Director: J A Bayona.
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin and Isabella Sermon.
After the monumental success of 2015s Jurassic World, it seemed inevitable that dinosaurs would once again grace our screens in a new iteration of the Jurassic Park franchise. Whilst there were some differences between Jurassic World and its originator, there were also many similarities. In the hope of avoiding repetition, this time the writers have dug deep and come up with a new novel excuse to revisit Isla Nublar and thus put more tasty humans in unnecessary peril. The only problem is that it is not entirely novel, nor indeed new. In fact, you only need to go back to the original Jurassic Park sequels (1993 and 1997) to see some more familiar plot points. Conduct rescue mission on a dinosaur infested island? Check. Employ mercenary army with hidden agenda? Check. Trick gullible dinosaur experts into revisiting the island? Check. Transport dangerous dinosaurs in shipping containers by sea? Check. Finally, ensure the dinosaurs are kept securely and cannot escape and go on a rampage. Check as well. Well, sort of. Universal Studios are on thin ice here if they expect they can just rehash old plots and expect no one to notice, but luckily there is half a plot here that has potential.
It wouldn’t be Jurassic Park without a dangerous dinosaur on the loose to threaten the existence of humankind, but what of the future existence of Earth’s former residents, recently re-incarnated? In an interesting twist to the rescue mission format, Fallen Kingdom puts extinction back on the menu for our genetically engineered friends with the dormant volcano on Isla Nublar inconveniently erupting and threatening their very existence. The film carefully explores the idea of conservation as a sub-plot to all the main action, experimenting with arguments for and against the rescue or re-extinction of the aforementioned prehistoric species. The obvious difference to this kind of conservation is the consideration of “dinosaur rights”. Does a group of animals, re-created through genetic engineering for commercial purposes, deserve to be saved, especially given the original reason for their re-creation, effectively the Jurassic Park zoo, is also facing total destruction. Surely as a commercial enterprise, the Jurassic World theme park is no longer viable? Maybe so, but money is a dangerous motivator, and just like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, it rears its ugly head once again.
To monetise dinosaurs beyond their zoological appeal, as explored in the other films, is only the tip of the iceberg. As far as Lockwood estates is concerned, the now guardians of the Jurassic World inhabitants and patent holders to the DNA profiles and technology that created them, their investment needs to pay off. The outwardly benevolent Lockwood Estates was, we learn, the co-founder and investor in the technology that re-created the dinosaurs along with John Hammond. Back then, even before Isla Nublar, the research was carried out, as you do, in an underground bunker beneath the Lockwood Estates’ mansion in the country. Here, the ailing Benjamin Lockwood (Cromwell) lives with his young grand-daughter Maisie (Sermon), housekeeper Iris (Chaplin) and secretary Eli Mills (Spall). In a last-ditch attempt to preserve their creations, Lockwood decides to mount a rescue mission and enlists former Jurassic World employees “Raptor Whisperer” Owen Grady (Pratt) and operations manager Claire Dearing (Howard). The plan being to re-locate the dinosaurs to a new island site. Owen and Claire, we learn, have since parted ways after a brief romance, but the chemistry still exists and works well as the two leads go on a quest to save their beloved dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, in a public hearing and debate, original Jurassic Park star Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm, whose principle job in this movie is to discuss the plight of the dinosaurs and the case for and against their continued survival. Goldblum’s job here is limited to sitting down and talking, but his moral arguments form bookends for the film, initially setting up the film with useful information that casual viewers would find handy to accompany the action that follows, and reminding us all that dinosaurs are still dangerous and probably ought to take their chances against the volcano. It’s not long before we see that very event happening, as Claire and Owen join the rescue mission, flying in to reactivate the tracking system that will allow the conservation effort to track, capture and evacuate the beasts via ship and air before the volcano explodes. Special effects are terrific and in addition to the realistic dinosaurs (both CGI and animatronic), the volcanic activity adds real urgency and tension to the action, with the race to evacuate before everything is killed off. There are some genuinely tragic moments when you see some of the attempts fail, and for the first time, begin to see these big creatures as individual animals and not movie monsters of another era. The film actually begs you to care for them, and to great effect, because it turns out that something far more sinister is actually afoot.
As in previous Jurassic films, it turns out that mankind proves itself to be the most monstrous of all villains. In a twist that was not too hard to see coming, Owen, Claire and Lockwood find themselves being double-crossed, with the true face of corporate genetic engineering revealed. The film changes moral tact too, when it becomes apparent that saving the dinosaurs might have actually been a fate worse than death compared to the hitherto unknown alternative that was really on the table. Without spoiling too much of the ending, let’s just say that for every authentic dinosaur recreated by genetic engineering, there is the potential to create something far less authentic, but most definitely more dangerous. They did this as in ‘Jurassic World’ in order to create a new tourist attraction, but what possible use would another deadly new dinosaur with enhanced Raptor instincts have in our modern, friendly society? With the destruction of Isla Nublar, and the new dinosaur haven a hoax, the real reasons are not good.
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The crux of the movie is the issue of genetic engineering’s place in society, along with the pitfalls and benefits (yes, there are benefits, as you will see), and it posits an ambiguous case where it is hard to see a definite winning argument for society to completely adopt or reject such technology, since it’s all about the context for its usage. Needless to say that the legacy of experimenting with nature, and the danger of abusing science for purposes beyond the improvement of life, becomes the responsibility of all of us, and to that end, we take the consequences of going beyond that remit. Ultimately, Fallen Kingdom is a great action film with plenty on the surface to entertain, but lurking in the shadows, it’s science-fiction credentials carry a strong moral message that not only warns against tampering with nature in the present for commercial gain, but also asks what legacy such activities will leave for future generations.