Director: J. A. Bayona
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Daniella Pineda
2015’s Jurassic World may have grossed colossal box office (5th highest worldwide), but in terms of creativity and ingenuity, it found the series on the wane, and represented something of a low. This despite the injection of some new blood into the series. Inevitably it was the first of a new trilogy, but what now for a franchise which has long since lost any sense of newness?
Let’s talk about Friday The 13th for a minute. The long running slasher series went through several peaks and troughs, and has remarkably kept going. How? By acknowledging those moments when its blood was thinning and calling time to either go bonkers or go home. And by then going bonkers. Firstly with Part VI: Jason Lives and latterly with the more notorious Jason X. Both now cult favourites. These self-aware and deliberately stupid outings may bear scant resemblance to the feel of the original(s), but they shook off the dust and allowed the possibility of rebirth.
Whether those rebirths were every really capitalised upon is another story. But Fallen Kingdom presents dinosaurs in ways Richard Attenborough’s Dr Hammond never intended, seemingly in an effort to allow these movies to evolve… or die.
We haven’t quite reached the nuttiness of the once rumoured dinosaurs-in-space storyline (which would’ve made a nice parallel with Jason X there), but Fallen Kingdom ultimately takes the series to some incredibly silly places. Places you might not have expected.
The trailers and promotional materials have given away the early plot moves; Isla Nublar is in peril as its once dormant volcano (did we know about that?) has started to erupt. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), now a dinosaur preservationist – that’s a thing – is coerced into returning to the island on a mission to salvage the threatened species. She’s been called in by Rafe Spall’s Eli Mills, who might as well be twirling his moustache as we’re introduced to him. Of course, he wants raptor-whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) along for the ride so that he can collect Blue The Good Raptor (remember?).
One might readily assume that’s enough for a full feature, but series newcomer J. A. Bayona belts through this material as quickly as he can. We’re not half an hour in and the lava’s flowin’ (making this release poorly timed, considering global news). Owen’s absurd abilities to get out of its path read as irritatingly stupid at this juncture, but in fact prove be a something of a litmus test for the nonsense to come. At least Claire isn’t wearing heels and a pencil skirt again.
Clock watchers will wonder what’ll make up the remainder of Fallen Kingdom, which runs to over two hours in length. And it is here that the Jurassic series pole-vaults from one doolally idea over towards quite another, as the film decamps to a gothic estate in Northern California for, essentially, a haunted house movie. But with dinosaurs. And an auction.
For some this will be where the series jumps the megashark but, if you shift your expectations, what follows makes up some of the most entertaining material since Spielberg first brought you into this universe.
It’s a million miles away from the legitimate brilliance of Jurassic Park (or, literally a few thousand), but that seems to be the point. The wonder of seeing CG dinosaurs on screen has gone. Colin Trevorrow seemed to struggle to realise this with the first of the Jurassic World pictures, but its seemingly sunk in now (he’s a co-writer and producer here). So instead, Fallen Kingdom aims to mash-up their appearance with incongruous locales and a marked tonal shift. And an awful lot of belief-beggaring silliness.
We live in an age of unending cinematic universes and its easy to forget that not too long ago the fourth sequel to an original hit wouldn’t have had any expectations behind it. Nobody really used to feel entitled to anything new at this point. What Fallen Kingdom delivers isn’t innovative, but it is more fun than a franchise running into its 25th year has any reason to promise. If you’re watching this movie and you’re irritated by dumb character decisions or implausible injury recoveries, then you’re largely missing what’s being offered around these objections; smirking, self-aware, batshit escapism.
If you think this is supposed to conjure the same gravitas and wonder as Spielberg’s first installment just consider Toby Jones’ hair in this movie. Especially the bit when he’s in an elevator.
This looseness, this warped playfulness, pretty much allows Fallen Kingdom to get away with murder. There are things obviously wrong with it. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s characters are dimensionless husks. There’s a plucky kid. The much touted return of Jeff Goldblum is an empty promise (he’s redundant in the extreme). But on the other side of that there are positives. Well, Daniella Pineda.
Of course, this is a modern blockbuster, so it’s also very aware that it’s a middle chapter. The world isn’t over yet. But unlike some sandwich fillers, Fallen Kingdom offers up memorable (if probably incredibly divisive) flavours. If you’ve got the stomach for something so tangy, it may prove to be the tastiest portion of this second trilogy.