Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom review: Hollywood finds a way to make dinosaurs boring
Dir: J A Bayona; Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ted Levine, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Jeff Goldblum. 12A cert, 128 mins.
Exactly why would anyone visit a dinosaur-infested island for a fifth time, when all four previous excursions had ended in limb-gobbling pandemonium? Well, when a hit-and-hope franchise revival like Jurassic World becomes the fifth most lucrative film ever made, with global takings in the region of $1.6 billion, you can be sure that Hollywood, like life, will find a way.
And so it has done in the case of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The barely coherent new entry in the Jurassic franchise sends the two new series leads, raptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and former park manager Claire Deering (Bryce Dallas Howard), back to the treacherous shores of Isla Nublar, on the pretext that the island’s prehistoric fauna now need rescuing from an impending volcanic eruption.
The previous film, Jurassic World, suggested that genetic engineers might create focus-grouped hybrid dinos – first the Indominus Rex, and in this film, the Indoraptor – to appeal to a jaded customer base who think fun means getting a lot of everything they think they like. And in a possibly unwitting self-parodic masterstroke, Fallen Kingdom seems to have been made with much the same mindset. The film staples together two snazzy-sounding ideas – an ecologically inclined disaster movie with dinosaurs, and, later, dinosaurs on the loose inside a stately home – without considering whether the end product’s sheer snarling hideousness might just prove an intelligence-insulting turn-off.
You can see the sense in hiring the Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona to direct. His tsunami survival thriller The Impossible proved he had a feel for breakneck spectacle, while his outstanding debut feature, the Spanish-language ghost story The Orphanage, was a masterclass in floorboard-creaking atmospherics. And his most recent film, A Monster Calls, refracted childhood fears through fantasy with real Spielbergian savoir-vivre. But Fallen Kingdom reduces Bayona to a Steven Spielberg tribute act. We’re not just talking about characters silhouetted in beams of smoky white light – though there are plenty of those – but full-blown copycat shots taken from the original Jurassic Park that look like the work of a director with no ideas, from a child pulling down a protective hatch at the last millisecond to lots of sneaking around behind plinths, with pattering hands and tapping talons.
Naturally, the sneakers this time include two millennials, computer nerd Franklin (Justice Smith, from Netflix’s The Get Down) and dino-vet Zia (Daniella Pineda), both of whom accompany Claire and Owen on the extraction mission. Their back-up, apparently, is a band of armed mercenaries whose leader (Ted Levine) is rather more clued up about the operation’s ultimate purpose: Levine plays him with swaggering unpleasantness, but the character pales next to the late Pete Postlethwaite’s superficially similar but far more intriguing big game hunter in the first, Spielberg-directed sequel, The Lost World.
Back on the mainland, Rafe Spall and Toby Jones hurl themselves into some unconvincing villain roles, while James Cromwell plays a kind of surrogate Richard Attenborough, and Jeff Goldblum has a three-minute cameo delivering a poorly edited monologue to a governmental committee. As for the dinosaurs, the end result of the rescue operation is a one-of-each loveable menagerie that calls to mind the Muppet Babies, and doesn’t do much for their monster cred. Among their implausible new tricks are playing dead and operating lifts with their tails: in one deeply silly sequence, one all but winks at the camera before biting a (human) baddie’s arm off.
The script by Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly has the lumpy consistency of a first draft, with monologues that splutter out without pay-offs, some dismal comic repartee, and a flexible attitude to the laws of nature: dinosaurs chomp through iron bars like Curly Wurlys but skitter harmlessly against wooden doors, while lava is basically hot golden syrup, but red. The fundamental premise of all of the Jurassic Park films is intrinsically silly. But there was an internal seriousness – and, yes, sincerity – to Spielberg’s peerless 1993 original that was every bit as important as its groundbreaking special effects.
“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” Howard’s character opines in one scene here. “We don't really believe it. It's like a miracle.” This new film has spectacle enough to split a mountain in two, yet none of it prompts more than a shrug. Dinosaurs boring? Hollywood found a way.