Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Toby Jones, Jeff Goldblum, Isabella Sermon
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“Relax. Anything in here would be dead by now.” Those are the famous last words from a team of mercenaries venturing into the aftermath of Jurassic World. It’s night. It’s raining. The thing they’re looking for is deep underwater. And dangerous dinos are lurking just a shadowy ripple out of shot. So far, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Jurassic Park sequel directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. From The Orphanage and The Impossible to A Monster Calls and Penny Dreadful, Bayona’s a director who understands the tragedy of fear, the heartache of terror. Him at the helm of a film about the demise of dinosaur kind, then, is a perfect fit – but after the dark horror of Fallen Kingdom’s superb opening sequence, this prehistoric creature feature never quite comes to life.
The idea of a fifth Jurassic Park movie is enough to make anyone pause to consider whether they could, not to mention whether they should. Hollywood, though, finds a way, and so we get a film that tries to juggle several different concepts, each one attempting to justify the film being made. On the one hand, there’s a timely story about protecting the natural world. On the other hand, there’s an even timelier conspiracy thriller about military weapons and genetic technology. And, on a third hand, there’s the fun dino romp that whisks us back to Isla Nublar all over again. It doesn’t take Dr. Ian Malcolm to calculate that they can’t all coexist peacefully.
Needless to say, the last bit (i.e. the bit that sounds the most fun) is the briefest, as Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) – former park employee-turned-eco activist – persuades Owen (Chris Pratt) to go back with her to the island that was inevitably toppled by the creatures kept in its cages. Why? Because a dormant volcano is about to erupt, wiping them out all over again. Enter John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (Rafe Spall), who wants to rescue them and ferry them to his sizeable estate in California, where they can be preserved before being relocated to a new island sanctuary. Before you can say ‘nefarious motives’, things take a turn for the sinister, and that set-up, in itself, would have been enough for an enjoyable popcorn-muncher, full of bombast and set pieces; the addition of nervy park technician Franklin (The Get Down’s Justice Smith) and enthusiastic veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) to the movie’s first act brings a nice dollop of entertainment.
But this is only the start of the story, and the more Fallen Kingdom ventures into murkier waters (particularly one subplot involving Isabella Sermon), the further and further it falls. It’s not that the moral questions it asks aren’t compelling, and it certainly isn’t that the cast (which includes James Cromwell and a hilariously over-the-top Toby Jones) aren’t delivering the material with gumption, it’s that the script stumbles with every new plot machination it tries to squeeze in – divided into two movies, to accommodate for the shift in themes and tones, this might have all played out more successfully. Uneven and stitched together by rushed dialogue as it is, it’s a hot mess of a blockbuster, one that happens to feature dinosaurs.
But what dinosaurs they are, and when Bayona gets a chance, he whips up some impressive spectacle – after a chapter that cruelly denies them the awe that the first Jurassic World channelled so effectively, Fallen Kingdom climaxes with a genuinely tense chase sequence through a stately mansion. One crane shot that creeps over the rooftop before peering upside down through a window delivers on the promise of The Orphanage, and it’s a treat to see him bring that imagination to the franchise. It’s too short a glimpse of what might have been, alas, a frustration echoed by the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Jeff Goldblum, whose Dr. Ian Malcolm gets a stirring speech but likewise leaves you wanting more. By the time the non-ending rolls around, it’s hard to know whether to be amazed by the sequel’s audacity or annoyed by its lack of consistency; there’s dizzying potential here for a whole generation of exciting, smaller-scale dino tales that span a staggering range of genres (think 10 Cloverfield Lane or Monsters). But while Universal is flexing its Jurassic world-building muscles, if Fallen Kingdom isn’t treated as a cautionary example, maybe those mercenaries at the beginning are right, and the best ideas buried in the Park are long extinct.