Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

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Directed by J.A. Bayona

So as a word of warning, this may not be my clearest-headed review, as it was written in the wake of a midnight screening. Still, for the weary head this morning, it was worth it. To say this is the second best Jurassic Park film almost does it a disservice, given how inconsistent the sequels have been – it would be like calling Hellbound the second best Hellraiser and leaving it at that. Three years ago, you’ll recall a franchise everyone thought was extinct got brought back from the dead in the fun, but bloated, effects extravaganza Jurassic World. A very different monster from the 1993 original, it traded in the gradual reveals, reflective sci-fi discussion and suspense for high concept action. Now its sequel, Fallen Kingdom aims to find a halfway point, mixing fast-paced thrills with a refreshing thoughtfulness and horror. Think of it as a franchise hybrid, that shows us the reptilian species we all want to see, whilst reminding us you wouldn’t want to bump into one in a dark mansion.

Like the poster says, the park is gone and the late John Hammond’s dream is over. But it’s not just that – soon the whole darn island will be gone too, buried under a volcanic eruption that threatens to kill the dinosaurs off once again. Luckily, fresh from fighting Thanos, Chris Pratt returns as reluctant former raptor-trainer Owen to save those that he can including Blue – the raptor sidekick from Jurassic World. Reunited with stick in the mud/ love interest Claire (Howard), who now works to save the dinosaurs she previously exploited for money, he leads a rescue mission to Isla Nublar. All your favourites are there – including a triceratops, raptors, brontosauruses and, of course, Rexy. So far, no surprises. Then around a third of the way in, as anyone who’s seen the trailer knows, they fleas as the volcano goes off. But in case anyone thinks Fallen Kingdom has shot its wad too quickly, in an example of premature evacuation, the Lost World resembling first act evolves into a smaller-scale horror set in a country estate. You see, it turns out the slick so-and-so (Spall) who hired our rescuers maybe wasn’t trying to save them out of the goodness of his heart as much as his wallets. In a strand that expands on a poor subplot in the last movie, they want to sell the dinos for a million apiece, so they may be weaponised or upgraded by the highest bidders. Enter the Indoraptor: an incredibly clever, incredibly dangerous killing machine. And before you say Indominus rex, trust me – it’s one nasty bastard.

We got series new-comer J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) to thank for this. Through his evident mutual passions for classic creature features and Gothic horror, he’s managed to create genuine suspense in a Jurassic Park film for the first time in 25 years. What makes this achievement particularly impressive is when you remember that the have-a-go heroes of the original have long since been replaced by one of the world’s biggest action stars. Still, somehow Bayona manages to give a sense of dread that will horrify and excite in equal measure. This is true from the epic opener, that uses lighting brilliantly to show a scrappy pickup assignment quickly go wrong. We all know what dinosaurs look like by now, this is after all the fifth entry in a world-famous series. But by keeping them in the shadows again, they cease to be animals and instead become monsters. The sort of monsters that would make kids hide under their covers, with the bedroom scene, in particular, looking to go down as the scariest of the whole franchise. That being said, sometimes the script and casting work against the mood, with the key problem again being Chris Pratt.

Because Owen rarely looks out of his depth (he trained bloody raptors), and retains an annoying cowboy swagger even when he is, his character detracts from the overall danger. Such writing/ casting is more jarring in Fallen Kingdom than Jurassic World, as it takes itself a lot more seriously. Maybe it’s an inevitability when a series moves from the creation of dinosaurs, and palaeontologists realising knowledge means nothing when running from them, to a world where they’re a banality. But bits like him quipping ‘you thinking what I’m thinking’ (?), before effortlessly causing an elaborate action set piece, are gratuitous, conveying a confidence that makes him utterly unrelatable. Still, he has great comic timing and his scenes with a baby Blue are touching. Thus beneath the heroics he’s relatively charming. As is Howard, who has a lot more to work with. Probably in response to criticisms of the last movie, Clare is a much less passive joint-lead, needing saved far less often and having way more sensible footwear. Yet they simply don’t gel well together. It’s partially down to their samey dialogue, and the dynamic being one we’ve ten too many times in other onscreen couples. But the fact of the matter is both have more chemistry with computer-generated dinosaurs than each other.

Elsewhere, new comers Franklin (Smith), who acts as a voice of the audience, and the kickass Zia (Pineda) are welcome additions to the cast. Isabella Sermon is also a revelation as Maisie, the granddaughter of ex-Hammond crony Benjamie (Cromwell). Her vulnerability adds dramatic stakes to some of the creepy scenes, even if her subplot is later botched by an important reveal that’s handled like it’s very unimportant. Throughout, her mutual love and fear of dinosaurs, reminds me my reaction to the first film a quarter of a century ago. Speaking of which, its predecessor largely tugged audience heartstrings with nostalgia – like the scene where the T-Rex was finally free again to save the day. And there’s a bit of that fan service here too, with one moment being directly lifted from Spielberg’s classic. Yet the emotion comes far less from seeing the dinosaurs you’ve watched all these years in all their glory, as much as from seeing them suffer. At points its harrowing stuff, and a great means of exploring animal welfare without dropping the pace. Do humans have a moral responsibility to these creatures? And if so, what sort? These themes are laced well throughout, leading to a powerful ending that hints at a new, exciting direction for the third part in the Jurassic World trilogy – I already see another late night when it gets unleashed.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About david.s.smith 418 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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