“These creatures were here before us, and, if we’re not careful, they’re going to be here after.”
— Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).
I do not believe any Jurassic Park sequel, ripoff, or ultimately remake will ever be as good a film as Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original.
That is no reason not to try.
Happily, director J.A. Bayona, perhaps best known for 2012’s The Impossible, improves vastly on 2015’s Jurassic World, which I had enormous problems with, principally that I felt Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, “Claire,” didn’t earn her happy ending. In fact, as the soulless corporate COO of the park and author of most of the tragedy there, Claire clearly deserved to be devoured by her hellish creation, the Indominus Rex, not skipping off into the sunset with Chris Pratt. In this follow-up, Claire is a broken woman seeking redemption via her crusade to rescue the surviving animals of Jurassic Park, threatened by the imminent explosion of Isla Nublar’s central volcano.
The Isla Nublar excursion is cinematically spectacular, from the creepy stroll through the abandoned park to what may be the best “erupting volcano” sequence ever. There’s tips of the hat to Spielberg at every turn, even his oft-ignored gallows humor, such as when a theropod improbably follows prospective human meals into a very tight space. But the adventure and the fun quickly give way to profound tragedy as we say goodbye to the Jurassic franchise’s oldest friend in a scene that may be the most powerful in its 25-year history, and which visibly disturbed members of the audience. No, it’s not Jeff Goldblum, who, while in the film for less than five minutes, still manages to be its heart and soul.
The second half of the film has a very different vibe, as it does NOT take place on the ill-fated Isla Nublar, but stateside in a billionaire’s mansion. How, you may wonder, does a director continue an adventure series about dinosaurs in somebody’s house, even one the size of Hogwart’s? I’ll leave you to discover the whys and wherefores for yourself, but I will say that it involves nefarious villainy beyond anything we’ve ever seen in the Jurassic franchise, and a plot twist that upends all the other movies, as well as a genetically engineered super-raptor that makes the Indominus Rex look like a yapping puppy. Unlike Jurassic World, and perhaps more so than any of the preceding sequels, Fallen Kingdom actually means something beyond the giddy fun of running away from the T-Rex once a reel.
Let’s be clear. This is not an A+ film, but it IS a solid B+, a fine representative of the summer blockbuster which, like most, is best seen on the biggest screen you can find and surrounded by other mammals. Yes, the dinosaurs, both computer-generated and animatronic, DO upstage the human actors, but, you know, in a way that’s kind of the point. A little humanity is re-injected by stalwart supporting actors — Rafe Spall, Ted Levine, a couple I won’t spoil, and young Justice Smith as a computer hacker who may have the most realistic reactions in the film — though none ever really hit the cord struck by Peter Stormare and the late Pete Postlethwaite in 1997’s The Lost World. And, you know, I kept wondering why somebody didn’t write the dying billionaire’s little 10-year-old granddaughter out of this film, because she just detracts and slows things down, especially in Act IV, until we realize she’s the central character, not Howard or Pratt. In fact, the little girl makes the most momentous decision ever made in a Jurassic movie, one that positively screams for there to be at least one more.