Though it made huge bank upon its initial release back in the summer of 1997, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who truly enjoys The Lost World: Jurassic Park. In fact, if you can find someone who remembers anything about its plot beyond the memorable trailer-over-a-cliff sequence, you’ll probably be as close as you’re likely to get to locating an actual fan. Simply put: Jurassic Park sequels set themselves up from the get-go as being crushing disappointments. Jurassic World III felt like its franchise’s own direct-to-video rip-off at times, Jurassic World (the best sequel by a mile) was more of a retread/reboot than anything else, and now that movie (regarded generally as the start of its own “second trilogy”) has a follow-up of it’s own, and, relax, it’s way way better than The Lost World. Not light years better, but enough that you’ll at least remember it.
With Colin Trevorrow having absconded to not make Star Wars movies, A Monster Calls director J.A. Bayona steps in as the series fourth helmer to bring a much-needed sense of gothic horror to festivities – the story this time (co-written by Trevorrow) seeing a previously inactive volcano at the heart of Isla Nublar become decidedly active. Following her ordeal in the previous film, Claire Deering (a returning Bryce Dallas Howard) is quick to jump at the chance to liberate the island’s remaining dino-inhabitants and, with the aid of a team that includes ex-turned-love-interest-turned-ex-again Owen (Chris Pratt), relocate them to a safer and more isolated new home. But it’s Jurassic Park, and nothing ever quite goes to plan in Crichtonworld, so – when it’s revealed that their rescue mission has in fact been a smoke screen to cover up a far more sinister agenda – its down to Owen and Claire to save the dinos from extinction once more… but at what cost?
It’s that latter question that quickly cements itself as the undeniable storytelling flaw of the entire Jurassic series to date at this point, simply that the franchise itself has become something of an almighty cliffhanging tease at this stage that refuses to ever truly indulge the wealth of cliffhangers it sets up as it goes. Remember the Pteranodons at the close of Jurassic Park III and how we never saw what became of their journey toward the world of man? Or how the entire world, at one stage, discovered the existence of re-animated dinosaurs by way of a T-Rex attack on San Francisco and the sum total of that revelation became a ham-fisted plot point involving rebel parasailors?
Fallen Kingdom threatens on several occasions to offer up a number of subsequent consequences, and yet – bar Claire’s “Save the Dinos!” job (which, admittedly, makes little sense unless she’s only had it a for a fortnight) and a bewilderingly tiny appearance by Jeff Goldblum (who clearly needs to stop agreeing to sequels to his nineties movies – nobody needs a Ten Months) – there’s still no real sense of the “world” in Jurassic World. It’s the fifth in a row to simply confine the action as much as possible, despite endlessly grumbling on about the global ramifications of such creatures being up and walking around. Sure, this one switches locales for the back half, but it’s hardly doing so in plain sight – taking us from one isolated environment where consequences simply aren’t really a thing, to another more manmade one in which, weirdly, consequences again don’t seem to be a thing. Until you need a cliffhanger. Hell, Jura5ic even goes so far as to flesh out the backstory of a character dead for most of the series and even dangle the prospect of its science’s genuinely intriguing other applications before us.
Does it do anything with that last one? Nope. In fact, it’s so thinly sketched out that said story element involves the killing off of one of it’s four (FOUR!) human villains without even so much as bothering to mention it. It’s more a pretty reasonable assumption than anything else. Tack on a post-credits button this series has long established it’ll do next to nothing with, and it’s narratively and conceptually quite a dulcet and intelligence-shedding affair. So, why then is it still somehow as basically enjoyable as it is?
That can easily be put down to likeable casting, impeccable VFX, and a director eager to inject some horror back into the franchise on the whole. Firstly, Pratt’s got his deadpan goofball hero routine balanced like he’s Thanos tidying a shed, Howard’s traded the heels in for sneakers and survival boots, which – it turns out – makes all the difference in taking Claire seriously this time around, and there’s a pretty likeable pair of millennial sidekicks in Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda. Meanwhile, your crop of villains this time around include Rafe Spall’s take on Stock InGen Corporate Villain, Toby Jones’ take on Stock InGen Corporate Villain Lackey (both of whom reek of having been one shared character in an earlier draft, complete with a very, very specific hairpiece), Ted Levine’s game-hunting Ken Wheatley (whose name is shouted so often at one stage, you could be forgiven for thinking Trevorrow just really hated High Rise), and James Cromwell as the character you’re forced to settle for when Richard Attenborough’s no longer with us. All four could be pooled into a solitary pair of characters, but, to be fair, if you’re coming to the Jurassic series for the human characters, odds are you’ve not being paying attention to the series thus far. And, anyway, the good guys are played well enough that it just about works on balance.
As always, the dinos are the real stars. And though Fallen Kingdom Ubers in the entire roster to date, it’s another case of the writers trekking too far down the road of the “super dino” nonsense of the previous instalment’s Indominous Rex. The design works a lot better this time around, mercifully, and there are a few species we get to see more of than ever before (one, for PC reasons, is spared an abbreviation here). It’s perhaps not as seamless as the FX work on the 1993 series launcher – somehow few films still manage to be after a jaw-dropping twenty-five years of having been shown how – but it’s A-grade work all the same, with the FX behind the new dino-antagonist outwardly terrifying on more than a few occasions.
With Bayona at the helm though, terrifying’s clearly the watchword, with Fallen Kingdom perhaps the most bonafide scary of any instalment of the series full stop. The film’s initial volcanic set-up offers something of a mundane palette cleanser more than anything else, but it’s once Bayona’ film gets off the island that his sense of gothic and the desire to instil actual fear comes into play. Trevorrow’s screenplay lets him down on more than a few occasions, admittedly, but what works not only works, but works enough to massively overcompensate for shortcomings on the page to boot. Toss in another marvellous work by composer Michael Giachinno – who appears refreshingly adverse to incorporating the classic theme as often as you’d expect – and some striking visuals from Bayona alum Oscar Faura and what you’re left with is easily the most distinctive series venture since the original.
Jurassic fans will eat it up, but those who’ve always sat on the fence or had their quibbles will likely find more to struggle with here than ever before. Fallen Kingdom’s not quite as entrenched in the studio mentality of thinking they needn’t mess with a bankable but flawed formula as, say, the Transformers series has previously proven (all hopes on Bumblebee, eh?) but it’s still positioned too far on the side of safety to thoroughly explore the richness of its own concept. It’s fun, but could be infinitely more so; intriguing, but could be vastly more intelligent; it’s a ‘Part Two’ that seeks nothing more as regards franchise evolution than “let’s ditch the island”, but it’s basically enjoyable. It’s got your sexy leads, your on-point horror director, and the dinos you know and love, and its frankly how exciting you find those three that determines just how much you’ll enjoy the rest. Oh, and don’t leave before the end of the credits – nothing’ll ever come of it, as the series has long proven, but it’s still a great moment to finish on.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in cinemas nationwide from Wednesday, June 6th; rated 12A. Check out the trailer below.