The second film in a planned trilogy sprung from Steven Spielberg's defining early-'90s blockbuster Jurassic Park (1993), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has the unenviable task of picking up where the bigger-is-better Jurassic World (2015) left off and then providing the set-up for a third film, and for the most part it handles its duties well enough. A lot of the beats are a bit too familiar from previous entries in the series, which isn't surprising given that this is the fifth film to play off the idea that genetically recreated dinosaurs will eventually run amok if given enough time.
That was the basic idea of Spielberg's much more ethically inclined and visually dexterous original, and the two sequels that followed (the Spielberg-directed The Lost World and Jurassic Park III) played in the ruins of that disaster. Jurassic World offered something new in that it was set in an actual dinosaur-filled theme park of epic proportions, something that had remained just a dream in the earlier films. Of course, it all went to hell in a handbasket, and Fallen Kingdom picks up several years later, with the eponymous theme park lying in ruins and the previously caged dinosaurs roaming around the island on which it sits. The problem now is that the island's volcano is erupting, which poses the sticky question of whether we should we rescue the dinosaurs and ensure their continued survival or leave them on the island to die.
The latter solution is supported by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the mathematician and chaos theorist whose various speeches provided the philosophical and ethical heft of Spielberg's original film (here he only appears in a few scenes testifying before Congress, but I'm guessing we'll see more of him in the next entry), while the latter is strenuously supported by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former director of Jurassic World who is now an avowed dinosaur activist who believes they deserve to be saved. She is contacted by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), an invalid billionaire who was involved in the initial dinosaur cloning project and who now wants to create a true dinosaur sanctuary on a safe island and wants Claire to help him move the animals. To do that, of course, she must enlist the help of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the animal behaviorist/velociraptor trainer with whom she has a romantic past. Owen is reluctant to get involved again, but he is lured back into the fold with the promise of rescuing Blue, the particularly intelligent raptor he raised and trained from infancy and with whom he has a special bond (the whole training-the-raptors angle was one of Jurassic World's sillier concepts, but the more they press it, the more oddly reasonable it feels).
The island rescue operation, complete with exploding volcano and flowing lava, is just the set-up; as it turns out, nefarious agents with alternate agendas are the real drivers of the mission, and the film's second half unfolds almost entirely in and around Lockwood's enormous northern California mansion where many of the dinosaurs have been taken to be auctioned on the black market. It wouldn't be a Jurassic movie without endangered children, and here we get Maisie (Isabella Sermon), Lockwood's beloved and extremely precocious 10-year-old granddaughter who ends up knowing more than she should. We have returning villain Dr. Wu (BD Wong), the increasingly cartoonishly vile creator of the dinosaurs, as well as some new nasties: Ted Levine's gnarled strongman Ken Wheatley and Toby Jones's ethically vacuous businessman Mr. Eversol. As in the previous movies, biology and commerce are in stark conflict, and the desire to once again commodify the dinosaurs and turn a big profit is what results in their running amok, reminding us of the concern that Alan Grant expressed way back in the first movie about not knowing what will happen when dinosaurs and humans-two species separated by 65 million years-are suddenly thrust together. If the previous movies have taught us anything, it is that nothing good will come of it.
And that is, if anything, the main problem with Fallen Kingdom. Although screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, both of whom contributed to the script for Jurassic World, which Trevorrow directed, throw in a few twists and turns along the way, too much of it feels too familiar. There is a twin sense of safety and dj vu all throughout the film, and the only real standout moments occur when director J.A. Bayona, a Spanish filmmaker known for his work in horror and fantasy (2007's The Orphanage, 2016's A Monster Calls), breaks out of the mold and does things his own way. Much of Fallen Kingdom feels like a cookie-cutter blockbuster, but there are a number of small moments in which Bayona turns on the nightmare imagery and temporarily detours into something much closer to outright horror (I'm thinking particularly of a fantastic shot in which Maisie, cowering in her bead, is approach by a massive genetically enhanced dinosaur, and all we see are its reaching hands, which look not unlike Nosferatu's). Alas, it is too little to make Fallen Kingdom feel like much more than just another cog in the franchise, although its cliffhanger ending suggests some intriguing possibilities for the third installment.
Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Universal Pictures
Overall Rating: (2.5)
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