Thursday, June 21, 2018

Dino Volcano: "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" wackiest in the series but delivers genuine thrills


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
129 min., rated PG-13.

2015’s Colin Trevorrow-helmed “Jurassic World” was the next logical step in the evolution of the “Jurassic Park” franchise, and while the film had its detractors, it was a spectacularly entertaining return to form that felt Spielbergian in spirit and ignored the previous two installments. Its direct sequel, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” is a slightly different beast, sometimes evoking the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach of a Roland Emmerich disaster movie, sometimes rehashing plot elements from 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” but also veering into Gothic horror. Simultaneously sillier and darker than any of the previous films, it is certainly the biggest “Jurassic” installment—all $170 million of it—and electrifies whenever director J.A. Bayona (2016’s “A Monster Calls”) puts audiences vicariously through hairy situations for hair-raising, genuinely thrilling set-pieces. The awe and thrill of seeing dinosaurs run amok still hasn’t grown extinct.

Four years after the prehistoric attractions overtook the theme park, former Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now campaigning to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from the island of Isla Nublar, which could be destroyed from a long-dormant, now-active volcano and render all of the dinosaurs extinct. The ailing Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a silent partner to Jurassic Park creator Dr. John Hammond, and associate Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) recruit Claire for a Noah’s Ark-like rescue mission to save eleven species and relocate the dinosaurs to a remote sanctuary, but she will also need the expertise of raptor whisperer and former flame Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) once again. Owen is reluctant to the idea, realizing everything could go wrong again, but his sympathy for velociraptor Blue drives him. Once Claire, her team—paleo-veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) and IT specialist Franklin (Justice Smith)—and Owen arrive on the island with a group of mercenaries, led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), already there, they begin to realize that they called under false pretenses and not to preserve the animals. Cue the volcano.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” hits the ground running at once with a fevered bang, set during a stormy night on Isla Nublar as scientists embark on an unwise underwater expedition to snatch a DNA sample from the bones of the defeated Indominus rex. It’s as tensely scary and heart-racing as a pre-credits sequence should be and decidedly the most attention-grabbing since 1993’s “Jurassic Park.” Once our heroes get to the island as the volcano is ready to blow, more nail-biting tension is achieved when Claire and Franklin pick up a proximity alert from a control center heading toward them in a dark tunnel as lava starts slipping through and then rolling off the cliff, along with the dinosaurs, inside a Gyrosphere. Another dicey scene has Owen and Claire secretly getting a blood sample from a tranquilized Tyrannosaurus rex in a tightly enclosed cage. Split into two distinct halves, the film’s first half is of its own piece, the eruption of the volcano and escape off the island being the breathtaking, stomach-dropping crescendo.

Every one of these films has had a cautionary throughline about hubris (or call it stupidity) and humans repeating the same mistakes, thinking it was will play differently each time, only for their genetically engineered creations to turn around and literally bite them. That same notion carries over here, but suspension of disbelief is often required while watching “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom.” In spite of Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow’s screenplay that underserves the human characters, the film is grandly wonky in its vision, going out on a limb and admirably trying something different, particularly its radical change in location. As the film segues into a Gothic fairy tale of sorts, director J.A. Bayona’s horror-adjacent sensibilities and sense of mood come into play in the second half. Not unlike “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” when the T-Rex was transferred to San Diego and inevitably broke out to wreak havoc on the city, the film switches to an auction among the dumb and rich set at the Lockwood Mansion, a castle nestled in Northern California, and unleashes dinosaurs from an underground laboratory throughout the rest of the house, primarily the newly engineered Indoraptor.

Proving she was capable of outrunning a T-Rex in high heels (which get a playful cameo when Claire first comes on screen in an elevator, just like her introductory scene in “Jurassic World”), Bryce Dallas Howard now wears more sensible footwear as Claire, but beyond that, the actress shapes Claire into a sympathetic figure whom the viewer understands with her share of fierce moments of saving the day. As Owen, Chris Pratt gets to put his comedic skills to better use this time around, not only in his verbal goofiness where he subverts the potentially sappy “If I don’t come back…” line but also in a rather inspired bit of physical comedy where the sedated Owen must lurch his body away from encroaching lava. In supporting parts, Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith (2018’s “Every Day”) bring personality, respectively, to saucy paleo-veterinarian Zia and anxiety-ridden systems analyst Franklin. Newcomer Isabella Sermon is emotionally available as Lockwood’s young granddaughter Maisie, but a nonchalantly left-field revelation about her character is left unexplored, and Geraldine Chaplin isn’t given nearly enough to do as Maisie’s caretaker. Jeff Goldblum returns only in bookending scenes as Dr. Ian Malcolm in a courtroom, although it is nice to see him again anyway, stating his case on why the dinosaurs should just be taken out by the volcano unless humanity wants to cause its own extinction. There might be too many bad guys, all of them stock and free of three dimensions, and their individual comeuppances can’t come soon enough in the mouths of a dinosaur. Rafe Spall is effectively smarmy, serving his purpose as Lockwood’s duplicitous associate Eli; Ted Levine immediately oozes evil when he steps on screen as mercenary Ken Wheatley, extracting dinosaur teeth as trophies and even sneaking in an on-the-nose utterance of “nasty woman”; and Toby Jones hams it up with a toupee and porcelain veneers as a black market auctioneer.

Director J.A. Bayona does bring more technical verve than Colin Trevorrow did to “Jurassic World.” Twice, he uses flashes of light or even lightning to illuminate the presence of a carnivorous dinosaur; before the rain-soaked rooftop confrontation, there is a stylishly helmed, classically spooky set-piece in Maisie’s bedroom where the Indoraptor opens her balcony door, its shadow mirroring a stuffed horse on the wall and its claw inching toward the scared little girl cowering in her bed. There is more empathy for some of the dinosaurs, too, this time out, particularly in one powerfully mournful shot of a Brachiosaurus left behind on the island before disappearing behind the smoke and fire. The dinosaur effects are top-notch as ever, the seams never showing where the CGI takes over for the animatronics, and composer Michael Giacchino’s musical orchestrations are often bombastic but rousing and suitably Gothic. Bayona retains reverence to the source throughout, including knowingly affectionate homages to the kitchen scene in “Jurassic Park,” here in Lockwood Mansion’s dinosaur museum and then again with a dumbwaiter door. From the sublime to the ridiculous, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the wackiest in the series, but as a full-throttle ride, it still provides the brand of rip-roaring, danger-filled thrills that the “Jurassic” series—and summer moviegoing in general—is all about. 

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