“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” asks Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. “The first time you see one, it’s like a miracle.” She has a point. When Jurassic Park came out in 1993, there was something miraculous about the tangible, substantial dinosaurs that Steven Spielberg and his CGI team had conjured up. Audiences were awestruck, as were the characters, because Spielberg took care to convey just how spine-tingling and magical it would be to share a planet with such magnificent creatures.
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But that was a long time ago. Maybe it was inevitable, given that it’s the fifth film in the series, but Fallen Kingdom doesn’t bother with awe or miracles. Directed by JA Bayona, and co-written by Colin Trevorrow, who directed 2015’s Jurassic World, this hectic, pulpy romp may be intended to make you scream and laugh, but it never comes close to making you gasp in wonder.
In part, this is because the substandard CGI is on the same level as it was in those live-action Scooby-Doo films with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr; and in part, it’s because the plotting is on a similar level. Fallen Kingdom has as much in common with the original Jurassic Park as a TV cartoon spin-off, or a tie-in rollercoaster ride; that is, all the familiar elements are there – rain, upturned Jeeps, teeth the length of bowie knives – but it’s far faster and more frantic, with a dopey story that requires the humans in it to be less intelligent than the pea-brained reptiles.
At first, though, it looks as if it might have some depth. It starts by establishing that the Jurassic World theme park was abandoned three years ago, and that the dinosaurs have been roaming freely on Isla Nublar ever since. But the island’s dormant volcano has now been “reclassified as active,” which is a polite way of saying that it’s spewing lava and throwing flaming boulders all over the place. (I’m no volcanologist, but even I could have managed that reclassifying.) The dinosaurs will be extinct for a second time unless someone ferries them to safety, but the US Government is reluctant.
Round ‘em up
In a tiny cameo, Jeff Goldblum pops up as Doctor Ian Malcolm, from the first and second Jurassic Park films, and argues that the poor beasts don’t deserve to live – although, considering how traumatic his own experiences with them were, this hardline stance may be understandable. But Howard’s character, Claire, has gone from being the corporate stooge she was in Jurassic World to a dino-hugging eco-activist, and she is still hoping to Save The Palaeo with the aid of her two sidekicks (Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith, who are young enough to take over as the franchise’s stars a few films down the line).
Time for some serious discussion of scientific ethics and animal rights? Of course not. Claire’s campaigning is forgotten as soon as she is invited to a sprawling country manor owned by the ageing Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). I don’t recall his ever having been mentioned before, but apparently he was the partner of John Hammond, the entrepreneurial boffin played by Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park.
Claire and Owen’s relationship obeys the laws of Hollywood sequels: ie, it fizzled out after the end of the last film, but it might just rekindle before the end of this one
Lockwood’s smooth assistant (Rafe Spall) tells her that he has another edenic island ready and waiting for the displaced dinosaurs, but he needs Claire’s help to round them up. Claire in turn needs the help of Owen, the rootin’ tootin’ raptor-wrangler played by Chris Pratt, so she drives to his lakeside cabin to talk him into joining the mission. Like so much else in Fallen Kingdom, Claire and Owen’s relationship obeys the laws of Hollywood sequels: ie, it fizzled out after the end of the last film, but it might just rekindle before the end of this one.
And so begins a search-and-rescue disaster movie in which our heroes have to dodge T rexes and fireballs alike as they trek through the jungle on the trail of Owen’s pet Velociraptor, Blue. That would have been enough of a premise to sustain an earlier Jurassic Park instalment, but Fallen Kingdom is in more of a hurry than any of them: it races between locations as breathlessly as it races between political themes.
Before you know it, the film is hurtling back to Lockwood’s mansion, where it becomes a zany bedroom farce crossed with a gothic horror chiller crossed with a Bond movie. It’s a relief that the series has finally gone somewhere new, rather than staying on the island yet again. But if Fallen Kingdom had been any prouder of its blockbuster cheesiness, it would have brought in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to compare wisecracks and biceps with Pratt.
The idea that there are dinosaurs trotting around is probably the most believable thing about it
It’s not as if the franchise has ever been known for its nuance and realism, but this is the first episode to divide both humans and prehistoric monsters into noble heroes and evil villains. And it’s the first in which a vast secret underground laboratory comes equipped with barrels of poisonous gas, flimsy cages, and easily accessible fuse boxes which let you to turn off all the lights in the building with the flick of a switch. The idea that there are dinosaurs trotting around is probably the most believable thing about it.
It’s so ludicrous that you’re unlikely to be scared, but you may well admire how deftly Bayona has assembled a rollicking popcorn movie for all the family, with no sex or swearing, and with gore which is implied rather than shown. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is good old-fashioned summer entertainment, and it does a cunning job of setting up the next instalment. But will you remember the first time you saw it? Probably not.
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