If Jurassic World really were a theme park, it’s grand opening couldn’t have gone any better. A visually dazzling, exhilaratingly dangerous thrill ride, the de-extincted franchise rocked and rumbled audiences off their seats – only for them to dust themselves off and line-up for another go around to the tune of more than $1.5 billion worldwide. But with unprecedented success comes T-Rex-sized expectations for Fallen Kingdom to not only match its predecessor’s savvy, ridiculous fun, but throw a whole new set of dizzying, terrifically enjoyable attractions into the mix. And that’s a challenge far easier said than done – just as the filmmakers behind The Lost World and III.
At the very least, Fallen Kingdom succeeds where those maligned sequels faltered, with screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly delivering a compelling motivation for their heroes to return to the land of marauding dinosaurs. Isla Neblar’s no-longer-dormant volcano is a ticking time bomb, forcing the park’s former operations managed-turned-dino activist Claire (Howard) and beefcake trainer Owen on a mission to rescue a handful of species, including Owen’s beloved Blue, before the lava starts to flow.
While the crunched, twisted ruins of Isla Neblar remain a breathtaking sight, the Island-set sequences stomp a little too close to the dinos-chasing-people tropes of the rest of the franchise. The Impossible’s A. J. Bayona (who replaces Trevorrow in the director’s chair) unleashes a series of thunderously intense set-pieces – the highlight being a clawingly claustrophobic underwater scene; but we’ve seen unsuspecting visitors fleeing a thunderous stampede, braving uncomfortably close encounters with toothy reptiles, or getting trapped in a gyrosphere in previous movies. The plot hardly attempts to subvert expectations, either, with a clunky script that telegraphs its twists far too heavily for impact – it’ll surprise no-one to learn that the ruthless mercenaries hired to assist the evac have less than noble intentions.
Even when the movie switches the action to the sprawling, spooky Lockwood Estate, it still feels like it’s going through the same motions. Bayona does more fine work, returning to the haunted house-stylings of his debut The Orphanage to orchestrate plenty of beautifully crafted scares as InGen’s latest gene-spliced plaything, the Indoraptor, breaks loose and starts prowling the mansion for prey. But again, the sight of humans cowering in the dark as a set of flared, scaly nostrils and a spiky grin hove into view is hardly unfamiliar. It feels like Bayona has merely renamed the ride and slapped on a fresh coat of paint, while the carriage still travels along the same old predictable track.
Such a lack of invention might hardly be noticeable, were we invested in the fates of any of the characters. While Claire and Owen are more rounded and have far more chemistry this time out, Justice Smith’s nervy tech nerd and Daniella Pineda’s feminist paleoveterinarian barely register, and one character’s mysterious identity is too heavily foreshadowed to truly surprise. Meanwhile, Rafe Spall’s sneaky assistant, Ted Levine’s snarling trophy collector, and Toby Jones’ Trump-esque auctioneer are so cartoonishly hissable, it’s difficult to take seriously the film’s darker themes about animal testing and mankind’s responsibility to other life on this planet.
Ultimately, then, Fallen Kingdom is little more than a well-crafted collection of fun, shiny set-pieces, but with little emotional tissue to bind them into a satisfying experience. With the story left tantalising poised on the cusp of a brave new Jurassic world, further instalments are seemingly inevitable; but on the basis of this so-so adventure, the question is: will anyone be back for another ride?
Runtime: 128 minutes (approx.)
Director: A. J. Bayona
Screenwriters: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Donnolly
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Ted Levine