A dinomite, not-for-kids adventure Spielberg should (mostly) be proud of.
There’s a moment in the, rather terrific, opening sequence of Fallen Kingdom that recaptured that same fear factor upon seeing the T-Rex in the 1993 original. As an ill-fated submersible trawls the ocean floor, they let out an inflatable object to float to the surface. As it ascends through the misty darkness of the sea, lightning strikes, showing the nightmarish silhouette of a foreboding Mosasaur (picture an absolutely huge alligator). The eyes widened and the breaths shortened, watching as the inevitable havoc hits these unwitting victims. Throw a short Dino-chase into the mix as well, and you have you a stellar, suitably scary beginning that puts audiences’ faith in Jurassic directing newbie, J.A. Bayona.
Set not too far after the earlier entry, with the park now shut off to the public and the outcry regarding the formerly extinct creatures growing, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is fighting the dino’s battles against the public and the government. Here’s the thing – Isla Nublar is home to a not-so-dormant volcano that is due to erupt. This persuades budding philanthropist Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) to rescue every dinosaur from the island, and take them to a sanctuary to live out the rest of their days in peace. Of course, catching velociraptors isn’t an easy day at the office, so they enlist the help of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). But is their return to the park as well-intentioned as it seems?
It’s not a spoiler to reveal it isn’t all clear-cut, RSPCA-esque goodwill. The film has been let down by one of the more revealing marketing campaigns in years, releasing several trailers which tap into numerous story beats. Unsurprisingly, this does ruin the element of surprise for some moments of the movie – Jeff Goldblum’s very, very short starring role could have easily been kept secret, for example. If you show our leading actors in peril in one trailer and show them, clearly alive and well, in another trailer which is showcasing another part of the film, you’re going to naturally struggle with getting yourself too involved in the stakes.
It’s a sad fact that the humans are the least gripping element of the film. Howard puts in a developed, enthusiastic effort following the 2016 entry, but carries a constant expression that seems like she’s on the brink of giggling. You can’t expect someone to be relaxed while they’re being chased by a biologically engineered predator, but there’s a definite apprehension behind Howard’s performance at times. Pratt meanwhile, getting used to the whole Hollywood shtick, is fairly unenthusiastic in comparison to his early, star-making efforts. Carrying off many a line with a stench of cynicism, the clunky dialogue across the feature doesn’t do Star-Lord any favours, but he surely could have injected a bit more of his signature charm into the material.
Spall is a worthy, sneering villain to add to the franchise’s repertoire, charming and collected in one moment and murderous the next. But similarly to the other newcomers, Zia (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin (Justice Smith), he’s too pantomimic for his own good. While the cast may not exactly excel, where the film does exceed all expectations is the dinosaurs. After a wobbly, character-centric opening half hour, we’re treated to the sort of prehistoric mayhem we’ll always have an appetite for – and it doesn’t stop. There’s gruesome carnage and catastrophic explosions, but rather than the tastelessness of a Bay action outing, Bayona’s direction retains the spectacle of each sequence without seeming excessive. There’s an (apparent) one-take, underwater sequence in the first act that is a dazzling highlight.
Amazingly, the dinosaurs demand more emotional attachment than the humans (move over Baby Groot, we have a Baby Blue now). There’s a beautifully poetic, heart-aching moment with a lone brachiosaur that had the full screening in tears (a small girl had be escorted out because she just couldn’t handle it). Whether it be sadness, happiness or fear, you’ll be more involved with the majestic creatures than the frankly boring cast. Yes, there is another hybrid dinosaur in this outing, but it is implemented for far greater effect here, both in terms of context and impact. There’s no question; this is a scary film, enough to make a grown man shudder and the distant pitter-patter of god knows what. Parents should think very seriously before taking their raptor-crazed offspring, unless they’re equipped to deal with possible, if not guaranteed, tears.
For those salivating at the prospect of hearing that iconic Williams theme thunder through the cinema’s surround sound speakers – bad news. Michael Giacchino’s score, while immersive and at times, damn eerie, naively doesn’t tap into the fanfare of the beloved original soundtrack. There’s also a few other light gripes – of course we’d like to have seen more Jeff Goldblum, there are a couple of plot and character developments that are interesting but definitely pointless, and Howard and Pratt’s chemistry is more akin to that of a brother and sister. But, for pretty much the first time since 1993, dinosaurs are terrifying again, and with the way this sequel bravely finishes, the final chapter could be the most terrifying yet. “Welcome to Jurassic World”, indeed.