JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: J A Bayona

Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Justice Smith, Ted Levine, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Toby Jones, Daniella Pineda, B D Wong, Jeff Goldblum.

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Like so many other long running and successful film franchises before it, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, delivers diminishing returns. And while the special effects and CGI technology that brought dinosaurs to life on the big screen has advanced markedly in the 25 years since Spielberg first gave us Jurassic Park, it seems that the art of story telling itself has stagnated.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes place nearly four years after the theme park of Jurassic World was destroyed by out of control prehistoric creatures and has laid abandoned since. But now the island of Isla Nublar and its dinosaurs are threatened with extinction as a long dormant volcano threatens to erupt and wipe out everything.

Billionaire John Lockwood (James Cromwell, from Babe, etc), a former partner of Jurassic Park’s ambitious creator John Hammond, mounts a rescue mission to try and save some of the species. He recruits Claire Dearling (Bryce Dallas Howard, reprising her role from Jurassic World), who now heads a dinosaur activist group to lead the mission. She in turn contacts wise cracking dinosaur trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to help convincing him that he can rescue Blue, the raptor that he trained and raised in Jurassic World theme park before everything turned to shit. The pair are accompanied by Zia (Daniella Pineda), a paleo veterinarian, and Frankie (Justice Smith, from Paper Towns, etc) a nerdy and easily frightened systems analyst. Also along to help is the ruthless mercenary Wheatley (Ted Levine, from Silence Of The Lambs, and tv series Monk, etc), who wrangles the creatures on board several freighters for transport back to the mainland.

The mission is financed by Lockwood and the enigmatic Eli Miles (Rafe Spall), the head of a pharmaceutical company, who has his own nefarious agenda. Miles has created a vast research facility beneath the impressive Lockwood mansion where he plans to create more genetically modified dinosaurs and auction them off as weapons to the highest bidders. Miles is especially proud of their new creation, the hybrid and powerful Indoraptor.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom moves the original concept in a different direction, with a dumb and generic plot written by Derek Connelly and Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World, etc). The film touches on ethical issues of cloning and genetic modifications and the hubris of scientists tampering with nature, and the cloning of dinosaurs for military use as superweapons but doesn’t really follow through on any of these potentially interesting ideas. Instead these themes are ditched in favour of some action sequences as Claire and Owen work to try and thwart Miles’ plans and sabotage the auction. In moving the dinosaurs away from the theme park and into a real world driven by greed and corruption, the film also seems meaner in spirit and less generous as it moves away from the pure entertainment value of the original concept. Themes of good versus evil run throughout the DNA of the film and it is far darker in tone.

Spanish filmmaker J A Bayona (who gave us the impressive tsunami survival movie The Impossible, etc) brings plenty of visual flair to the material that almost overcomes the shortcomings of the messy and derivative script. Bayona draws inspiration for the staging of key scenes here from a number of classic horror films, as well as directly referencing iconic moments from Spielberg’s own canon. A brief after the final credits scene is reminiscent of the final frame of Hitchcock’s classic The Birds and signals the potential direction for a further sequel.

Bayona may have plenty of visual style and flair but he doesn’t have the same heart or emotional connection with his characters that Spielberg has. The early sequences set on the island of Isla Nublar with its dinosaurs and an erupting volcano are among the film’s best and most inventive moments, but it’s all downhill from there. As expected the special effects and CGI work is quite spectacular. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom features more dinosaurs and a broader variety of creatures than any other film in the series, and they have been created by a deft mix of animatronics and state of the art CGI technology. The climax features a battle to the death between Blue the good raptor and the Indoraptor that recalls many other monster movies such as Godzilla and its ilk.

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Bayona’s regular cinematographer Oscar Faura (The Impossible, etc) gives the film a slick and glossy look. Production design from Andy Nicholson (Gravity, etc) is also excellent, especially with his creation of the sprawling Lockwood manor and its labyrinthine underground laboratories and chambers. The Lockwood mansion with its panelled walls and living museum that stands as a legacy to his achievements, recalls the impressive setting for the classic Citizen Kane.

Pratt’s Owen here has been transformed into more of an action hero here, and there are definite touches of Indiana Jones to his portrayal of the character. Smith brings an edgy nervousness and touches of humour to his role as the nerdy IT specialist. Returning cast members from other films in the series include B D Wong, who briefly reprises his role as the egotistical geneticist Dr Wu, and Jeff Goldblum, who has a cameo as Ian Malcolm, the chaos theory specialist, but is given little to do other than issue more dire warnings about the future and basically say “I told you so.”

The cast also includes Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of legendary screen comedian Charlie Chaplin), who lends an imperious and intimidating presence to her role as the nanny who cares for Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (played by newcomer Isabella Sermon). The concept of a child in peril from dinosaurs on the loose directly references the original film. The ubiquitous Toby Jones sports a truly horrendous fake American accent as Mr Eversol, the enigmatic auctioneer, a bland and one-dimensional character who eventually becomes food for the rampaging Indoraptor. Spall’s Miles is also another one-dimensional villain who gets an ironic cumuppance.

While Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a superb technical achievement and unashamedly a piece of pure popcorn entertainment, it is nonetheless a derivative piece of cinema that offers little that is new. The series has outstayed its welcome and should probably go the way of the dinosaurs themselves.

★★★

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