The smash-hit success of Jurassic World quickly led to the greenlighting of two additional sequels. Unlike the original three films which feel far more standalone in comparison, this new trilogy fits modern blockbuster conventions by having a more continuous ongoing narrative. However, the middle film in this trilogy, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, would actually break many of the conventions of its own franchise, standing apart from the pack of Jurassic sequels as both the weirdest and perhaps most vital film since the first installment.
The fresh blood that director JA Bayona and company injected into this movie resulted in a… let’s go ahead and call it mixed reception, but it also marked the first time in eons that the franchise truly challenged what it was. When looking back on how Fallen Kingdom deviates from its predecessors, it becomes clear that it was the movie the franchise desperately needed to break out of the cage it had built for itself.
Join us for the fifth part in our retrospective of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films!
panic! at the Volcano
As we’ve discussed as far back as our revisit of The Lost World, part of the issue with the Jurassic Park franchise is that it struggled for a long time to change up its formula. For way too long, the movies were content to stick with what worked before in terms of content and setting. It’s part of what marred Lost World, it’s absolutely what tanked Jurassic Park 3, and Jurassic World only got away with it because seeing a fully functional park was new. Considering the series was now on the fifth installment, having people getting chased by dinosaurs around the same two (!) tropical islands again was no longer a viable option. This time out, the Jurassic Park story was in dire need of a shakeup.
Fallen Kingdom’s solution? Literally blow up the island.
It sounds so simple, but it winds up being a far more elegant solution than it has been given credit for. With the volcanic eruption of Mount Sibo, not only do you get an apocalyptic action set-piece unlike any the series has seen before, but it also forces the movie (and any further sequels) to never again lean on Isla Nublar as a crutch. The park is gone. The dinosaurs are out. The tease of the T-Rex running around San Diego in the second film had always hinted at the natural way to continue the series: The dinosaurs escaping into the human world. They even teased it a second time with Jurassic Park 3, with the pteranodons leaving the island. Yet it wasn’t until Fallen Kingdom that this long overdue trigger was finally pulled.
None of the Jurassic Park sequels are entirely without merit. They all have their moments, and they’re all entertaining to one degree or another. But what was such an interesting concept for a location in the first film had been keeping this series creatively stuck in the mud ever since. Dinosaur zoos and Costa Rican islands had been recycled so many times that it was bordering on the absurd. While the dinosaurs being free to run amok in new and varied locations is bad news for our characters, it’s great news for audience goers. However, Fallen Kingdom does not immediately transition into the planet being taken over by dinos. First, it takes a detour into some really bizarre territory.
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Kooky and Spooky
We’ve discussed previously on IGN how JA Bayona took the opportunity to turn Fallen Kingdom into a gothic fable instead of a pure science-fiction film, but it’s worth reiterating: It is fascinating how far outside the franchise’s comfort zone this thing gets before the credits roll. Where the previous sequels all felt like they were mostly reflecting back on the directory flourishes and thematic musings of Steven Spielberg’s original film, Fallen Kingdom is the first one in the entire lineup that seems to make a genuine effort to import new influences from outside the series . The old staples of majestic herbivores, raptor chases and giant carnivores in the jungle just weren’t going to cut it anymore.
This entry changing things up was, if not necessarily guaranteed, at the very least makes conventional sense. what doesn’t is setting on a semi-surreal dinosaur haunted house as the way to do it. Lockwood Manor may fit the proverbial bill when it comes to what audiences would expect from a gothic mansion, but in the context of this series, the genre shift associated with this location is a long-awaited breath of fresh air. The manor is introduced early in the film as a lavish monument to Hammond and Lockwood’s legacy, but in the second half becomes twisted into a location straight out of dark fairy tales and 19th-century Gothic novels. By the time the monstrous claws of the Indoraptor reached out for little Maisie Lockwood from beneath iron bars in Doctor Wu’s basement lab of mad science, we’ve finally moved into wholly new territory.
To be fair, some horror influence was involved in the previous films with how the carnivores were incorporated, but the way those sequences were constructed never made the finished product feel like it was switching genres. Especially given how little blood was featured in the first film, it always felt like we were in “adventure movie” mode. Bayona breaks from his predecessors by drawing from old school black and white horror in his lighting and framing, with a particularly inspired moment coming when the Indoraptor crawls across the roof and into Maisie’s bedroom: the claw slamming on the roof tiles, the roar against the moonlit backdrop, the shot of the Indoraptor slowly reaching across the bed as Maisie cringes in terror. The haunted house finale still ultimately qualifies the “Jurassic,” but it expands what can be done tonally and aesthetically with the series’ mold in a way none of the previous movies had really bothered to attempt.
You Can’t Put It Back in the Box
It isn’t exactly a new observation to say that many blockbuster franchise sequels have become more and more “safe” in the past decade or so. Nostalgia and fan service have reigned supreme with the deluge of legacy sequels and online controversies about this or that installment, which appears to have encouraged studios to “stick with what works” when they approach their most valuable IPs. We don’t know how intentional this may or may not have been on the studio’s part, but Fallen Kingdom’s fall victim to this tendency doesn’t, and in fact is the first movie since the original to really change what this series is about in a meaningful way. Unlike its predecessors, Bayona’s film challenges actually some of the core fundamental ideas this series was built on.
The carnivorous dinosaurs such as the T-Rex or the velociraptors, so terrifying and awe-inspiring in the original, have now trended towards being positioned as the heroes of the series, possibly even more so than the main human characters. Where before humanity’s great moral error made in hubris was resurrecting the dinosaurs in the first place, now it’s trying to manipulate or destroy them. When Ian Malcolm says in this film “how many times must the point be made?” he’s absolutely right, but it isn’t just that people aren’t listening to him about the dangers of unchecked genetic power. That train has already left the station. It’s no longer about the prevention of a new status quo, which was still theoretically possible when the dinosaurs were contained on a couple of islands off the coast of Costa Rica. Now it’s about reckoning with the consequences.
Isla Nublar’s destruction and the release of the dinosaurs into the wild were both necessary for this franchise to survive. No matter where Jurassic World: Dominion or any future installments go, they will have to account for these decisions, which finally forced the franchise out of the stasis lock it had been in for two and a half decades. If anything, the promise of disruption of the natural order caused by the de-extinction of the dinosaurs (which had been the looming threat baked into Jurassic Park’s premise from the beginning) had been betrayed by a string of sequels that refused to engage with that idea in honest terms. Love it or hate it, Fallen Kingdom isn’t constrained by franchise convention, and it gave this series the shot in the arm it’s needed for quite some time. We’ll see where it goes from here, but from now on, the Jurassic franchise will always be dealing with a world of dinosaurs, and never again merely a park.
Carlos Morales writes novels, articles and Mass Effect essays. You can follow his fixations on twitter.