Dinosaur carnage fans rejoice! Everyone else? Hey… there are dinosaurs!
It’s been just a few years since the failure of Jurassic World, a theme park (not the movie) featuring a menagerie of living dinosaurs as imagined by of the late John Hammond. Now the site of a reawakened volcano, the days of Isla Nublar’s surviving dinosaurs are numbered; the U.S. government has chosen not to act based upon “expert” (Jeff Goldblum) advice, leaving advocates such as former dino-park executive Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) without hope of saving them. Fortunately, Hammond’s ailing former partner in innovating dinosaur genetic cloning, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), has the resources and the wherewithal to save as many creatures as they can, coordinated through his appointed concierge Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). But one dino they want to save — a raptor named Blue — will need a very special tracker to capture… if Claire can convince Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to come back to the island before it’s too late.
“We’re getting the band back together; we’re on a mission from God.” With a fifth film entering the reinvigorated Jurassic Park franchise, the excuses for why dinosaurs are being allowed continued existence are, to say the least, wearing a little thin. For many, Jurassic World was their first exposure to the concept and was wildly successful, but where to go with a sequel? The original book by the late Michael Crichton was mined for as many ideas as they could squeeze into the first three films; the sudden appearance of a convenient active volcano is the perfect device to move the action to new venues aka to where more people are. Will the dinosaurs be saved to reclaim their place on earth and hopefully destroy the ethically and morally challenged humans who brought them back?
While an amazing excuse for special effects and more dinosaur action sequences, Fallen Kingdom plays it safe, pushing the boundaries only as far as it needs to. It seems keenly aware of its fanbase — “Give us more dinosaurs!” — but perhaps its greatest praise can be found in what it didn’t do. The idea here was clearly to set the monsters loose for future films, but it does manage to introduce a few new ideas that are only lightly touched upon this round, the most interesting involving Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). With world-building a priority and more ethics questions introduced regarding the use of technology, Fallen Kingdom will satisfy the diehard dinosaur lovers but is far more interesting in suggesting what future sequels might hold.
Rumors persist that much of Fallen Kingdom is mined from an unproduced script for a fourth sequel to the original Jurassic Park before the World reboot. In any case, the excuses for getting our new heroes Claire and Owen into dino-danger again are flimsy at best and strained at worst; while a few fun moments come about reuniting the two, the typical trenchbonding relationship that fails offscreen so we can rekindle romantic tension onscreen is a tired crutch. Truth be told, the most interesting acting comes from newcomer Isabella Sermon in spite of not being in the film much at all. Buffalo Bill fans will be happy to see Ted Levine in the trigger-happy hunter role, the star of one of the more satisfying dino sequences in the entire film.
There are too many plot points that hinge on “just go with it” to count. You can almost see the film stretching from one plot point on the outline straining to get to the next; with each void filled with dinosaurs recast as victims instead of the source of danger, some fans won’t notice and the studio backing the film is certainly counting on that. While not merely phoning it in — there’s far too much running, sweating, and straining to call it that — here’s hoping that a successful showing will result in a more cerebral future story rooted in the subtle reveals of Fallen Kingdom. Please and thank you?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence, peril, and one tear-worthy loss of a fan favorite.
Three skull recommendation out of four