Spoiler-free review: The latest Jurassic Park sequel takes the dino-series in audacious and unexpected directions.
Remember that bit in Jurassic Park where the hunter guy is creeping up on a velociraptor, and then just when he thinks he's got it cold, another velociraptor pops up and takes him by surprise? Y'know: "Clever girl." Yeah, that bit.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a bit like that moment. Just when you think you know what's happening, the movie creeps up behind you and takes you completely by surprise.
Clever girl indeed.
Fallen Kingdom takes us back to the infamous island of Isla Nublar, now abandoned by humans after the dinosaur-filled theme park's exhibits ate everybody (again). Happily, nature has come up with a solution to the dinosaur problem by igniting a volcano on the island that's about to wipe out the genetically resurrected creatures -- until the park's original founder backs a rescue mission to save a handful of species.
Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, the flirting survivors from 2015's Jurassic World reboot, dutifully head back to the island. Of course, things go south almost immediately. Cue much running around lush green forest, trying to flick some switches while dinosaurs chew through the furniture, and all the traditional dino-anarchy you'd expect from a Juras-sequel.
Fallen Kingdom is infused with the DNA of the very first Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World. Good guys and militaristic bad guys led by a big game hunter squabble on a ruined island. There's a family connection with the founders of the park, and even a heart-in-mouth moment involving a cliff and a vehicle's glass breaking. And both move on from the familiar location. But where the Lost World's T. rex rampage through San Diego felt like a tacked-on and unnecessary afterthought, Fallen Kingdom makes a lot more of its wandering finale as it takes the franchise in new directions.
That left turn makes Fallen Kingdom an almost entirely different movie. This mid-point key change in Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly's script plays to Spanish director J.A. Bayona's horror background with moments that verge on operatic Grand Guignol. Some elements feel pretty cartoonish -- look out for the cardboard cut-out multinational thugs -- which sit at odds with the creepy, suspenseful thrills. But it's hard to resist the gothic dark-and-stormy histrionics, all secret labs and rolling thunder and a mysterious girl in the shadows.
Howard ditches the high heels and softens up a little this time around. Meanwhile, British actors Rafe Spall and Toby Jones seem to be in competition to see who can deliver the chewiest American accent, while Geraldine James and James Cromwell offer a touch of class. In the absence of Richard Attenborough from the first films, Cromwell plays a hitherto unmentioned co-founder of the park, which had me distractedly scrambling to remember whether he'd been in one of the previous sequels. He hasn't, so don't worry about it.
Jeff Goldblum also provides a touch of twinkly class, but his cameo was clearly bashed out in an afternoon.
As the hunky lead, Pratt is, as always, a treasure. His comic muscles get a good workout -- especially in one quite extraordinary piece of Wolf of Wall Street-esque physical comedy -- while his actual muscles also get plenty of action. Viewers will get varying amounts of mileage from seeing Pratt fist-fighting armed mercenaries instead of fending off toothy death lizards. For me, the Jurassic Park franchise has always had refreshingly unique appeal based on action, adventure and suspense without shootouts and violence. Velociraptors are more interesting than high-velocity weapons.
The human conflict does at least advance the story in some surprisingly bold directions. The second half of the movie is like nothing you've seen in a Jurassic Park film -- and very little like any summer blockbuster.
Far from being a self-contained story, the plot changes the world of the series as it lives up to its title. Unlike many sequels, The Lost World included, Fallen Kingdom leaves the franchise in a very different place than before it began, setting up a third movie that could be the most intriguing, and insane, movie in the whole franchise.
Increasingly, blockbuster sequels expend a lot of time and energy and their visual effects budget setting up the next movie in the series, which can be infuriating if the next movie is clearly going to be more fun. So while Fallen Kingdom provides plenty of laughs and scares and ratchets up the stakes for the franchise, we also have to wait until 2021 to see those stakes pay off. Three whole years! What are they doing, breeding the dinosaurs for real?
Still, that bonkers second half is a lot of fun. It might start out like a clone of The Lost World, but don't be fooled: Fallen Kingdom still sneaks up on you.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens June 6 in the UK, June 21 in Australia and June 22 in the US.
First published June 5, noon PT.
Updated June 21 at 11:45 a.m. PT.
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