When Jurassic World made its debut three years ago during the crowded summer-movie season, nobody would expect this franchise revival to open such a huge dino-sized number in the stateside. This includes a then record-breaking US$208.8 million over the first 3 days as well as an impressive worldwide opening at US$524.4 million. The fourth Jurassic Park movie, of course, eventually made a whopping US$1.6 billion in total. Given the current trend of superhero movies dominated in Hollywood, the mammoth success for Jurassic World was more than just a surprise hit. It also shows that today’s generation of moviegoers was still interested to watch (CGI) dinosaurs rampaging on the big screen.
The story goes like this: Following the volcano eruption on the island of Isla Nublar, former dinosaur trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) reunites with Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) in a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs from total extinction. But the mission turns out to be part of a bigger scheme masterminded by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who apparently wanted the dinosaurs for personal gains.
Not surprisingly, the studio (Universal) saw a moneymaking potential they can’t afford to miss and greenlit Jurassic World into an inevitable trilogy. Frankly, I thought the 2015 movie suits better as a one-off since much of the financial success was due to its strong nostalgia factor. But here we are, the sequel has finally arrived under the new direction of J.A. Bayona, replacing Colin Trevorrow from the previous instalment.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom would mark the first time J.A. Bayona (2007’s The Orphanage, 2012’s The Impossible) handling a big-budget blockbuster. But instead of replicating Jurassic World‘s “go-big-or-go-home” tonal approach, Bayona along with screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly opted for the best of both worlds: a Spielbergian theme-park blockbuster style and a small-scale gothic horror thriller.
The first half is basically something we all familiar by now: a rousing, though same old action-adventure filled with rampaging dinosaurs, chases and close calls on the huge confines of an island. Despite its familiarity, the action set-pieces — particularly the scene involving the near-death escape following a volcanic eruption — are staged in a way that it meant to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. The set-pieces are also framed with lots of wide-angle shots, evoking some of the epic quality that defined the Jurassic Park franchise since the original 1993 movie.
Then, there’s the elaborate underwater scene involving a glass-encased Gyrosphere. This is where Bayona actually excels the most. He knows how to create claustrophobic tension and suspense in a tight space, complete with a seemingly continuous shot set within the confines of a gyrosphere.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom grows progressively well in the second half, particularly once the movie takes place in a large estate. It’s like returning to a comfort zone where Bayona first made his mark in the movie industry. Even the estate itself is made to look like a gothic mansion, which instantly reminds me of The Orphanage. Except for this time, the supernatural element of that 2007 movie is replaced by dinosaurs. Together with the help of Bayona’s regular cinematographer Oscar Faura, the Spanish director even goes as far as establishing the second half equivalent to a horror movie. Imagine the iconic velociraptor scene during the third act in the original 1993 movie and multiply it by ten. You will get the idea of how Bayona chose to approach the second half of the movie.
As for the cast, both Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are adequate enough for their returning characters. While it’s fun watching them together, their roles could have been developed further other than reducing them into stock characters. It’s also nice to see Jeff Goldblum reprising the franchise’s fan-favourite role as Dr Ian Malcolm, even though his appearance is nothing more than a glorified cameo for the sake of fan service.
Likewise, a Jurassic Park movie wouldn’t be complete without one or two antagonists. Here, we have Rafe Spall and Ted Levine, the latter who is no doubt a welcoming sight playing a despicable antagonist role that fans of his movies have grown accustomed to. The child actor, often Bayona’s major forte, is easily the highlight here with newcomer Isabella Sermon carry her role well enough on her own as Maisie Lockwood.
With another sequel already targeted for a June 2021 release, I wonder just how far the Jurassic Park franchise able to sustain its momentum? As for now, Bayona’s take on the popular dinosaur-movie franchise thankfully manages to inject some new life in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Remember to stick around since there will be a post-credit teaser.