored tapestry of dino mayhem whose success was as singular as its central menace, the hybrid Indominus Rex. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Bayona’s sequel, couldn’t trade in the same evocation of a venerated past. Like the park itself, you can only return to the same well once. Any more than that risks disastrous consequences.
Bayona’s response– one that resultantly led to lukewarm reviews and a tepid box office reception– was to blow it all up. Jurassic Park or World, whatever the park was and had been, would be no more. With a non-canon active volcano, Bayona burned it all to the ground. In its place, he imbued the franchise with his signature gothic sensibility and Flanagan-esque pathos, a kind of heavy-handed sentimentalism, replete with stirring orchestral soundtracks and elegiac plotting. Krakatoa is invoked as Isla Nublar is engulfed in ash and flame. The dinosaurs of the past, including Spielberg’s own introductory brachiosaurus, are killed, silhouetted in a plume while new trilogy composer Michael Giacchino’s Pixar-lite score creeps in from the filmic edge.
It was a bold choice, one that effectively cleaves Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom into two distinct movies. The first, largely set on Isla Nublar and concerned with wrapping up the events of the first, is almost mandated. It’s filmmaking as contract. Reintroduce the characters, sprinkle in a smattering of safe, tragicomic jokes, and conclude dangling threads. The second and arguably more controversial choice is considerably more intimate. Where Jurassic World ended with a dino fight for the ages, Bayona instead takes us to the Lockwood Estate, a microcosm of his own gothic empathy, for tales of cloning, neo-capitalist greed, and haunted house horror.
The new baddie is another hybrid, this time known as the Indoraptor (though it’s unclear why this particular genetic modification renders it all that different from the first movie’s IndominusRex). The Indoraptor, as expected, escapes, and the dénouement is the first movie’s refracted through a twenty-first century lens. The monster is bigger, the setting is darker, and the scares are more calculated, though Bayona does pull off one stellar stalk-and-kill sequence involving a power outage and museum displays. Fallen Kingdom is then hurriedly concluded, a hodgepodge of inconsistent behavior, almost as if the characters are acting pursuant to the demands of a franchise, not their own internal lives.
Collectively, then, Fallen Kingdom is thus regarded as the black sheep (tyrannosaurus) of the Jurassic Park family. It’s too serious to be as fun as Jurassic Park III, and The Lost World, for all its faults, looks considerably better in retrospect– nobody does Spielberg better than Spielberg himself. I’d argue, though, that the audience and fan indignation is preponderantly undeserved. Next to the first, Fallen Kingdom is the best looking in the entire franchise. With frequent collaborator Óscar Faura, Bayona plays with light and shadow similarly to how he did with his acclaimed debut The Orphanage. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom looks and acts like a horror movie. Its big, bleeding heart is one of terror and portentous, Dark Age flair. Nothing in 2018 looked quite as good as the Mosasaurus silently gliding over a mercenary sub, illuminated only by rogue flashes of lightning on the surface above.
Bayona blows up our childhoods to replace it with something new. That something new isn’t always better, but it’s different. Jurassic World was never going to happen again– that was a singular, unprecedented filmic event, one not unlike the first. The success in such a truncated timeline– just three years between releases– was out of reach. Bayona, then, chose instead to trade in our childhood fears. The fear of losing what we love most. The liminal terror of returning to a place, once familiar, that now feels foreign, a space that looks and acts as we expect it to but is still uncannily off. These threads are familiar to fans of Bayona’s past work, but Fallen Kingdom was his largest canvas yet. For large swaths of the theatrical audience, Bayona was an unknown. His directorial and narrative temperament was an unknown. Audiences, not unlike Bryce Dallas Howard looking on toward the death of the brachiosaurus on the dock, were likely overwhelmed with crestfallen feelings of uncertainty and fear. Fallen Kingdom was different. Fallen Kingdom existed in a brave new world.
In the pantheon of giant monster movies and– hell– within the pantheon of the Jurassic Park franchise itself, Fallen Kingdom deserves reconsideration. The movie is far from perfect, and by most critical accounts, it fails. The storytelling is jumbled, it suffers from middle-entry syndrome, and the number of new thematic threads introduced– while brazen– are nonetheless disorienting. It is, however, a hulking, unconventional, and certifiably gothic Jurassic Park movie, and that alone is worth celebrating. Intimate in scale and worthwhile in scope, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom rises from the ashes of its forebears and blazes a path of its own. With Jurassic World: Dominion slated for release next summer, it remains to be seen whether Bayona’s apocalyptic landscape destroyed everything for something or, like the team at Ingen, played God just to watch the world burn. I, however, have hope that his sentimental tapestry of weirdness means something more. I don’t think his kingdom has fallen. Rather, I think he’s poised to build one of his own.