By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

The franchise that keeps on keeping on, churning out the same formula every time to great box-office success, continues on its merry way with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and while it never strays from those profitable ingredients, this latest entry does manage to entertain for a while before disastrously crash-landing during its final act.

The story begins when it is discovered that a dormant volcano, located on the Jurassic World island, will soon erupt, killing any wildlife that still remains, including the Park’s oversized attractions. Hearings are convened to consider whether or not these artificially recreated creatures should be saved, and if the renowned Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is to be seriously listened to, then the answer will be no.

Fighting the case to save the dinosaurs is Claire Reading (Bryce Dallas Howard), who heads a NGO to raise funds to have these famous creations extracted from their soon-to-be demolished location. One phone call that comes through is an invitation to the expansive mansion of ailing billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who worked alongside John Hammond during the genesis of Jurassic Park. Lockwood and his designated business associate Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) tell Claire their plan, which is to rescue as many dinosaurs as possible and relocate them to another island, where they can then live out the rest of their days in peace. Also introduced are Lockwood’s precocious granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) and her in-house guardian Iris (Geraldine Chaplin).

Mills is particularly interested in saving Blue, the raptor that Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) successfully tamed and trained, so insists that he be brought along on this mission. Claire is also needed as she is the only one who can reboot the computer’s mainframe and tracking capabilities at the Park. Leading this large group is old-school hunting expert Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), while dino-medic Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and tech genius Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) are also assigned to contribute.

The group are soon on their way, but once they arrive and attempt to carry out their assignment, things don’t quite go to plan.

For those wanting surprises and originality, then the Jurassic series is definitely not for you. Formulaic to a fault, every film has followed the same, simple premise for twenty-five years now, delivering expensive, elaborate set-pieces in place of any kind of inventive or clever writing, and entry number five is no different. Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who penned the previous effort, borrow liberally from a number of films, most notably Aliens, Indiana Jones, Morgan, and Dante’s Peak (even as the movie was beginning, I felt like I was watching James Cameron’s underwater epic The Abyss), but still manage to mesh all these familiar elements together to again hang a number of large-scale action sequences on. Characterisation once more isn’t a priority, so it is up to the cast to garner the audiences’ sympathy.

Pratt is his typically ingratiating self, offering yet another likeable performance, making Grady feel like a distant cousin of Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy (his introductory scene here amusingly reminded me of Gene Hackman’s character from Unforgiven). Howard, a highly erratic performer prone to scenery-chewing, is thankfully more approachable this time around, and the chemistry between her and Pratt is a considerable asset. Cromwell and Spall (son of Timothy) do what is asked of them, while Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, Heat, Shutter Island) is hamstrung by his obvious, one-note role. It must be noted that British actor Toby Jones (Infamous, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Captain America: Winter Soldier), who appears late in the film, seems to be playing, to the absolute hilt, a strange fusion of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. Those happy to see Goldblum returning to the series will be sorely disappointed, as he has nothing more than a glorified cameo (look quickly too for veteran actor and John Carpenter regular Peter Jason).

The main attraction here for me was Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who has made a name for himself over the past decade, crafting the excellent features The Orphanage (2007), The Impossible (2012), and A Monster Calls (2016). This extremely talented film-maker is part of a rare breed, one who can mesh lavish special effects and realistic, impactful drama with tremendous skill, so he seemed like the perfect choice to inject some humanity into something that normally relies on relentless technical wizardry rather than any kind of emotional investment. What is surprising is that Bayona manages to balance the majestic with the intimate for the first two-thirds, even being allowed to go as far as using the events here as a metaphor for endless talk and divisions about the powerless stuck in horrific war zones around the world. Like Incredibles 2, it is undercurrents such as this which gives the film occasional resonance (a pier-side scene involving one of the creatures is especially potent), so it is such a pity for what eventually follows.

The finale, set at Lockwood’s massive estate, sees the franchise suddenly return to its worst characteristics, drowning in a sea of repetitive stupidity and predictability, making the last half-hour or so an interminable bore. What makes it all-the-more distressing and perplexing is that, in the middle of all this derivative corporate-minded chaos, Bayona conjures up one of his best moments, a fairy tale scene that beautifully references Nosferatu and Dracula. It is a lovely, cinematic love letter that unfortunately may be lost among all the noise and destruction.

There is no reason why Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom shouldn’t be as successful as those which have preceded it (and indeed it has), with the film providing fans with the requisite amount of thrills and spills. While Bayona unexpectedly affords the film a reasonable amount of dramatic interest early on, it instinctively reverts back to its calculated, hollow formula for a routinely slam-bang finish, destroying all the goodwill the director had effectively built up beforehand. I know I’m in the minority by thinking Jurassic Park 3 is the best in the series, but director Joe Johnston (a huge fan of the old serials and adventure films), and writers Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (of Sideways and The Descendants fame), and Peter Buchman perfectly encapsulated this kind of popcorn movie, keeping it lean, mean, fast-paced, and most of all, lots of fun. Let’s hope the next film delivers on its potentially exciting set-up, and that Goldblum plays a bigger part in proceedings this time. Oh yeah, make sure you sit through to the very end.

Rating: 3/5

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