Director: J. A. Bayona | Screenwriter: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly | Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B. D. Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum | Distributor: Universal Pictures | Running Time: 128 min. | MPAA Rating: PG-13
I was so enraptured with the giddy delight of adventure in Jurassic World replicating that same wonder from childhood that I brought high hopes to Fallen Kingdom. But then I remembered the sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and how disappointed I was in its struggle to ditch the park for more dinosaurs in action, removed from their secluded island. History has unfortunately repeated itself, albeit with lingering charms and thrills that desperately claw and gnash their way out of a needlessly dense and busy script for a dinosaur romp.
One aspect that remains firm is the tender relationship between Doctor Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his raptor pal Blue. The previous film made it seem that Owen had a kinda-sorta bond of a pet that is almost housebroken but their friendship is given a clearer dimension this time with snippets of baby Blue’s early training. Their comradery is far more believable than the rekindling of Owen’s relationship to the corporate suit turned dinosaur activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). They’ve split up since the last movie but only so they can fall in love all over again. At least, that’s what the movie would have us believe since there’s rarely much sexual tension between the two at all.
They’re reunited on a mission to save the remaining Jurassic World dinosaurs from a volcanic eruption. Sounds like a fun adventure, complete with accompanying young interns (Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda), a trigger-happy mercenary (Ted Levine), and a deceptively devilish tycoon (Rafe Spall). Their leads them into a handful of exciting situations, a highlight being trapped with a dinosaur in room flooding with lava. Too bad this island adventure takes up only a quarter of the film and we’re hardly given a moment for our characters to breathe as they sprint to that showcase of a stampede of dinosaurs.
Too many cans of worms are opened for the expanse from the park of prehistoric beasts. Government involvement is pushed to the side with shrugging shoulders to avoid any questions about why the military isn’t involved in stopping the human-munching monsters. Sinister corporate forces are conspiring to get their greasy hands on the Jurassic World assets but their involvement amounts to little more than punching bags for Pratt and dinner for dinos. The original Jurassic Park founder had a partner with an aged and ailing James Cromwell but it feels as though there’s a whole sordid history buried under his minimal involvement that could have been its own movie. And there’s a cloning twist thrown in for the third act on the off chance that the arcs were too few and surprises too predictable.
I’m sure that for many audiences these annoyances can be excused if the dinosaur action is entertaining enough. While they are the shining jewel of this rusty crown, they really have to pull double duty and fight for screen time amid the crowding. Their dance seems to repeat as we once feature another dinosaur cloned from merged DNA and the more pure dinos must take him down. In this instance, Blue’s intelligent DNA is woven into a new breed created for military purposes. They duke it out at a massive mansion with much glass to shatter and many dino artifacts to smash, until one wins with a mighty roar and pose to the screen like a victory in a video game.
And so I found myself frustrated with Fallen Kingdom and its super-sized order of arcs that are too big for its B-movie britches. As someone who grew up adoring Jurassic Park and love watching a new generation get that same thrill from a T-Rex tirade, it pains me to see this franchise slip back into its old bad habits. There’s a lot here I wanted to love, from Pratt’s almost effortless ability to garner a laugh, the finely-tuned dinosaur battles, and the musical score from Michael Giachinno which adds a throwback element of classic adventure serials. But everything, from the emotional drive to the world building, is so rushed that the returning players of B.D. Wong and Jeff Goldblum are all but shoved to the side. It’s a cavalcade of missed opportunities and a waste of someone as charming as Goldblum never getting a chance to banter with Pratt.
Why couldn’t the producers have stopped to ask if they should rather than if they could? Why couldn’t life find a way to bring together Goldblum and Pratt? Why do I keep quoting Jurassic Park? Maybe I’m too nostalgic. At any rate, the film is set to make a chunk of change at the box office and will inevitably have a sequel to close off the trilogy. My hope is that they can take this latest route in a less muddled and more audacious adventure. Perhaps mount some guns on the raptors? It sounds silly but look at the franchise we’re talking about. It could use more pulp and pluck with its dining dinos.