In 2015, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World became the surprise hit of the summer, taking in more than $1.6 billion at the global box office and ensuring that Universal Pictures would crank out one dinosaur movie every few years until the next extinction event. Billed as the first part in a trilogy, Jurassic World was as much a rehash of Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park as a sequel, walking audiences through many of the same story beats on its way to dinosaur mayhem. Therefore, with two more movies in the pipeline, legitimate questions were raised: could this latest sequel evolve beyond its original? Or would the series keep rehashing the same idea of a theme park gone wrong?
The answers? Yes, and sort of. In director J.A. Bayona’s follow-up to Jurassic World, we are reintroduced to park executive Claire Dearing (Howard), now a struggling conservationist attempting to drum up public support for the doomed dinos. When Dearing is approached by a billionaire philanthropist who promises to underwrite her expedition, she recruits velociraptor wrangler Owen Grady (Pratt) to help her track down and rescue everyone’s favorite hyperintelligent predator, Blue. Once on the island, however, the mission turns dangerous as the crew encounters an exploding volcano, and an extraction team more interested in trophies than survivors.
Paradoxically, Fallen Kingdom is both bigger and smaller than its predecessor. On the one hand, you have the film’s cataclysmic first half, where Dearing and Grady race against Mother Nature to save dinosaurs from an exploding island. On the other hand, you have the horror-tinged second half, where a genetically altered dinosaur stalks Grady and company through the halls of a mansion. The film’s split nature probably won’t endear Fallen Kingdom to casual Jurassic Park fans, but it does give Bayona the narrative equivalent of a blank check. He is free to dream up a variety of different dinosaur encounters; as a result, the action moves along at an incredibly brisk pace long after the narrative wheels have fallen off.
Which, honestly, is half the fun. Fallen Kingdom is a smorgasbord of set-pieces for summer moviegoers, ranging from the absurd – a scene where a tranquilized Grady heroically rolls away from an advancing stream of lava – to action sequences that achieve a surprising amount of beauty. Most promos have teased the underwater sequence where Dearing and Franklin Webb (Smith) struggle to escape their sinking pod, but Bayona’s decision to give this scene the appearance of a single take makes it more unnerving than the trailers would have you expect. Building on the scope and fantasy sequences of his previous work in A Monster Calls, Bayona proves himself to be a dynamic visual director, something sorely missing from the first entry in the trilogy.
In the end, Fallen Kingdom is pretty much the Bayona show, a combination of blockbuster and genre action sequences loosely tied together with technobabble and character work. Those looking for the Jurassic World franchise to take on the self-serious tone of other mainstream Michael Crichton adaptations – here’s looking at you, HBO’s Westworld – will find little of value in Fallen Kingdom’s half-baked narrative. But those who just want to watch dinosaurs eat people in creative ways? They’re destined to get their money’s worth.
For an interview with director J.A. Bayona, see "How J.A. Bayona Made a Real Jurassic World," June 21.
Copyright © 2019 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.