Well, it’s certainly a lot more fun than the last one. JURASSIC PARK is my favourite childhood film and remains very close to the top of my list today. The sequels have never been up to much, and each time we go around again the wonder is diminished, the spark of creativity dimmed. This went especially for JURASSIC WORLD, which tried to both appeal to nostalgia and mix up the formula, achieving neither. FALLEN KINGDOM, for better or worse, knows exactly what it is.
After the PR disaster of dinosaurs running, flying and swimming amok in Jurassic World, the theme park is mothballed and the scaly attractions prepared for auction to the highest shady bidder. Enter former park executive Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), now working for an animal welfare charity and tracker Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) whose only obstacles to saving the dinosaurs are those with too much money and no morals and the small matter of a volcanic eruption already in progress…
They really want you to know that they are aware of “Shoegate”. There are several quite pointed closeups of the sensible boots Howard is wearing. Sadly, more appropriate footwear for running for your life isn’t the same as character growth. At least Howard seems to be trying and isn’t on autopilot again (lookin’ at you, Mr Pratt). I still don’t buy Owen and Claire’s relationship, though a scene where they both have to get very up close and personal with an unconscious T-Rex in a shipping container to draw blood for…plot reasons is an unexpectedly great character moment for the both of them, and Pratt and Howard seem to be having a lot of fun playing this moment. The supporting cast are fine, with Daniella Pineda’s paleo-veterinarian Zia being a welcome addition and Ralph Spall having fun as a slimy suit impotently leading a collective of cruel mercenaries (including Ted Levine, collecting trophies again Buffalo Bill-style).
The fact that they really lean into the film’s silliness, the premise’s inherent nature as B-movie material (when Spielberg isn’t involved or involved in an inferior re-hash) does Fallen Kingdom a lot of credit. Yes, you could pick apart the logic some of the plot points if you were so inclined, but you’ll have a lot more fun if you just go with it. Ideas with their roots in Michael Crichton’s pages are taken to the nth degree and get some serious payoff, even if they don’t stick the landing executing every concept. Plus, if there’s an opportunity to show a Velociraptor being exploded through a window then I want to see it. Simple pleasures.
Something that also helps give it a distinctive flavour is hiring a director with a recognisable style. The film’s Gothic horror-tinged final act, all shadows and secrets, is an undoubted highlight. JA Bayona really pushes the vampiric side of the new Indoraptor. In a key scene we see it crawling vertically down the outside of a building to claw at a bedroom window, which couldn’t be more Dracula if it tried. It’s probably the new films’ highest-impact theme: any animal raised in isolation, whether artificial or not, will come out wrong when it leaves captivity. Auctioning off dinos as prestige pets or for sport is chillingly believable as well, far more so than sending them overseas as scaly soldiers (please don’t bring that idea back in the third film, Trevorrow…).
If they’re going to keep this series going, it’s got to evolve and offer up something different each time. These new movies can’t just be, “Remember this? Well here it is again!”. The film is crammed full of dino-cameos (Brits will be pleased to hear that the very belated appearance of our snappy native carnivore Baryonyx is worth the wait) and the camera captures these real-feeling creatures in some striking new ways, whether from above pacing restlessly in their warren of cages, causing mayhem as their world (outside) collides with ours (inside), or one particularly dignified and moving death-by-nature. We’re certainly not short on memorable visuals, but a few sharp or even vaguely memorable lines of dialogue to go with them wouldn’t go amiss.
I reckon Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is going to be my 2018 ALIEN: COVENANT equivalent in that I quite enjoyed it, even its more divisive tangents, but I seem to be in the minority. It’s not that I can’t see value in the criticisms; the characters are still uninteresting, the storytelling standard and wonder mostly lacking. But this is easily the scariest and most tense Jurassic film since the first, it adds a fair few new ingredients to the stew and with Bayona’s stylistic flare and unabashed ease with serving up trashy entertainment we get some vivid set pieces too. It’s certainly not high art, but it makes an impression. SSP