Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Photo: Universal)
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM
**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY J.A. Bayona
STARS Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard
Given the general slipshod quality of the franchise since the excellent original, stating that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the best of the sequels is a largely empty declaration, equivalent to opining that a Hostess Twinkie is the best of the largely inedible sugary snacks flooding the marketplace. Perhaps it’s true, but does it really matter?
Steven Spielberg’s 1993 smash Jurassic Park was pure dino-mite, but the same can’t be said about the dismal twofer of 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park and 2001’s Jurassic Park III. The 2015 reboot Jurassic World fared better, but its commitment to rousing set-pieces and potent CGI couldn’t quite withstand its daft scripting and flippant cruel streak. This latest entry is a sliver better than its immediate predecessor, but only because it offers an innovative setting and a welcome moral dilemma — and because it lacks the presence of two of the most annoying kids in recent cinema.
Dinosaurs became extinct once before — should we allow them to do so again, or should we strive to save them? It’s an interesting question that’s posed from the very start of the film, as Isla Nublar, the island that houses the dinosaurs (as well as the now-abandoned Jurassic theme park), is about to be demolished by an erupting volcano. Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park’s Jeff Goldblum, with disappointingly limited screen time) believes the dinosaurs should go down with the island, but Claire Dearing (returning Bryce Dallas Howard) wants the animals rescued and is thrilled when wealthy industrialist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) contacts her with an offer to save them by transporting them off the island to a secluded new home. Lockwood has his reasons and means well, but the same can’t be said of his underlings, who instead have decided to make money off the creatures. For her part, Dearing recruits former flame Owen Grady (returning Chris Pratt) to aid in the rescue operation, but with double-crosses the order of the day, nothing goes as planned, and the dinosaurs end up imprisoned in an underground complex located beneath Lockwood’s mansion.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a picture that operates in fits and starts, with draggy interludes repeatedly and reluctantly giving way to more energized sequences. Certainly, the opening half-hour is one of the most lumbering stretches, with so much time spent on overstuffed exposition that one briefly suspects the filmmakers had a four-part miniseries in mind when putting this together. The movie roars to life once the duplicity of the villains overtakes the nobility of the heroes, and the sequences involving the overflowing volcano are expertly staged by director J.A. Bayona and his go-to cinematographer, Oscar Faura.
Bayona made his startling debut with the exquisite Spanish horror yarn The Orphanage, but he then went Hollywood with diminishing returns, with neither The Impossible nor A Monster Calls able to duplicate his original breakout success. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom obviously falls short as well, but at least on this feature, he’s able to conjure some of the ambience he generated for The Orphanage. Given its setting, the second half of this new picture resembles nothing so much as a haunted house opus, with dinosaurs instead of ghosts primed to leap out from the dark shadows.
The final act also brings the moral question — dinosaurs: should they stay or should they go? — back to the forefront in a way that sets the stage for the next installment that’s scheduled for release on June 11, 2021. There’s no reason to expect the upcoming film to be any better than the middling-to-poor sequels that have preceded it, but I suppose it’s always best to keep hope alive.