Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Jeff Goldblum, B.D. Wong, Justice Smith – Directed by J. A. Bayona
There’s a significant level of hype surrounding any new Jurassic Park / World movie. After all, the 1993 original was a cultural touchstone, with Spielberg delivering on the promise of Jaws with a blockbusting spectacular that mixed state of the art special effects with animatronics, men in suits and good old-fashioned suggestion. There is very little that can rival the thrill of seeing the very first Dinosaur encounter with a child and watching their brain explode. Couple that with a cast of brilliant characters played by brilliant actors, classic Spielberg tropes of children in danger and bad parents, so many quotable lines and two main themes that are some of the catchiest music around.
Sadly, The Lost World, Spielberg’s follow up, was not in the same league; it was enjoyable and a little darker, but it failed to capture the simple pleasure of the original and finished with a ridiculous Godzilla reference. Then came Joe Johnston’s third entry, back to the Island but again with little that would ever appease the die-hard fans, except of course Sam Neill showing his face once again. Even Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 reboot Jurassic World didn’t exactly capture the magic, putting in sketchy characters that meant very little besides following the obligatory beats.
Now, J.A. Bayona comes in. Having made The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls, he seems to have served up a pu-pu platter of the previous films with a garnish of Spielberg for the fifth instalment in the series. The story, as much as there is one, is that the Isla Nublar, the Costa Rican island resort John Hammond spent a bajillion dollars building his theme park on is actually an active Volcano… now former corporate stooge turned activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) has to return with Owen (Chris Pratt) to rescue some dinosaurs for Hammond’s previously unmentioned bestie Benjamin Lockwood, naturally, some bellend has decided to make a new dinosaur.
Fallen Kingdom is a strange film, it’s sort of a film of three parts, but not in the beginning, middle and an end sort of way, more in a Mission: Impossible style rescue mission in which Pratt and Howard along with newcomers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda have to try and save the day and things go boom… a lot. Then we have the strange stowaway / corporate evil section in which Gray’s Anatomy comes to Jurassic Park with a ridiculous surgery sequence before we end up at James Cromwell’s gaff for a horror movie finale that works better than what came before.
Clearly showing what he can do, Bayona has his high action sequence at the beginning, all that can go boom will go boom, then the A Monster Calls sequence in which the fantastic and the mundane are combined for emotional impact and then The Orphanage ending in which people are haunted, but this time by a big ugly dino, not a sack-headed ghost child.
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The action is well done, but the CGI is so obvious sometimes it once again begs the question – how is a 1993 film more believable than a 2018 film? Similarly, while it’s certainly admirable to try and flesh out the boring Bryce Dallas Howard role, it’s still the daffiest of all the roles, while Chris Pratt plays his Guardians of the Galaxy role Star-Lord – sans the jokes. Smith and Pineda do very well as partially bickering co-workers who use their wits to win out, and Pineda also gets the lions share of the laughs. Ted Levine – the great character –gets saddled with ruthless mercenary type just like Pete Postlethwaite and Vincent D’Onofrio did in previous films, and again it means nothing. While Cromwell is great, and so is Rafe Spall, the real stand out here is Isabella Sermon as Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie. The classic child in peril, and a dinosaur nut, she manages to not be as irritating as previous kids in the series have been (she doesn’t gymnastic kick a raptor for instance).
When it comes to the now anticipated appearance of Jeff Goldblum, it does seem exciting that here’s there, to show us big piles of shit, to tell us to go faster and to explain chaos theory, but it’s a cameo. A cameo – in fact – that would have been better served as a surprise, a little sprinkle of nostalgia for the fans. But no, his entire screentime was shown in the trailer. This is not the triumphant return of everyone’s favourite wisecracker, this is, unfortunately, just a man sitting and talking.
Fortunately, there are some moments of brilliance. After all, the themes by John Williams are catchy, and it’s hard not to want to boo out loud the minute you see B.D. Wong’s sinister Dr Wu on screen. Moreover, there’s a joy to be had in watching a summer popcorn movie for kids, riffing on Nosferatu and Hammer horror movies for a solid twenty minutes. Even if the question – why do you keep making super insane killer dinosaurs – does continue to bug. Seriously? Maybe don’t make the big super dino from the previous film, into a smaller one that can fit through a door.
Thereafter the film works on how much you like the actors and the sight of CGI dinosaurs. For people wowed by the original film and even somewhat charmed by the sequels this might prove to be a little sluggish, after all, there was a simplicity to the original that has yet to be fully marshalled on screen since. There’s no doubt it can be done, but the writing here is a little flat, leaving little room for the characters to feel anything other than basic archetypes. But in the new dino we do get a scary villain. The franchise… found a way.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.