Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reunite — this time to both escape and save the dinosaurs — in J.A. Bayona’s sequel.
In the franchise’s eponymous 2015 reboot, the place called Jurassic World was a “world” only in the Disney World sense: a bigger park, with ever-escalating attractions and ever-more places for families to fork over their cash. Finally making good on its name, J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom says goodbye to the park for good, not just carrying the de-extincted dinos off the island but freeing itself from the genre trappings of the previous four films.
Here, working from a script by the last pic’s Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, Bayona not only nods to the history of classic monster movies and the legacy of original Jurassic helmer Steven Spielberg, he brings his own experience to bear, treating monsters like actual characters and trapping us in a vast mansion that’s as full of secrets as the site of his breakthrough 2007 film, The Orphanage. Audiences put off by some dumb characterizations in the last film have much less to complain about here, while those requiring only some spectacular predators and exciting chase scenes should greet this outing as warmly as its predecessor.
Three years after all hell broke loose on little Isla Nublar, a newly active volcano is threatening to consume the surviving dinosaurs there. In America, activists push for a rescue mission: Having brought these species back to life, they argue, mankind owes them some kind of debt. A committee of lawmakers hears from an expert witness, whose advice boils down to “the genie’s out of the bottle, folks,” or, perhaps, “life will find a way.” Yep, that would be Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, whose involvement in the film is limited to just this one bit of testimony — but whose lines may be teasing a bigger role next time around.
The ringleader of the save-the-dinos campaign is someone with plenty of reason to see them re-extincted: Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, who nearly died every five minutes or so during the final hours of the park she used to run. Introducing her character with a shot that begins on her footwear and inches up, Bayona gets a laugh out of Jurassic World‘s biggest idiocy: This time around, Claire will leave the high heels in the office and wear sturdy knee boots when it’s time to run through the jungle.
Claire is summoned by gazillionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who we learn was John Hammond’s partner in reviving extinct species before the latter split off and started the first Jurassic Park. Near death, Lockwood wants to set things right for the animals he helped create: He has located a pristine island that will be suitable as a tourist-free refuge, and wants Claire’s help getting as many animals as possible relocated there before Isla Nublar goes kablooey. Naturally, the mission will need the special talents of Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, who has been off hand-building a cabin in the mountains since his affair with Claire ran out of steam.
Pratt downplays the cowboy charisma that helped make the human side of Jurassic World tolerable, but Owen remains cocksure enough to set the tone for developments to come: When, after arriving on Isla Nublar, the two realize there’s a plan afoot to steal dinosaurs and sell them for all sorts of nefarious purposes, Claire and Owen must sneak into and sabotage the effort much like Indy did with those Nazi submarines in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The mass evacuation leads them to a secret dino zoo on the American mainland, where mad scientists are holding that smaller-meaner beastie hinted at in Jurassic World: The Indoraptor, which gets genes from both that film’s Indominus Rex and the nightmare-maker who starred in the series’ first outing and most of its best moments since: the Velociraptor.
Clare and Owen meet Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (newcomer Isabella Sermon), a very bright and curious kid who has just learned of all the nefarious stuff being planned here. With Clare’s sidekicks Zia — Daniella Pineda, as a paleo-veterinarian who may owe the distracting chip on her shoulder to constant questioning about how one finds work as a paleo-veterinarian — and Franklin — Justice Smith’s tech nerd, whose shrieks of terror rival Howard’s — the group must keep these dangerous creatures out of the clutches of arms dealers, Russian oligarchs and the handlebar-mustachioed dudes who apparently just want to hunt them for sport.
(About that auction: The screenwriters don’t seem to grasp the economics of a world ruled by the megarich. When a stainless-steel tchotchke by Jeff Koons can sell for almost $60 million, no auctioneer worth his haughty accent would allow a last-of-its-kind prehistoric monster to go for less than half that. As one baddie brags early on about being able to sell a specimen for $4 million, we snicker and recall Dr. Evil’s underwhelming “one million dollars!” ultimatum. Does he think that’s a lot of money for a dinosaur?)
Working with his usual DP, Oscar Faura, Bayona finds many opportunities to transform action beats into memorably beautiful visions. Trapped on the edge of the dying Isla Nublar, for instance, a magnificent lone animal — what are we supposed to call Brontosauruses these days? — rears on its hind legs as it’s engulfed in smoke and flame. In his many decades onscreen, Godzilla has rarely had such an operatic showcase. And reteaming with editor Bernat Vilaplana (who has worked often with both Bayona and Guillermo del Toro), the director ensures that the enchanting images don’t derail the picture’s intensifying action pace.
While the movie courses seamlessly through different modes, it remains old-fashioned in its treatment of Howard’s character, who mostly screams and runs while Owen gets things done. Claire has grown up a lot since her debut as Jurassic World‘s soulless corporate climber, but she remains a damsel in distress who (this time, as last) gets to perform a single far-fetched heroic feat when things are at their most dire.
Fallen Kingdom ends with an act that is just about impossible to believe outside the context of a fiction that, like DNA, is driven solely by the need to replicate itself. This is said to be the second film in a trilogy. But Fallen Kingdom‘s closing scenes seem intent on something far bigger, like a Planet of the Apes-style saga that has barely begun. You don’t remake reality in a film’s final frames without intending to milk things for as long as the public will keep buying tickets. If future installments are this rich and exciting, that’s probably going to be a while.
Production companies: Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Isabella Sermon, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B.D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenwriters: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Belen Atienza
Executive producers: Steven Spielberg, Colin Trevorrow
Director of photography: Oscar Faura
Production designer: Andy Nicholson
Costume designer: Sammy Sheldon
Editor: Bernat Vilaplana
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Casting: Nina Gold
Rated PG-13, 128 minutes