The Jurassic series of films, beginning with Steven Spielberg’s exhilarating Jurassic Park, is premised on the question: what if we could bring dinosaurs back?
This question, however, tends not to be the focus of the films. Instead, the films are focused on the survival of a small group of protagonists seeking to outwit a series of apex predators, or at least one T-Rex.
2015’s Jurassic World continued this theme, but increased the emphasis on the “what if?” question. In that film, corporate greed and human hubris lead to the creation of a new dinosaur – a T-Rex/velociraptor hybrid that can camouflage itself and detect heat – apparently as a new attraction for the park. In addition, there’s a side-project that seeks to train velociraptors for military use.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is set three years later, with the Park once again closed to the public. Moreover, the island’s long dormant volcano is due to erupt, wiping out all the remaining dinosaurs. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has gone from managing the Park to running a lobby group trying to convince the U.S. government to rescue the remaining dinosaurs. She’s not having much luck, and the government ultimately decides that, since it’s a private project, it can’t be involved.
All seems lost, until Claire gets a call from Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Lockwood was John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) original partner and he helped start the whole thing up. He’s arranged for a sanctuary for the dinosaurs, a place where they can’t harm anyone and can’t be disturbed.
Lockwood’s assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) is looking after the details. Claire is understandably excited to rescue the dinosaurs, but she needs Owen Grady’s (Chris Pratt) help because Owen can help them retrieve Blue, the hyper-intelligent velociraptor that he raised. Although reluctant, Owen ends up coming along, as well as paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and IT whiz Franklin Webb (Justice Smith).
On the island they meet up with the paramilitary rescue force led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). Of course, things go wrong. It turns out that Mills is planning to sell off the dinosaurs to the highest bidder in an exclusive auction attended by a lot of unpleasant individuals. He also has Dr Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), the geneticist who brought dinosaurs back from extinction and created the hybrid predator from the last film, working on a new project – another super predator. This one will be more intelligent than the last. Now it’s up to Claire, Owen and the others to save the day – but does that mean saving the dinosaurs?
Fallen Kingdom builds on its predecessors finally to deal with the central question of the series: if we can bring back dinosaurs through genetic engineering, what else can we do with it? What happens if genetic power is unlocked and unleashed? Who will want it? And what will they want it for?
The good guys are so caught up with what’s in front of them – survival, dinosaurs are miracles and we should save them, and so on – that they miss the unintended consequences of their actions.
This is chillingly realised when they find out what drove Lockwood and Hammond apart. Lockwood used Hammond’s technology to resolve a personal tragedy, but in so doing conclusively proved that the technology could be used for more than the de-extinction of ancient species. The good-natured Lockwood thinks he can make it up to the dead Hammond by saving Hammond’s creations, completely missing that his offsider may have other ideas.
Fallen Kingdom is a middle-act film: one that poses a problem but does not provide a solution. Sure, the heroes’ personal stories are resolved, but the wider challenges are only just beginning. Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) bookends the film with his congressional testimony, arguing that the genetic power brings about massive sudden change, change that we cannot predict, like death.
This change is much like that in the Planet of the Apes films – what happens to humanity when we alter fundamentally the balance of nature? Will we survive our own creations?
Fallen Kingdom lacks the intellectual and dramatic weight of those films, preferring to stay with dinosaur-induced peril – which it does do very well – but the questions are there, and may be more fully explored in the sequel.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).