Who doesn’t love dinosaurs? And who doesn’t love the idea that we could recreate extinct species through DNA manipulation? Put them together and you not only have a great Michael Crichton book but one of the great movie franchises. The original 1993 Jurassic Park was a huge success, though its two sequels were not only increasingly dumb but were considerably less successful at the box office. The franchise rebooted in 2015 with the summer tentpole Jurassic World [read my review of Jurassic World from 2015]. The huge leaps in visual effects helped create a film that was fun, lighthearted and full of big dinosaur thrills and the box office results were splendid.
This summer’s dinosaur blockbuster is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and while there are some hiccups in the film, overall it’s a solid sequel with more great action sequences and breathtaking visual effects, including Isla Nublar being destroyed by volcanic activity in a manner likely all too familiar for the residents of the Big Island of Hawaii. Co-produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, it also has just about all the trademarks of a classic Spielberg sci-fi film. But more on that shortly.
In the last film, people left the Jurassic World amusement island after disaster struck, but the reconstituted dinosaurs remained, an island left to return to the Jurassic period. Until that pesky volcano decided to wake up, which causes much consternation in the civilized world. In a rather bizarre cameo, original Jurassic Park cast member Jeff Goldblum revisits his role as Ian Malcolm, testifying before Congress about whether the government should rescue the doomed dinosaurs or let them perish.
Meanwhile, ditzy marketing gal Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) from the original Jurassic World returns as an animal rights activist trying to force the government to save the dinosaurs. Aiding her are tough gal Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and dorky computer geek Franklin Webb (Justice Smith). Just when it seems their efforts are going to fail, millionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) surfaces and offers to fund a rescue mission, and even has a spare island all set up and ready for the dinosaurs!
Lockwood, we learn, was partners with original park founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) but they had a falling out. Lockwood is still fiercely fighting for the survival of the dinosaurs from his sickbed, however, through the efforts of his assistant Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). And then there’s Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who serves as the emotional heart of the entire story.
Dearing and military logistics expert Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) can handle relocating most of the dinosaurs to the new island sanctuary, but there’s a trained Velociraptor called “Blue” that they don’t think anyone can capture. Except for one man, the hero of the first film, who trained Blue and his siblings in the first place, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Pratt is convinced to join the expedition to Isla Nublar and volcanic mayhem ensues as they try to round up and rescue the various dinosaurs before the island literally blows itself apart.
It wouldn’t be a Spielberg-esque sci-fi thriller without an evil and mysterious organization with their nefarious plans for the creatures and an innocent child (Maisie) who is buffeted by the greed and actions of the bad guys. Because while some people look at dinosaurs and see noble creatures, others see an animal people will pay millions to hunt or unique medical possibilities with the new DNA sequences.
To make it all more exciting, geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) pops up again. This time, however, it’s not the fierce Indominus Rex he’s created from his mad DNA combinations, but a new, fiercer carnivore called an Indoraptor. It’s a big, fast, smart, scary beast and if it breaks lose it’s going to wreak havoc.
There’s much to enjoy in this highly competent thrill-ride of a movie. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom had a huge budget and it shows in the sets, amazing visual effects and terrific soundtrack and foley. This is a film to see in the theater, and not from the back row either. The story has few surprises but it’s a summer tentpole so audiences are going to be perfectly happy to scream at the attacking dinosaurs, ooh and ahhh at the sad scenes of island destruction (and baby dinosaurs) and cheer when the bad guys get their comeuppance. While thrilling, there are no challenging relationships and even cute pigtail girl Maisie is treated with kid gloves by the bad guys.
As part of a very successful franchise, there’s no surprise either when the film offers up opportunities to build on its ending for a sequel, and there’s an unnamed sequel already in early pre-production for a 2021 release according to IMDb. What is surprising is just how many storyline elements are left unresolved by the time the final credits crawl across the screen. There are some very curious questions that remain, leading viewers to wonder which direction they’re going to pursue with the next installment. ‘nuf said on that to avoid spoilers.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is rather formulaic and has few real surprises or plot twists. It also has lots of thrilling scenes and set pieces, fantastic visuals, a pleasantly light touch with the language of cinema (look for an homage to Citizen Kane halfway through the movie, for example) and enough references back to the rest of the franchise entries to please even the most demanding dinosaur nerd. It’s a lot of fun and a good summer movie. Buy popcorn and head into the theater. You’ll enjoy it.