Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens beneath the surface of a flooded park as some nervous and partially oblivious corporate goons search for not so ancient dinosaur bones. The less nervous one says to the other, don’t worry anything that survived here is long dead by now. You would think that, but it’s only been 3 years since Universal woke the dinosaurs out of dormancy with the $1.6 billion-grossing Jurassic World, and of course if you’ve ever seen any Jurassic Park film (there are 5 of them now) you’ll know that anytime someone declares safety they are not usually anything but the unknowing next dinosaur meal. And so at the end of the gorgeous, inventively shot nighttime sequence showcasing how far special effects & nighttime photography have come in the quarter century since the first one (right before I was born) it is back to the same old dino-business. “[I/we] made it!” The audience groans, and waits for the inevitable. What preceded was memorably executed with creativity, skill and uncommon Hollywood restraint by J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, A Monster Calls) and marks as one of the best sequences in franchise history. What follows is very mildly entertaining (which is pretty frustrating for a $170 million dollar film) retread that curbs a lot from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s earlier work and not just with the first two Jurassic films. It’s more of the same if only slightly better directed than the last one featuring some memorable imagery, 3 decent set pieces set pieces, good FX, and two good performances.
Unfortunately none of those good performances come from the main character, Claire Dearing promoted to full lead this time around. You’ll notice Bryce Dallas Howard is a very good actor if you watch her debut as the blind mystic Ivy Walker in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village or her growing committed lunacy in Joe Wright’s “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror. Here, her character is so completely different from who she was in the last installment, which at least got some dynamism out of an unlikable boardroom executive suddenly thrust into action, the same kind of interest author Michael Crichton brought out of Donald Gennaro in the novel, and the same interest many Americans get out of their news. Fallen Kingdom takes her original arc from the last film to the extreme; from a soulless suit to compassionate & caring, now a Dinosaur rights activist. Ignoring in the fact these are as Alan Grant said, nothing more than ‘man-made genetic theme park monsters’, it is a ridiculous, lazy push by the writers that someone who spends more time running for their life from dinosaurs than being enthralled by them would put their life’s work in trying to save them. It’s a stupid female character written by men in a franchise with too many of them, during which she isn’t even fleshed out in a meaningful way. But it’s a Jurassic Park movie, so as long as its focused on the dinosaur money shots it shouldn’t matter, right? But the mistake Fallen Kingdom makes and is a cardinal sin in Hollywood is that the whole film is a set up for another movie.
So what is there to like in this film apart from the aforementioned opening sequence? There’s a great visual capstone extinction image that doesn’t have the emotional baggage it thinks it does, much similar to the directors last film A Monster Calls. There is a wonderful physical display of acting by Chris Pratt in a tense, unique, slow-moving lava scene utilizing tranquilizers (this movie uses a lot of tranquilizers without regard to how they actually work), and it’s followed up by another water-based sequence that makes an interesting POV shot, staying inside as it increases emphasis on the action outside. It’s reminiscent of James Cameron’s The Abyss and his influence is seen frequently enough that it has some critics properly wondering what that all-star filmmaker would do with the material had he gotten his hands on it two hours earlier than Spielberg. As for what else sticks? We get another surprise great performance by character actor Ted Levine as sort of the anti-great white hunter that Pete Postlethwaite played in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Fallen Kingdom echoes a lot of character and set beats from the original sequel with environmentalism and dinosaurs off the island, but while it is better crafted than its immediate predecessor it lacks the enthusiasm of creatively exploring its few new ideas.