The Jurassic franchise roars back into life
Dir. J. A. Bayona. US. 2018. 128 mins
In this latest dutiful and earnest instalment of the profitable Jurassic Park franchise, the world of prehistoric creatures meets the underworld of animal trafficking and financial exploitation. Amid lava and lots of rain, there’s enough that’s familiar in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to retain at least the existing public, and enough that’s new to attract some of the curious to a solid tentpole release.
A roller coaster that you’ve ridden many times.
Spain’s J. A. Bayona is essentially stirring the same Jurassic pot here, with little that’s inspiring from his cast, unless you count the dinosaurs. His cinematographer Oscar Faura brings an aesthetic dose in stylish close-ups and brisk storytelling to this horror/adventure tale and Fallen Kingdom should travel on its own momentum to the impressive numbers achieved in the past. With eco-responsibility foregrounded as a theme, the film gets a ultra-thin patina of respectability that could bring in sme of the high-minded. But it’s still mostly like a roller coaster that you’ve ridden many times.
In the current iteration, it’s the dinosaurs who are under threat, as volcanoes erupt on Isla Nublar, the reptiles’ island habitat in the ruins of Jurassic Park. When US politicians decline to intervene to save them, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) of the Dinosaur Protection Group teams up with philanthropist Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell) to rescue the hyper-intelligent Blue, a Velociraptor who has been raised by humans. The gambit involves recruiting Claire’s ex, Owen (Chris Pratt), who is off building a house in the American woods.
Things get complicated when lava threatens to engulf the island, and when Lockwood’s turncoat chief of staff Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) turns out to be running a secret business to sell the saved dinosaurs for experiments, hunting or anything else that turns a buck. The site of the battle between ecos and villains, once the island is in flames, is Lockwood’s cavernous mansion – vast enough to hold countless dinosaurs.
As the script lurches from human conflict to dinosaur attacks, with heavy breathing from Michael Giacchino’s insistent music, Fallen Kingdom rests on three legs – the fate of the dinosaurs (including a new breed, the Indoraptor), the threat of a global trade in the endangered beasts, and the promise of a bond between Claire and Owen.
No surprise, the animals (always the real Jurassic stars) steal the show, initially in a hair-raising opening sequence – worthy of the best days of James Bond – with submarine and helicopter, which lays out the horror of dinosaurs on the loose.
Sadly, Bayona can’t sustain that level of suspense, although the molten lava that threatens all life, even that of dinosaurs, gives the drama an added chill. For sheer logistics and fun, the resulting stampede of reptiles large and small is a wonderfully grotesque twist on Noah’s Ark, especially since they’re saved in boats and shipped away, only to be sold off.
A later mini-stampede through Lockwood’s private natural history gallery of prehistoric bones offers a clever riff on Night In The Museum.
On the human side, Howard and Pratt are too busy fighting villains and hungry dinosaurs for much else, although Faura’s lens makes them both worth watching. The novelty here, once the animals are caged in Lockwood’s mansion, is a volatile dinosaur sale that is modelled after an art auction. The film’s vision of a world coming apart explodes like another volcano – or like the monster among museum patrons in The Square – when the prime specimen breaks loose while buyers are bidding.
Howard and Pratt are genre-solid in the leads. In other roles, Toby Jones breaks the film’s family film mould as a greedy broker and auctioneer of the trapped animals. It doesn’t hurt that he resembles Donald Trump’s former press secretary, Sean Spicer. BD Wong could use more juice in his reprise of Dr. Wu, a Frankenstein-ish geneticist who concocts the nasty creatures. Jeff Goldblum hits the right notes, playing to well-worn type as he bookends the film with a doomsday scenario of dinosaurs roaming free.
And as those beasts roam free, so do sequels, the lifeblood of the franchise.
Production companies: Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, Legendary Pictures, Perfect World Entertainment
Worldwide distribution: Universal
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Belen Atienza
Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Production design: Andy Nicholson
Editing: Bernat Vilaplana
Cinematography: Oscar Faura
Music: Michael Giacchino
Main cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum