BRAVE NEW WORLD
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (12A)
Director: J.A. Bayona
Review: RJ Bland
I must admit, I'm always a little suspicious of people who don't like Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. I know that film is subjective and all that but if you can't enjoy a bunch of dinosaurs running about and eating people then I genuinely feel that you must be a little dead inside. The follow-ups however are a slightly different matter. The sequel (Lost World) failed to live up to the standards set by its predecessor and the third, whilst fun, was too light/short to feel like a proper blockbuster. It did include Sam Neill though so some extra brownie points for that. After a 14 year wait, the dinosaurs returned to the big screen in 2015, with Colin Trevorrow's 'Jurassic World', which blew the box office away. It was something of a return to form for the franchise and it wasn't long before a sequel was announced. The reins of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom were handed to Spanish Director JA Bayona, whose experience in genre movies make the movie all the more enticing for us horror fans. But does JW:FK manage to successfully take the franchise in an intriguingly darker direction, or does it turn out like a big budget Carnosaur?
Set three years after the events of Jurassic World, the subject of the dinosaurs and their fate is a hot topic for society and government. The surviving dinosaurs face the threat of being wiped off the face of the earth due to a volcano that is in the process of erupting and despite the efforts of activists, including Claire (Dallas Howard) it is decided that intervention is too problematic and that they should let nature take its course. However, not everyone is willing to give up on those giant lizards just yet. Claire soon gets an invitation from the Lockwood estate, where Prof. Hammond's dying partner Benjamin Lockwood (played by the always brilliant James Cromwell) tells her of his plan to rescue a selection of the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar and relocate them to a new island, where they will be safe from volcanoes and people. She signs up instantly but faces the problem of having to convince former beau Owen (Chris Pratt) to join her as he is the only one who can locate and capture Blue, the last remaining Velociraptor on the island. Although initially reluctant, he accepts the challenge and they jet off – alongside a couple of Claire's activist buddies – back to Isla Nublar to save the dinosaurs from a second extinction.
It's fair to say that critical and audience reaction has been mixed and it's not hard to see why. Because whilst there are things to admire and enjoy about JA Bayona's gothic take on proceedings. However there are also some flaws here that unfortunately be covered up by a roaring T-Rex or some other new-fangled dinosaur hybrid.
Thematically JW:FK treads over a lot of the same ground as its predecessors. Goldblum's appearances in the courtroom neatly bookend the film and rather abrasively get across the subjects the film explores (just in case we can't ork out for ourselves). Should we mess around with nature or play God? Should we correct our mistakes or is it best to let nature take its course? What kind of rights should animals have? None of these are particulalry new but at least it's heart is in the right place. At one point Benjamin Lockwood says 'they don't need our help, they need our absence'. He's hit the nail on the head there. However, Trevorrow does at least escalate the themes of genetics (and their misuse). The idea of dinosaurs with 'exaggerated characteristics' and being used for 'warfare' is not only a further comment on the darkness of human nature to exploit other living beings for their own gain, but also a promise of a new direction for the franchise potentially. Sure the Indominus rex sounds was scary but you know what's more terrifying? A Indominus Rex with guns for arms!
Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt are always watchable actors and their chemistry and performances in Jurassic World were one of its strengths (despite all the hoo-ha about her running in high heels or whatever). They're fine this time around too – although Pratt seems to have lost a little energy and drive from the first film. The secondary characters are where the film falls down somewhat though. Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda inject some verve to proceedings however they are pretty roughly drawn out characters and apart from offering the odd witty one-liner, they kind of exist as background noise. Levine adds a bit of class (as does James Cromwell) but it isn't the acting performances that are really the issue, it's the set of characters that Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connelly have put together that feel rather uninspired. The bad guys are all predictably one dimensional and feel like characters that have existed in earlier films in the series. Isabella Sermon is one of the highlights of the film though and is great as Lockwood's lonely granddaughter. You almost feel as if there is a film to be made just about her.
Without a doubt the film is also the darkest of the series so far and those after some dino-chomping-people action won't be disappointed. Bayona's gothic sensibilities come to the fore in the last act in particular, which also happens to be the strongest and most thrilling part of the film. Dinosaurs creeping around little girls bedrooms in the dark and reaching out long taloned limbs to pull back bed-covers is proper horror stuff and it's kind of refreshing to see that kind of intensity and tension in what is normally a relatively family friendly franchise. Aside from the last 30 mins or so there are a handful of other impressive action set pieces, most notably the opening scene where a small military unit ventures back to the closed down park in an effort to retrieve some organic matter from the long deceased Indominus Rex.
However, whilst the dinosaurs are there and the swashbuckling action is there, there's something about the combination of characters, setting, plot and style that don't mesh together quite as well as you'd hope. It feels like a Jurassic movie in some respects but in others, it really doesn't. You come away feeling like you've just seen a fun dinosaur movie as opposed to a Jurassic movie, and that's a bit of a shame. Regarding where the series goes from here, another film is guaranteed but the closing scenes infer that we may be in for something very different again, and my initial reaction isn't necessarily one of excitement. However, maybe I'm too stuck in the past and need to move past the awe and wonder of the original film and be open to the big changes ahead. Maybe I'm becoming a bit of a dinosaur myself.