“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the best of the dinosaurs-eat-man movies since the original. Although that might not be saying much—given that each sequel is more deserving of Ian Malcom’s reaction to the first’s triceratops toilet grounds—it has just enough bite to make it quite rewarding in its own right.
Even though moviegoers have largely spared no expense in turning out for the “Jurassic Park” sequels, none has been as richly imaginative, thought-provoking, or suspenseful as the science-inspired starter. And really that cut in quality commenced with Steven Spielberg’s “The Lost World,” which eschewed its source material’s smaller storyline and evolutionary emphasis for a B-like monster movie.
“Jurassic Park III” did the same, at least accepting its action-only status by cutting 40 unneeded minutes as well as any semblance of a deeper plot underneath its plethora of prehistoric carnage.
Then, 14 years later, came “Jurassic World,” another example of Hollywood’s new nostalgic attempts to reengineer box-office gold by extracting silver-screen DNA from audience-approved amber. Full of unfunny irony and self-referential mockery, it’s a “Jurassic” joke of a film.
It was with pleasant surprise then to see “Fallen Kingdom” rise from the ashes, in a story that finds its predecessor’s Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the now volcanically volatile island to save the species from a second extinction. The staples stay: kids—or, in this case, millennial young adults, so kids—along for the ride as well as the old dino-disrespecting male-osaurs out to exploit the animals for all they’re worth, featuring the most memorable foil since the original’s Dennis Nedry in the cigar-chomping, Buffalo Bill himself, actor Ted Levine (“Silence of the Lambs”).
And it wouldn’t be a “Jurassic Park” outing if things didn’t go wrong, which they of course eventually do.
But outside of the expected, a lot in “Fallen Kingdom” goes right. There’s a care for what’s being captured on screen, at a level not seen since Spielberg’s involvement. Director J.A. Bayona takes his time, critically allowing not only tension to build but the audience to scrutinize and appreciate what is unfolding. Moments are surprisingly, and welcomingly, slow. From characters’ underwater entrapment to almost any part of the concluding chaos, several sequences succeed at being unforgettable for their intensity and craftiness.
The story—though much of it can be found in “The Lost World”—provides just enough twists to garner a new interest in both this entry and in what’s surely to come. And while the turn of events further opens the realm of ridiculousness, it finally provides something different for a franchise that has been mired in formula.
Where “Fallen Kingdom” falls short is in its unneeded reliance on what “worked” before. Obviously as a sequel there has to be some sense of continuity. But the scene-sacrificing humor from “Jurassic World” warrants only the fate of the park: complete and utter destruction. It’s lazy, stupid, and unnecessarily recurrent in “Fallen Kingdom” (though admittedly more reserved, as evidenced by Pratt’s oddly subdued performance).
And yet again, a “Jurassic” sequel’s most mind-boggling decline is in its frustratingly bad visual effects. In 1993, “Jurassic Park” revolutionized the industry with its computer-generated imagery. Four, eight, 22, and 25 years later, each follow-up has looked worse—gradually and remarkably worse. The standard bearer needs a pallbearer.
Where “Fallen Kingdom” does come alive is when it delves into, what should be, the real conflict of the “Jurassic Park” franchise: not the dinos but the DNA. The moral underpinnings and responsibility associated with genetic engineering made for some of the most gripping moments in Michael Crichton’s novels and the first film—all centered on well-written dialogue. Absent in every movie since, it’s at least attempted and teased in “Fallen Kingdom.”
For that and for its unique approach to an exhausted enterprise, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” makes for an interesting, fun, if not occasionally silly summer movie. And while it’s not even in the same ballpark as the classic, this sequel, unlike the others, actually deserves to be a hit.
3.5 out of 5