Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Life finds a way.
I doubt anyone foresaw Jurassic World’s (2015) almighty climb to the top — I sure as hell didn’t — the film now one of the top-five highest-grossing earners of all time. Set to relaunch the series, Colin Trevorrow’s monster-sized mega-hit proved that people could still be wowed by the wonder of dinosaurs, the decades-old franchise far from being extinct. With Trevorrow out of the director’s chair — though remaining onboard as a writer-producer — and Spaniard J.A. Bayona, The Orphanage (2007), handed the reigns, this fated follow-up melds big-screen spectacle with horror and melodrama, Fallen Kingdom a satisfying kitchen-sink mix of all the elements that make these dino-disaster movies so gripping and edge-of-your-seat.
Based on the cautionary man vs. nature stories of Michael Crichton, this latest Jurassic offering roars into action with a killer prologue. Set three years after the calamatous events of the 2015 picture, our story opens on Isla Nublar, the Jurassic World theme park now defunct, overgrown and completely void of human life. It’s a dark, stormy night and a mercenary crew have arrived on the scene, the men instructed by former InGen geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to retrieve some DNA from the remains of the Indominus Rex, which lie at the bottom of the park’s centerpiece lagoon. Let’s just say that the mission doesn’t exactly go according to plan, the team having a frightful run-in with both the Mosasaurus and a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Cut to the mainland, where we’re given snippets from an ongoing U.S. Senate hearing, the congressional committee debating whether the resurrected dinos roaming free on Isla Nublar should be saved from an impending volcanic eruption, which would surely kill off the beasties once and for all. Enter Mr. ‘Life Finds A Way’ himself, Dr. Ian Malcolm — Jeff Goldblum (in a cameo that bookends the film) reprising his role as the eccentric (once smarmy) mathematician. You see, Malcolm, in his testimony, suggests that the prehistorical lizards should, in fact, be left to die, the chaos theorist confident that this ‘act of God’ is Mother Nature’s way of correcting industrialist John Hammond’s cloning mistake made all those years ago.
When the ruling body rejects the reptiles’ rescue, the survival of their species falls in the hands of Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s ex-operations manager, who now heads the Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG). As luck would have it, Claire is contacted by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Hammond’s old business associate (who’d helped develop the legendary InGen cloning technology), whom she meets in his sprawling Northern California manor, our strawberry-haired heroine learning of the ailing tycoon’s own private salvage mission. It turns out that Lockwood’s plan is to ship the left over dinos to a new island sanctuary, where they’ll live in harmony without any human interference for the rest of their days, Hammond’s estranged friend wishing to make amends for his past errors. Rendezvousing with Lockwood and his right-hand-man Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), whose job it is to supervise the safe transportation of the primevel giants, Claire is recruited and asked join the expatiation. Problem is, they’ll need the aid of Jurassic World’s now-retired Velociraptor trainer, the cocksure Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who’s seemingly living off the grid, as locating and capturing the ultra-intelligent Blue, the last living raptor on the island, could prove to be tricky without him.
Accompanied by DPG employees Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), an ex-Jurassic World techie, and paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), Claire and Owen (after some convincing) venture out to the ill-fated rock, where, together with hunter-for-hire Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) and his band of gunmen, they embark on a quest to liberate the endangered dinosaurs, which *surprise, surprise* winds up being much more difficult and dangerous than either of them could have ever imagined.
Jumping straight into the action, this new Jurassic episode wastes no time. Once back on the isle, we’re given a heap of frenetic, big-budget set pieces, the apex being a sequence that sees our heroes attempt to outrun an untamed volcanic eruption (via a gyrosphere) alongside a flight of fleeing dinosaurs, dodging explosive magma rain and the onrush of Mesozoic era monsters. There’s also a thrilling bit set in a command bunker, which involves Claire, the cowardly Franklin, some hot molten lava and a ravenous Baryonyx. With multiple near misses and loads of thrills and spills, these blockbuster moments are excellently rendered and well executed, even if they lack realism and originality, most coming off as ‘seen it all before.’ Nevertheless, this exciting first innings works as a fitting farewell to the fictional Central American isle, the send-off concluding with a haunting image of a desperate brontosaurus crying out for help, before being engulfed by volcanic smoke, this confronting scene sure to get animal lovers down in the mouth.
The latter part of the picture moves us back to NorCal, and that’s when things get darker, the screenplay by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly — two of the four scribes behind 2015’s Jurassic World (2015) — exploring the risks, formidable power and wonder of genetic modification, along with human greed and megalomania and the importance of wildlife conservation, themes that have been tackled (to greater effect) in other films before — think JP4, the Guillermo del Toro-produced Splice (2009) or even Dwayne Johnson’s Rampage, from earlier this year. While the concept of man intervening with nature has always been a series staple, Fallen Kingdom drops in an ethical quandary of a different kind, one that’s never been surveyed before, this involving Benjamin’s 10-year-old granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Delving any deeper would mean slipping into spoiler lane; I just wish more had been done with this alluring story thread.
Anyhow, it’s in this closing arm, centered on the auctioning of dinosaurs, where Bayona, having hailed from the world of horror, really puts his stamp on the material, Fallen Kingdom a bit more artistic than your typical monster-movie fare. There’s tense closed-quarter suspense, our heroes trying their darndest to evade the ravenous reptiles in tight, often-claustrophobic spaces, the action — shifting to smaller locations such as containment facilities, lavish bedrooms, and a natural history museum — heightened by the shadowy, atmospheric cinematography by Oscar Faura, The Orphanage (2007), the entire third act possessing a Gothic-horror/ haunted-mansion type vibe. And then there’s the introduction of the genetically designed dragon-like Indoraptor, described as the ‘deadliest creature to ever walk the planet,’ this cunning carnivore responsible for the film’s more gnarly kills.
As one would expect, the effects/ animation by Industrial Light & Magic are next to none, the digital dinos dovetailed seamlessly into the live-action — the superb animatronic work headed by creature effects supervisor Neal Scanlan is also worthy of note — while the exhaustive production design by the Oscar-nominated Andy Nicholson, Gravity (2013), elevates the overall ambience and mood, Fallen Kingdom, visually, one of the better looking films in the saga.
Performances are more-or-less carry-over from the former entrant. Chris Pratt still charms as smoldering ex-raptor wrangler Owen, whereas the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard, trading in those ridiculous heels for more situation-appropriate footwear, is just as clumsy and self-righteous as theme-park-overseer turned dino-rights-activist Claire, the pair maintaining their frisky chemistry and lively banter. Of the newbies, Justice Smith, Paper Towns (2015), injects pep into proceedings as token scaredy-cat Franklin, who prefers being the ‘guy in the chair’ rather than out in the field, whilst The Vampire Diaries’ (2009-17) Daniella Pineda should’ve been given more to do as sassy paleo-vet Zia. And, oh, English thespian Toby Jones, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), also stands out in his few scenes as the devious Mr. Eversol, a character set to greatly profit from the sale of deadly dinosaurs.
Working as The Lost World (1997) ‘chapter’ in this new dinos-gone-wild ‘trilogy,’ Fallen Kingdom is bound to please both general audiences and long-time fans, the film dotted with nods and winks to the franchise at large. Yeah it’s kinda stupid (for one, why was the park built on an island that housed a not-so-dormant volcano?), excessively cheesy and requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief, but I guess that’s all part of the fun, each successive entry sillier than the last. Having said that, I’m curious to see where the story will go from here, Fallen Kingdom’s finale (putting the focus squarely on the title) sowing the seeds for future instalments.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner