Saturday, June 23, 2018


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has the unfortunate responsibility to carry over characters from its predecessor. If it hadn't, it could've saved itself a lot of tiresome hurry-scurry exposition explaining how the nothing characters played by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard ended up back in the action this time around. I get it. Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World was a huge financial success, but, forget how visually bland and narratively bunk that junk movie was for a moment and think of its heroes. You only remember them because they were played by recognizable actors. They are sub-cardboard creations, fictional people with no inner lives and certainly no coherent motivation. The new movie finds Pratt (he's playing a...zookeeper? Safari leader? Handyman? I honestly couldn't tell you) recruited by Howard, who used to run the now-defunct Jurassic World and is currently a dinosaur rights activist, to go back to the island and save the prehistoric beasts from a volcanic eruption that will wipe them all out. This is an unpopular opinion among many humans who saw what went down in the last movie and decided that maybe these scientific revivals are a bad idea. Nonetheless, off our nobody heroes go, ready to save the dinos. I couldn't be compelled to care. What's wonderful, then, is to discover director J.A. Bayona (the expert craftsman behind The Orphanage and The Impossible), working with a screenplay by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, shakes off all this rigamarole setup to become something sleek, silly, and scary. It's also introducing honest-to-goodness characters -- still flimsy, but at least they're Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, and Geraldine (!) Chaplin (!) -- and the most compelling sequel scenario this franchise has ever concocted (if only because it dares to be so big and so wild). Besides, the best way to enjoy any Jurassic Park sequel is to go in knowing it'll never be anywhere close to as good as Jurassic Park.

I dare not spoil the surprises in store that lead to a film that turns increasingly into a haunted Hammer homage with dinosaurs instead of ghosts or vampires. I'll just say there is: a big creepy mansion, a mad scientist, a room of ghoulishly rich people, an adorable and mysterious little girl (whose big secret is the wildest swing the movie has prepped), a basement full of cages, an ailing elderly patron, a shifty business manager, and much more! Bayona slides the camera around corners and catches shafts of light in full moody twinkle. As the finale roars to life on an actual dark and stormy night, the windows glisten and shake and lights flicker. Michael Giacchino's score works a swirling strain of Universal monster movie bombast. Creatures lurk down hallways and in dark shadows. Much use is made of dumb waiters as a convenient means of escape. Starkly lit evil monologues and crisply cross-cut scurrying are leavened by jolting jump scares and effective side characters whose quipping fears cut the tension. (I quite liked Daniella Pineda's scientist and Justice Smith's computer whiz, who are always good for a reaction shot.) It's nothing much like the duller early island-bound sections, which are dutifully scooping up after the last film and pushing the pieces in place for a new idea. Even there, though, Bayona finds wonderful little stylish turns, like a dinosaur schlepping down a concrete pipe, heard but unseen save for flashes of light thrown by spurts of lava. It's a movie caught between being silly nonsense and great trash, but luckily leans more to the latter. There's a spirited B-movie what-the-hell energy to its loud A-budget set-pieces, and a pleasant smallness to its back half, contained and even downright downbeat as it climaxes finding the Jurassic World taken to its logical extreme.

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