Somewhat unexpectedly, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is worse than the original Jurassic World. It's safe to say Colin Trevorrow's 2015 box office smash is oddly regarded, with initial enthusiasm making way for three years of mounting derision - and thus putting a lot of weight on the sequel.

Everything about Fallen Kingdom looked better. Director J.A. Bayona is a veteran of both horror (The Orphanage) and realistic action (The Impossible), and with the sequel reportedly going in a darker direction evocative of Jurassic Park's more intense moments, hopes were high. The budget wasn't being ballooned, thus keeping expectations low, and some of the key concerns (like Claire's high heels) were being addressed. Even when the trailers arrived a bland muddle - they either undersold iconography or gave up far too much - it was chalked up to a bad marketing approach, rather than anything intrinsically wrong with the movie.

However, that wasn't the case. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn't a total disaster (and Jurassic Park III, which just gives up an hour in, stops it being the worst in the franchise) but it's definitely a lesser sequel. Considering it's following up Jurassic World, that's pretty chaotic. What went wrong?

Jurassic World Is A Good Idea Done Poorly

Before looking at Fallen Kingdom, it's worth establishing what exactly the problems with Jurassic World are. Overall, it's a case of bad execution.

What Jurassic World is trying to do is pretty smart. The film opens on an active dinosaur theme park full of franchise restaurants, expensive hotels and a whole slew of distractions before attendees even get to the creatures, while those behind the scenes are focused on transferring the attractions into more profitable streams. The plot is motivated by financial greed and consumer indifference: people are bored of dinosaurs, so InGen scientists set out to make a new, "cooler" one. The Indominus Rex is a corporately-sponsored concoction that exists not for wonder's sake but to get more ticket money and, because this is Jurassic, it gets out of hand. On the page, Trevorrow is trying to condemn such soulless faux-creativity.

However, Jurassic World doesn't seem to realize it's actually a commentary on itself. It was distributed by Universal Pictures, a subsidiary of Comcast, and as the reboot of a once-major franchise that audiences have become disinterested is basically the I-Rex; that hybrid dinosaur wasn't made to thrill the park patrons in the movie, it's for the audiences in the real-life theater. This fundamental contradiction is there in Jurassic Park with its anti-capitalist ribbing paradoxically leading to a massive merchandise push, but Jurassic World doesn't quite grasp it. Time and again, Trevorrow misses that what he's making is the thing he's talking about - when the I-Rex's sponsor is revealed as Verizon, it's less a spearing of thinly-veiled advertising and more product placement for the service provider - and so the message becomes garbled and cynical; it's a retread but bigger just because that's what'll get bums on seats. There is the kernel of something smart in here - having the signature theme begin to swell as the characters ride an escalator to their hotel room is deliciously ironic - but no intentional delivery.

With that bedrock, the film is fighting against the flow, and it has a lot of other issues besides; the characters are distinctly designed but poorly delivered - Owen Grady and Claire Dearing are so blank they're almost universally referred to as their actors - and the action can be a bit too pedestrian. Overall, Jurassic World hangs together because it does have an ideological and narrative purpose that make it for fine escapism, but it never rises too high because of repeated mishandling of the material.

Page 2 of 2: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Doesn't Know What It's About

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's Story Is Weaker

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom gets some things right, chiefly anything where it's pure action and thus overwhelmingly reliant on J.A. Bayona's skills as a director. From the opening Moasasurus/T-Rex double-tap to the Indoraptor showdown, he constructs elaborate, roaming set pieces that take great advantage of varied locations and carefully build up the tension. There's a unique style that hasn't been felt in the franchise since Steven Spielberg in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (while there's certainly plenty of backlighting, this feels different). Bayona also delivers the franchise's most genuinely affecting moment, understanding the emotional attachment audiences have to not just dinosaurs, but the specific creatures of the Jurassic series.

It's just a shame that all of this is framed by a really weak story. Jurassic World may have been a retread, but there was a clear goal and purpose to all its plot threads. The story of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a muddle. It's really two plots in one - a gung-ho action-adventure rescue of the dinosaurs from a volcano that unexpectedly transitions into a high-adrenaline gothic horror - and while both of those ideas has merit and concepts to explore, they don't exactly gel together; little of the first act on Isla Nublar has any direct impact on what comes later at the Lockwood estate, and bringing together two gimmicky ideas means the tonal dissonance is high.

Warning: Spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in the next paragraph.

That lack of real direction is compounded by Fallen Kingdom's ending, which tries to rely on everything prior, yet ultimately plays out at random. The characters are given a moral conundrum of whether to save the dinosaurs - inaction leads to their extinction - that is clumsily established and relies on arbitrary decisions. Credit where its due, there is an attempt to give every member of the sprawling ensemble cast a clear throughline arc, but we ultimately learn so little about them that whether they will free the creatures or not is up to not human decision but the requirements of the screenplay: Owen, Claire, Franklin or Zia could have all pushed the literal button and it would have fit what we knew of them. That it's Maisie, the human clone, makes the most sense, sure, although that only draws attention to how underserved her world-changing existence is. Ultimately, though, the final turn of the dinosaurs being released is less about resolving the story, and more trying to set up Jurassic World 3, itself confusing as the film seems to miss that only a dozen or so prehistoric animals were actually released in a very specific part of the world.

It feels very much like there was an idea for a Jurassic World trilogy that started with an active park and ended with the dinosaurs on the loose but no coherent bridge. Fallen Kingdom is simultaneously an franchise-changing movie and filler. And it shows, especially when looking at what it's trying to say.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Doesn't Know What It's About

Both Jurassic World films have their strengths and weaknesses. What makes the first stand above Fallen Kingdom is less plot and more themes. As already established, the original had a clear idea but was just incapable of fully conveying it. In contrast, Jurassic World 2 doesn't seem to even know what it wants to say.

The sequel is mostly concerned with the ethical question of what happens after dinosaurs exist, but can't quite make its mind up on the basics of this. Is John Hammond a capitalist monster or egalitarian conservationist? Was genetically-engineering dinosaurs (which are not actually dinosaurs, rather replicas made using frog DNA, something Fallen Kingdom completely ignores) a major step forward for science or a blasphemous insult to Mother Nature? The movie suggests both interchangeably with so little consistency that it can't make any big conclusion. Instead, there's a lot of weight put on the broader themes of man vs. nature - literally spelled out by Jeff Goldblum's cameo - but thanks to the plot and character arcs having so little direction it can't explore these with any sense of depth.

When you lack any overriding goal with a movie - which also gets in some jabs at Trump to no real end - the whole thing has a limit on what it can do. It's a similar case of reach exceeding grasp as with Jurassic World, except Fallen Kingdom doesn't seem to understand what it's reaching for.


Which Jurassic World film is better does in part come down to personal critical theory. Is an ideologically-confused-but-serviceable film better or worse than an aimless-if-driven one? You can't say there wasn't greater filmmaking brio put into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it just wasn't enough to save the weak script.

Next: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's End-Credits Scene Explained

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