I vividly remember the experience of seeing Jurassic Park for the first time upon its theatrical release in 1993. I used to be a Spielberg-fanatic teen a la Dawson Leary back then and it was one of the first films I thrillingly went to see adult-less. Flash forward 25 years to the now 5th installment in Michael Crichton’s dino-franchise and let’s be honest, no one could truly expect to re-live the level of awe and genuine terror crafted in that film by one of Hollywood’s masters in his career prime.
At the very least though, even without the “first time wonder” factor, rebooting such a popular series with fresh blood in the creative cockpit and with today’s cinematic technology should’ve led to something narratively compelling. Yet, what we’ve been given between 2015’s Jurassic World and this anticipated sequel, Fallen Kingdom, is mostly a rehash of the same stories with unmemorable new characters and the potential for interesting themes and new directions that remain underdeveloped.
After the debacle of Jurassic World built over the ruins of the old Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar, the dinosaurs’ fate on the island has become of public interest as Congress debates whether they should rescue the creatures from an imminently erupting volcano. Jeff Goldblum returns in his iconic role of Dr. Ian Malcolm just to re-iterate his views on how man has already played God enough and should no longer interfere, so the government votes against the operation. Despite Universal Pictures’ sneaky marketing machine leading us to believe that the actor’s participation was more than a cameo, forget about seeing Goldblum hanging out with a T-Rex – maybe next time.
Our heroes once again are Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing and Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady with their awkward on-again/off-again relationship whose chemistry remains lukewarm although that’s the least of the film’s character issues. After Jurassic World’s demise Claire has become an activist trying to save the dinosaurs from another extinction. She is summoned by dying billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), old friend of the original park’s creator John Hammond, to join a rescue mission and take the dinosaurs to a “sanctuary” island he and his associate Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) have set up.
Claire gets immediately on board as she’s trying to “atone” for being involved with the park in the first place but her recruitment is mainly a ploy to get Velociraptor-Wrangler Owen involved since he’s the only one who can handle his old Raptor pal “Blue”. Now of course, it doesn’t take much brain-power to figure out that Blue’s superior intelligence is going to be the target of unscrupulous men and to expect that our heroes will be taken advantage of and betrayed – after all, up to a certain point, this feels like a reiteration of The Lost World.
It’s a relief then to see how in spite of its many flaws, Fallen Kingdom takes the action somewhere else after the island collapses – Lockwood’s remote mansion – and that’s when things finally get more intriguing, even as nonsensically far fetched as they progressively become. To delve any further into the unkempt plot would get us into spoiler territory but it’s worth mentioning that the most compelling idea revolves around Lockwood’s little granddaughter Maisie – convincingly played by newcomer Isabella Sermon – who will join our heroes and their sidekicks (underused new entries Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda) against the greedy evil villains exploiting the dinosaurs.
Director Colin Trevorrow only returns to pen the script alongside writing partner Derek Connolly but he should’ve probably let fresh creative power fully take over. Although suspending your disbelief for this kind of fare is part of the deal, it’s hard to rein in your cynicism when the writers have concocted too many ludicrous moments within a generally messy and unfocused storyline, plagued with cringe-worthy dialogue, bland characters and the promise of thought-provoking thematic threads that only linger as seeds for the next installment.
The actors do their best with the little they’ve been given and it’s a pity, especially in this empowering time for women, that Brice Dallas Howard isn’t allowed to show her range. Chris Pratt is a bit luckier and although he doesn’t have enough room to shine, he makes the most of it when called to use his signature humour – cue a numb Owen hit by a dino-tranquilizer comically crawling his way out of fast approaching lava, which reminds us of Di Caprio’s infamous scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. And let’s not talk about Owen’s special bond with Blue (endearingly re-established with some flashbacks of the smart Raptor as a baby), which deserved much more screen time since it carries the film’s most interesting theme.
The main redeeming quality of Fallen Kingdom is without a doubt Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, who brings to the franchise his artistic vision and unique blend of horror (The Orphanage), action (The Impossible) and emotional sensibility (A Monster Calls), and prevents the film from succumbing to its disappointing screenplay. With the help of his regular cinematographer Oscar Faura, the filmmaker has crafted a decent spectacle that finds its visual strength in the “haunted mansion” part of the movie with several gorgeous shots worthy of wallpaper status and some virtuoso camera movements that get you right in the heart of the most suspenseful action.
Unfortunately Bayona can only take the emotional moments he’s so good at mastering only as far as the story allows but we get glimpses of it whenever little Maisie is on screen. We wonder what he could’ve done if served with richer material and given how the final montage-epilogue hints at something more ambitious, it’s easy to imagine that the next chapter can either rescue this reboot or let it definitively sink into B-movie territory.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in UK cinemas now.
Words by Francesco Cerniglia @FrankieWriter.
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