Welcome to cinema’s annual extinction event. Or, as it’s known around these parts, the summer.
‘Fallen’ is the word alright. We are a long way from the expertly choreographed, memorably human spectacles that launched a thousand lunchboxes back in ’93. The Jurassic series has struggled to replicate the original Spielberg magic and the exhaustion continues with Fallen Kingdom, the fifth in the franchise and the second in Universal’s second round of ill-fated trips to Isla Nublar (are there any other kind?).
Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow, having gotten the call from Kathleen Kennedy, is out, but he and Derek Connolly have stayed on writing duties. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who had story credit on World, and helped bring robust blockbuster intelligence to last year’s War for the Planet of the Apes, are off writing Disney’s live-action Mulan, and what little story credibility World had has gone with them. New director J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls) manages to bring some tonal discipline in the third act — and fashion a couple of striking shots — but Fallen Kingdom’s plot is all over the place, and smothered in the unthreatening unreality of photographic sheen. In 1993, computers helped make the blockbuster. Twenty odd years later, they’ve killed it.
If things are bad for audiences, they’re worse for the dinos. After the tourist buffet of Jurassic World, the park is moth-balled and the animals roam free, but the doomsday clock’s ticking: the volcanic island is about to explode, rendering its inhabitants re-extinct. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is recruited by a sympathetic bankroller (Rafe Spall) to mount an urgent rescue op. Alongside her young dino-conservationists (Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith) she wrangles raptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt), the only trainer who can handle ‘Blue’, the last living velocirapter on the planet.
Spielberg’s The Lost World gave us another island. Fallen Kingdom gives us another John Hammond. A snow-bearded, at-death’s-door James Cromwell plays Benjamin Lockwood, who apparently was Hammond’s partner in the early days of gene experimentation. The two had a falling out — we find out why later on, and it’s one of the most needlessly melodramatic plot insertions I can remember in a blockbuster — but for now he’s entrusted his fortune to nephew Eli (Spall). Lockwood has built a natural sanctuary on deserted island (another another island), and the plan is to snatch as many creatures as they can before the lava melts them. But slippery Eli has other plans — obviously — involved animal traffickers, dino-soldiers (wasn’t this a thing in the first World?) and Toby Jones as a miniature Trump, with a terrible toupee and even worse Yankee accent.
Like its patchwork genetic animals, Fallen Kingdom is a strange cobbling job. The first section mixes set-pieces with disaster peril in cliched ways, but they’re only actually on the island for a short spell, a sort of premature ejection of dino-drama. There’s a good bit of plot faffing, and the final act swerves into something closer to a cheesy domestic horror piece, which is actually a brave tone choice, and really the only interesting thing going on here.
But it’s still silly, and small, and there’s nothing to hang your hook on. Pratt does his leading man routine like someone who’s just watched a Youtube tutorial on handsome squinting, and his romantic tension with Howard feels as real as the stegosaurus tumbling down the hill after them. B. D Wong’s cooked up a new teethy beastie, a super soldier raptor, but all this cross-breeding one-upping feels like frantic overcompensation, like a meathead in a tanktop desperate for everyone to know just how big his clock is.
Where’s a meteor when you need one? Conor Smyth
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is on wide release.