The “Jurassic” franchise hasn’t exactly been high-minded since Steven Spielberg’s gold-plated original, but it’s rarely been as hare-brained as this. Seeing protagonists Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) – both returning from 2015’s “Jurassic World” – jet off to Isla Nublar to rescue dinos from an active volcano, one previously unmentioned in the series, is classic deus ex machina, torpedoing the movie’s internal logic before it’s even begun. (In Michael Crichton’s original book, Nublar’s volcanoes were said to be extinct.)
Things don’t get any smarter once off the island – the pic’s back half takes place entirely on the mainland – but the ace up the sleeve of “Fallen Kingdom,” director J.A. Bayona, makes do throughout.
Bayona, of “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls” fame, is a visual artist in the vein of his protégé Guillermo del Toro. Playing in the “Jurassic” sandbox affords Bayona tools he’s never had before and the effect is notable. No matter the unreality of the action on the island, it is breathtaking in its physicality and staging. The final eruption of the volcano and the ensuing destruction of the island is a tour de force of special effects work and surprising physical comedy, culminating in an uppercut of emotion.
As Claire and Owen look back at the ruins of Nublar from the back of a freighter, Bayona gives us the most impactful moment the franchise has seen in twenty-five years.
Naturally, the movie is much better when the dinos roar and the humans shut up. Claire’s transformation from former Jurassic World operations manager to bleeding heart dinosaur preservationist is curious; Owen’s willingness to return to the island in the face of certain death to save one of his trained Velociraptors, Blue, is bizarre. That both fall for empty promises of a dinosaur sanctuary from crooked businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) working on behalf of John Hammond’s one-time partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) is the fudge on the silly sundae that is “Fallen Kingdom”
The script’s heroes certainly aren’t its writers, Colin Trevorrow (who co-wrote and directed the last installment) and Derek Connolly. But Claire and Owen are just likable enough (Pratt’s performance is improved over the last go-round), their cohorts techie Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and animal vet Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) charming enough that the frequent inanities of the screenplay fade away until only two things remain: agreeable one-liners and genuinely stunning setpieces.
Whether it’s Claire and Owen breathlessly extracting blood from a tranquilized T-Rex, or the pic’s final showdown with the genetic horror show known as the Indoraptor, Bayona’s talent for excitement is aided by spectacular special effects. The flawless blend of computer-generated and practical dinos is a Brachiosaurus-sized step up from “Jurassic World,” lending a sense of awe to the proceedings that was MIA in Trevorrow’s film.
Less awe-inspiring: the human villains. The aforementioned Mills is a stock bad guy, a mustache away from twirling one on screen. Veteran actor Ted Levine (“The Silence Of The Lambs”) is only lightly amusing as a scummy mercenary forever at odds with our heroes, and Toby Jones (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) gets a few funny moments as an overzealous auctioneer. The latter makes the inevitability of the dinosaurs being hastily auctioned off go down a little smoother, and the fate of Levine’s character will have some moviegoers clutching their armrests.
Nevertheless, no one is checking in to “Fallen Kingdom” for Eli Mills or even the original picture’s Henry Wu (B.D. Wong). The disgraced geneticist remains a sinister background presence here, presumably lying in wait for the “Jurassic World” trilogy capper.
The dinosaurs are the thing, and they’re more than rousing enough to make us glad Malcolm’s warnings go unheeded. From a “Jaws”-inspired opening that feels as gigantic as a “Jurassic” movie must, to a gothic horror-influenced finale in a shadowy mansion, J.A. Bayona has finally, fully evinced his talents as one of today’s premier maestros of spectacle. Although “Fallen Kingdom” gets no points for logic, it checks every popcorn movie box, staying true to “Jurassic Park” in its purest form: movie magic.
Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Studio: Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenwriters: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, B.D. Wong, Jeff Goldblum
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril)