When something, be it a movie, book, play or fried breakfast, is so bloated and overloaded, it throws into sharp relief Robert Browning’s oft-quoted poem Andrea del Sarto, specifically the snatch of dialogue: “less is more”. Few films in recent memory have exemplified that maxim than Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
If one is to begin at the end, then the final act of this ludicrous dinosaur romp is actually pretty fun; for forty-or-so minutes when the drama morphs into a horror in a gothic setting. You leave the cinema on something of a high note, but then slowly remember that the 100 minutes that preceded the decent finale were largely abysmal.
As the taglines for this suggest, the park is gone. Following the disastrous events of the previous movie, Jurassic World lies in ruins with dinosaurs roaming free on the island. As a convoluted trio of exposition-heavy opening scenes is at pains to highlight, there is a significant problem. A previously dormant volcano is about to erupt and destroy Isla Nublar, along with everything on it. Humanity wrestles with the choice of whether to save the animals or leave them to their fate and ultimately decides: fuck them. For Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former suit at Jurassic World and now dinosaur rights activist, this will not stand. With support from John Hammond’s former partner – a largely bedridden James Cromwell – she joins an expedition to save the creatures, dragging along two of her staff: a dinosaur vet played by Daniella Pineda and an IT boffin played by Justice Smith – as well as her estranged boyfriend and former raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
In his original movie, Spielberg knew how to build then tension, withholding the first dinosaur attack until over one hour into a 127-minute movie that only contains 14 minutes of dinosaur footage. These days, the cat is out of the bag and, in what seems like no time at all, all hell is breaking loose as dinosaurs pirouette and tumble over cliff edges and through the air as the ground literally explodes beneath their hooves (or claws). The first two-thirds of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is such a kaleidoscopic mess, an explosion of such massive and ludicrous proportions, it effectively destroys any sense of perspective and renders the whole thing entirely meaningless.
The problems with character so obvious in the previous movie (there were none to speak of) are still there. Pratt’s loveable outdoorsman routine aims for something like Indiana Jones but is so earnest and plain his character looks more like a drably-dressed blob of clay. Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, the subject of much criticism in the original, seems to have actually regressed. Whereas previously she was a two-dimensional uptight executive, she’s now just someone who quite likes animals. Pineda’s paleo-vet shows signs of promise, but her character never gets enough screen-time to do anything other than sass the male characters. Meanwhile, Justice Smith’s boffin gets tarred with the comedy wimp-nerd brush and delivers some fairly excruciating moments of early comic relief before his character, and the entire film, settles down.
Director J.A. Bayona made a name for himself with his 2007 gothic horror El Orfanato, and, it’s with some relief, that he manages to show some flair at the movie’s climax. The final act setting, part haunted house, part mad scientist’s lair, forces the narrative into a choke point, ensuring that the drama is played out with an intimacy and quiet menace that has been lacking throughout the movie up until that point. The denouement, effectively a dinosaur horror movie, is actually pretty enjoyable and manages to crowbar in a scene of aggressive slapstick that’s all the funnier for not featuring dozens of CGI monsters. It’s a finale that simultaneously saves the entire movie from behind a total catastrophe of extinction-level proportions, but also makes you wish its first two-thirds had a little more subtlety than a flying, burning Apatosaurus.
Chris Banks | ★★1/2
Sci-fi, Adventure | 12A | USA, 2018 | 6th June 2018 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir.JA Bayona | Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Rafe Spall, BD Wong, James Cromwell