Warning: This review discusses the recycled plot.
It’s been three years since life found a way to reboot the Jurassic Park franchise in the form of Jurassic World, a disguised remake (both of Park and Jaws 3) that doubled as a funny on paper in-joke about resorting to desperate measures to renew interest in an old idea. Colin Trevorrow, with no blockbuster pedigree but the right friends, retold Spielberg’s story without the artistry. Yet the nostalgia bomb was a huge hit, so now we have the new series’ very own Lost World which bravely posits the idea that genetic sequels are a disaster in waiting. Thanks to Lucasfilm keeping Trevorrow at bay with an ultimately fruitless stint in the Star Wars: Episode IX development suite, we have a new director in the form of Spanish helmsman J.A. Bayona. Consequently, Fallen Kingdom has more visual flair and dynamism than its predecessor, but the bad news, dino fans, is that Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly are still on screenplay duty.
If you thought the characterisation in Jurassic World was thin, you’re right, but this is a franchise that has never shown much interest in its human participants – roar movies that have never dealt in raw feeling. But if you can remember Claire and Owen from Trevorrow’s movie, which isn’t a given, you might be surprised to learn they’ve mysteriously swapped belief systems in the years since we last saw them.
Bryce Dallas Howard’s corporate careerist (though she came round to family values in the end) is now, er, a dinosaur rights activist, campaigning to save the killer beasts from a volcanic extinction level event on Isla Nubla. Why she’d want to do this when she’s experienced the danger both they and the genetic engineering underpinning their existence pose to humans, is something she never cares to explain. Chris Pratt’s raptor handler, who showed compassion and empathy for the park’s living biological attractions last time round, now has a cavalier, “let them die” attitude; he’s a man who dreams of playing pool and living in a self-built log cabin. Remember Blue, his pet monster? As we re-join him, ambivalent at best. What the fuck happened?
Trevorrow and Connolly may have written their two leads the wrong way round, unless of course this formulation is conditioned by unreconstructed sexism, but at least they’ve remembered the plot strand from last time which saw Jurassic World’s super scientist, B.D Wong, tease the idea of weaponising dinosaurs for military use. This, Jeff Goldblum warns, in his cameo appearance, is an absurd idea with could lead to a genetic arms race that would repopulate the planet with creatures that threaten human primacy and would, if unchecked, lead to our extinction in no time at all, but the film’s pair of moustache twirling bastards – Ralf Spall and Toby Jones, are more interested in making a quick buck. Thus a plot point from the original Jurassic sequel – animal traffickers go to one of the breeding islands, capture dinosaurs and take them back to the mainland, is given a house of horrors bolt on, with Boyona channelling James Whale in a spooky rain swept mansion where Spall’s oily trustee experiments with Frankenstein breeds.
The film’s first act on Isla Nubla provides a little morbid humour and much eye-widening, if familiar spectacle. But the latter portions, set in the spooky mansion with John Hammond’s hitherto unmentioned business partner James Cromwell, wizened and bed ridden, and the old man’s niece, who’s telegraphed as his genetically resurrected daughter from the start, is the movie’s best look. In this setting, Boyona’s able to imbue the flick with some much needed atmosphere and, if not suspense, creeping discomfort. It’s here we’re grateful for a director with a horror sensibility and good eye, something we’re sure to miss when Trevorrow re-takes the helm for the trilogy’s planned conclusion.
It’s a pity Colin didn’t have the wit or inclination to develop the idea of dino-resurrecting technology being spun off to revive dead people, as that’s the film’s most eye catching and ethically compelling aside. Instead, Fallen Kingdom, though peppered with well-crafted setpiece action, is a largely perfunctory and senseless retread of Parks past. The ending sees dinosaur lover Claire stand idle while her beloved monsters are slowly gassed in a basement (no, really), only for them to be released into the world by the reanimated daughter (it turns out her entire arc was to learn what she was and utter the line, “they’re alive, like me”). This promises a third movie in which, apparently to no one’s alarm, dinosaurs now roam population centres, including Las Vegas. The good news: Jurassic World 3 may be set in an America dominated by killer reptiles. The bad? This post-apocalyptic scenario will be brought to you by Colin Trevorrow. Don’t have nightmares.