Here’s the good news: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is more fun than “Jurassic World.” It’s not exactly a high bar, but still a welcome surprise. In the hands of a new director, J.A. Bayona, with Chris Pratt’s high-wattage charisma on full blast and a fair amount of self-aware humor intact, there are certainly worse ways to spend a couple hours in the air-conditioned multiplex this summer.
Mind you, this movie is pretty ridiculous and the script (from Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly) is not very clever — I found myself rolling my eyes almost as frequently as I found myself smiling with genuine delight. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” will not stand up to rigorous scrutiny, and yet, it’s kind of an enjoyable, preposterous and thrilling ride that ticks through nostalgia beats like a shopping list.
It’s a little sad how in this era of industrial franchise filmmaking a three year gap between films actually feels like quite a bit of time — or maybe it’s just a testament to how grueling the past few years have been — but, hey, it did at least seem like the right time to check in with those dinosaurs again, although I worry that our emotional investment in Owen’s connection with a velociraptor has been vastly overestimated.
After a very solid, and scary, beginning, with pouring rain and genuine suspense as some scientists venture back into the defunct Jurassic World to retrieve a dinosaur bone, a helpful newscaster orients the audience with a whole lot of exposition: It’s been three years since Jurassic World closed; $800 million in damages have been paid out; and, most importantly, a dormant volcano has come back to life on the island and is about to cause an “extinction level event” that will wipe out all the remaining dinosaurs.
The question of whether or not to let the dinos go extinct again has become a national debate and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is leading the charge to try to save the animals. As a not-so-subtle nod to that other national debate about Claire’s choice of footwear in “Jurassic World,” our first shot of her is her feet in sky high heels (the hiking boots she wears later for all the action get their own loving close-up too).
Essentially, and this is where the contrivances start, a wealthy, dying man, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who is somehow connected to John Hammond, and his associate Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) pitch Claire on an expedition to stage their own Noah’s Ark with the dinos and transport as many species as possible to a sanctuary island. They need her to tap into the park’s security system, and also to convince Owen (Pratt) to come along and get close to the raptor Blue, his old pal who has become so anthropomorphized it’s actually surprising she doesn’t just start talking.
There are some more new characters added too: A skittish computer guy, Franklin (Justice Smith), and a doctor Zia (Daniella Pineda), who come along on the journey for some comedic relief; a mercenary military guy (Ted Levine); and a cute dino-obsessed girl, Masie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon).
Perhaps the most unexpected thing about “Fallen Kingdom” is that the “escape from the volcano” plot is just the first set-piece. It’s all a precursor to the dinos coming to the mainland.
If you’re thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before,” just wait, it get so much more derivative than you would ever imagine possible. Bayona, who also directed “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls,” is good enough to pull it off. It’s the main reason why “Fallen Kingdom” is entertaining despite itself, but it is a shameless strategy that can only work so many times. Also, can we retire the “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” joke at this point?
Life finds a way, and so do franchises that make ungodly amounts of money. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” gets away with its unoriginality for the most part, but this franchise’s desperation is starting to show. It’s time to evolve or go extinct.
Where have all the dinosaurs gone? That’s a question that may occur to you during vast stretches of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Oh, don’t get me wrong: The film provides plenty of encounters with our stomping, gnashing primeval-beastly friends — yet for much of “Fallen Kingdom,” they are caged, shackled, sedated, wounded, and otherwise subdued. They’re right up there on screen, but too often they don’t feel like the main event.
On Isla Nubar, site of the now-decimated Jurassic World theme park, a billowing volcano is about to erupt and consume the island. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), that hearty bro of a raptor whisperer, and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former park manager who now leads a dinosaur-rights activist group, have come to rescue the dinosaurs that still roam there by taking them to a new sanctuary. They’ve been hired by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the majordomo of the Lockwood estate. It turns out, though, that he’s using them for their tracking system and has other, more sinister plans for the dinosaurs’ future.
On the island, we get token glimpses of the dinosaurs in and out of action. “I want to see this!” shouts one of Claire’s workers, climbing out of a jeep to stare up at a brachiosaurus, in a shot that takes us right back to that very first sighting in “Jurassic Park”: the moment that launched the age of digital cinema into orbit. There’s a nifty Spielbergian prelude that features a ginormous set of underwater jaws, and Owen wakes up in a daze to find himself being licked by the dripping tongue of a triceratops. At one point, Owen and Claire draw blood from a caged and sleeping T-Rex, scrunching up against its fearsome head; there’s a poignant shot of a brachiosaurus being left on the island to be consumed by smoke and lava. And let us not forget Blue, Owen’s favorite velociraptor, who’s the most anthropomorphic of them all — a keenly intelligent specimen who, with her slight smile, looks like a cross between a domesticated T-Rex and E.T.
Yet it must be said that none of these moments produce a hint of the awe, the gargantuan fairy-tale wonder and surprise, that has sustained the “Jurassic” franchise for 25 years. Spielberg’s original “Jurassic Park” had a storyline that was more functional than inspired, but it worked as a frame on which the director could hang his brilliantly imagined, breathlessly choreographed stomping-reptile magic. (Agencies)
The movies, after Spielberg’s 1997 sequel, have declined steadily in quality — “Jurassic World,” in 2015, was an orgy of deadly overkill, all prose and no monster-fantasy poetry — so it makes sense, in a way, that “Fallen Kingdom” adopts a new strategy. It doesn’t pretend to wow us as if the sight of digital dinosaurs were still eye-poppingly unprecedented and amazing. It tries, instead, to tuck the dinosaurs into a busy and “topical” conspiracy adventure thriller. The movie was directed by J.A. Bayona, the Spanish filmmaker best known for the atmospheric 2007 horror movie “The Orphanage,” and though he does a competent job in “Fallen Kingdom,” keeping the action thrusting forward, there’s not much he can do to transcend the script (by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly), which is a kind of furrowed-brow disaster-movie pastiche.
In the ’70s, if you went to see a film like “The Towering Inferno,” it was generally brimming with plot and character and even a social “theme” (that one had some malarkey about the recklessness of building too many skyscrapers), but really, everyone had come to see the people trapped in hellfire, the burning bodies crashing down in a trash spectacle of disaster porn. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a liberal pulp message movie, yet it treats itself with even more sobriety. The dinosaurs, it turns out, have been targeted by Mills to be sold off to the highest bidder — yes, it’s the first cautionary dinosaur-trafficking movie — and at certain points you may find yourself ticking off the themes. Greed gone rampant among the globalized gilded class? Check. The sinister potential of genetic engineering? Check. The need to protect endangered species? Check. The privatizing of military action? Check. The eerie implications of cloning? Check. The danger of weaponized dinosaurs? Check. (Agencies)
By Lindsey Bahr