When Steven Spielberg first brought Jurassic Park, perhaps the quintessential summer blockbuster, to screens in 1993, everything about it was monumental. From the scope to the music, it remains a first rate scary family adventure, and the truly miraculous dinosaur effects have barely aged in over two decades. But in 2018, after so many record-breaking superhero and Star Wars hits, the ancient lizards just don’t have the same power that they used to. 2015’s Jurassic World skirted this problem largely successfully, thanks to nostalgia and hybrid dinos, but now this follow up, Fallen Kingdom, has to find its own solution, which it only does sporadically.
It’s very much a film of two halves, new director JA Bayona utilising both his disaster (The Impossible) and horror movie (The Orphanage) experience. We’re initially reintroduced to Jurassic World heroes Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) on a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar from re-extinction by volcano. With rather wooden dialogue in the script by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, these characters only make a faint impression, though they are served better than the one-note newcomers, sparky vet Zia (Daniella Pineda) and weepy tech nerd Franklin (Justice Smith).
What saves this half is the prehistoric beasts. Again a mix of animatronics and cutting-edge CG, they look sensational; they’re craggy and weighty and never feel less than real. The peril they’re in is affecting, and Bayona and his VFX team take care to make them a little more cuddly than they ever were before. It’s a pretty obvious trick, but that doesn’t mean the sight of a distressed brachiosaur dying alone on a beach is any less wrenchingly sad. It’s a great shot, one of a fair few that make beautiful use of snatches of lights piercing gloom or fog.
It’s a technique that lends itself to scares, and Bayona is very at home in the latter stages of the story. Though the corporate villains, played by Rafe Spall and an underused Toby Jones in a Trump toupee, are unconvincing (it’s never satisfactorily explained why a trained dinosaur is a better soldier than a human with a gun) the action certainly is not. It’s rare to see a studio tentpole decrease its scale for its finale – though Captain America Civil War of course did it brilliantly – but by and large it’s an inspired choice. As the newest mutant dinosaur, the Indoraptor, stalks Owen and Claire through a creepy mansion, making short, gory work of the goons assigned to sell it, there are some genuine scares and blackly funny kills.
Bayona’s undeniable skill as a filmmaker is at odds with the slapped together script throughout Fallen Kingdom, and the twists and sequel setups are painfully obvious, but this skill does keep it watchable. I don’t think we needed another retread of territory that this franchise has already extensively covered, or the pointless two-minute Jeff Goldblum cameo, but there’s still some sparkling fun to be had in watching extinct reptiles wreak either vicious or adorable havoc on hubristic businessmen.