It’s been a full 25 years since the first “Jurassic Park” movie hit theaters, scaring up over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office while proving that director Steven Spielberg could scare moviegoers as much as any horror filmmaker. And with that kind of money pouring out from filmmakers, Hollywood just had to find new ways to keep dinosaurs rampaging in the modern world— yet its two initial sequels yielded vastly diminishing returns.
But three years ago, a new series of dino-films came roaring back into theaters to bigger success than ever, thanks to the wise choice of hiring the unlikely new superstar Chris Pratt fresh off his global success with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” “Jurassic World” was a pure adrenaline rush, filled with laughs and a charismatic performance by Pratt as a daring yet compassionate trainer who had a preternatural rapport with the dinosaurs under his care at a resort island that brought humans and beasts together on safari-style vacations.
Now the follow-up to that film is out, but the age of the series is starting to show as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is heavy on thrills, yet forgets to make viewers care much about the characters at its core. The first “World” had the advantage of introducing Owen and his unique skills to the world, as well as resort bureaucrat Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who went from by-the-books resort exec to rifle-toting badass over the course of the film.
Now they’re back, but with their characters established, they fall victim less to dinosaurs than to sequelitis, in which follow-up films are almost inevitably weaker because they lack the element of discovery that draws viewers into the world of a film. Director J.A. Bayona has done some incredible films in the last few years with 2012’s “The Impossible” and 2016’s vastly underseen classic “A Monster Calls,” but his work is more serious-minded than the prior film’s Colin Trevorrow, who was making a go-for-broke jump into the mainstream after a career in indies.
The latest “Jurassic” opens with a terrific action set piece in which a team of mercenaries swoop in via helicopter to an island overloaded with dinosaurs amid a raging storm in the dead of night. They are attempting to take as many types of dinosaurs off the island as possible and ostensibly to safety under the care of elderly industrialist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who says that he wants to save them from imminent death by a volcano that’s about to explode.
As they fly away with a beast in tow, a bigger monster than anyone has ever seen lurks under the ocean, not only swallowing an entire exploratory pod with two men inside but also leaping out of the water to eat another man dangling from a rope ladder after he believes he is off to safety. It’s a great start, but then we’re rushed through our first sightings of Owen and Claire and within minutes they are being led to believe they need to help get the last species off the island in order to save them at a new preserve that will protect them from humans forever.
The problem is, they’re really being tricked into collecting the monsters so that they can be auctioned off to an array of evil zillionaires competing to have their own beasts they can exploit and clone for various industrial and military purposes. As Owen and Claire come to realize this agenda, their allegiance suddenly shifts to look out for the mostly vulnerable dinosaurs against ruthless humans.
This creates an interesting dilemma, and the turning of the tables is fun as our heroes — who are also protecting Lockwood’s granddaughter from the rampaging creatures — find themselves torn between their higher natures of preserving as much life as possible and their own desperate self-preservation. They have to constantly decide which dinosaurs are safe to be around and which can destroy them.
Bayona and writers Trevorrow and Derek Connolly also bring some new excitement into the mix by having the final dinosaur assaults happen within the confines of a giant, remote mansion. Thus, they create a hybrid of monster and haunted-house genres that is often grin-inducing and jaw-dropping at the same time.
Overall, “Fallen” is a fun ride but not a truly resonant or memorable one. n
“jurassic world”: B