I’ve gone on record multiple times saying how much I dislike Jurassic World. It’s a mess of a movie (which isn’t unusual for a Jurassic Park sequel), but it’s also shockingly misogynistic and cruel, actively hates itself, and features the ugliest special effects of any Jurassic film. It’s just the worst.
Needless to say, I didn’t go into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with high expectations. New-to-the-franchise director J. A. Bayona was pretty much the only thing that got me to fork over 1,500 SCENE points and awkwardly place 3D glasses over my regular ones. Two hours later I was watching the credits roll with a big grin on my face, realizing that for the first time since The Lost World I’d enjoyed a Jurassic Park movie.
The sexism and mean-spiritedness are gone, and criticisms of corporate greed, which came off as pure self-loathing in Jurassic World, actually have some resonance here. This is the first film of the series to feature entirely villainous characters, and Toby Jones has a great time chewing the scenery as a Trump-like sleazeball who auctions off dinosaurs to cartoonishly evil billionaires. Chris Pratt is significantly less insufferable this time around, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, who was treated so horribly in the first one, is now every bit the hero that Pratt is. Zach and Gray, the truly awful kids from Jurassic World, are nowhere to be seen, and are replaced by Isabella Sermon giving a decent performance as a strange British child. Ted Levine gives a fun, Ted Levine-y performance, and Jeff Goldblum’s legendary Dr. Ian Malcolm has a line that made me quietly pump my fist and whisper “Yes.”
The special effects are a mostly excellent blend of practical and CG, and Bayona knows how to utilize them much better than Colin Trevorrow did in the previous film. He directs with the same stylish flair that elevated The Orphanage and A Monster Calls, and turns what could have been another creaky franchise entry into something more. The film’s biggest weakness is the script, which, unsurprisingly, was co-written by Colin Trevorrow. It actually works quite well from a plot perspective, but mostly fails when it comes to presenting main characters that are anything more than objects to get chased by dinosaurs. Luckily the dinosaur chasing is incredibly entertaining, and the film leaps from set piece to set piece with enough gusto that I was never all that put off by the lack of compelling protagonists.
The story this time around sees Howard’s Claire heading back to the island to rescue the dinosaurs before a newly re-active volcano wipes them out. She brings Owen along for this terrible idea because he loves a velociraptor on the island named Blue – a subplot that I think works a bit better this time around. They bring with them a tech wiz played by Justice Smith, and a dino-veterinarian played by Daniella Pineda, who has apparently never even seen a real dinosaur, let alone operated on one; as I said before, not a great script. Based on the rest of the series, I was expecting the entire movie to take place on Isla Nublar, but without spoiling too much, we don’t actually spend much time in a familiar setting. The entire second half of the film shifts gears fairly effortlessly into a Gothic horror inspired scare-fest that takes the franchise somewhere completely new, and then leaves it there, leaving me legitimately excited for the next entry.
Which I’m just learning is going to be directed by Trevorrow again.
Anyways, Fallen Kingdom is a really entertaining summer blockbuster that demands little from the audience except a willingness to come along for the ride. Bayona’s horror background is very much on display, and this movie makes the dinosaurs scarier than they have been since Spielberg was directing. You won’t care much about the characters, but watching them escape increasingly dire situations, all staged with inventive and suspenseful camera work and editing, and set to a bombastic score by Michael Giacchino, is some of the most fun I’ve had with a blockbuster all year.