**1/2 out of ****
(for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril, and some language)
Released: June 22, 2018
Runtime: 128 minutes
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Isabella Sermon, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplain, Jeff Goldblum
(You can listen to Charles Elmore and I discuss Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom on Episode 9 of “The Bad and the Beautiful” podcast)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is what it looks like when you give a 10-year-old a $200 million budget.
By that I mean to produce, not direct, as gun-for-hire J.A. Bayona has crafted a spectacular-looking Hollywood blockbuster that boasts some of the best filmmaking of the entire Jurassic canon.
But it’s all in service of a story (written by Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow and his screenwriting partner Derek Connolly) that is patently ridiculous in almost every respect, propped up on a paper-thin structure of rehashed formulas and fan service reduxes that requires the best experts of their fields to make the worst possible decisions.
For the fifth film in this 25-year-old series, however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sure, it all plays out like a pre-teen boy had final cut, but one where the kid let a skilled cinematician like Bayona make the best version of his juvenile semi-gory thrills possible, packing it with the kind of dino-ride jump-scares that fans of the franchise keep coming back for.
To the extent that Fallen Kingdom has a singular identity as a Jurassic movie it’s in Bayona’s personal signature, with an aesthetic that leans heavily into his creepy horror roots (The Orphanage). It’s the first Jurassic movie to not have or mimic the Spielberg style, feeling more like an homage to Guillermo del Toro (whom Bayona thanks in the end credits) that borders on the gothic.
Fallen Kingdom is two movies in one. The first act is a lazy rework of the first Jurassic sequel The Lost World, where our heroes are dishonestly lured back to an island with dinosaurs run amok, and the last act is a Haunted House flick where the dinos are the de facto ghosts.
A mid-point auction connects the two, and it belabors a two-hour movie that doesn’t need to be. The combination of the two halves amounts to a 1950s creature feature double bill – with sequences that absolutely deliver on pure visceral frights – complete with the cheap fever-pitched melodrama common to that mid-century era, and the overacting to go with it.
Aside from Chris Pratt, whose light swagger here actually improves upon the ill-fitted serious stoicism that restrained him in Jurassic World, the rest of the cast comes off like a bunch of amateurs (even James Cromwell). Bayona isn’t nearly as good with his actors as he is his camera (a problem that mired A Monster Calls, too) as virtually every line-read is overplayed, whether it be by screams, intense declarations, jokes, or moustache-twirling evilry.
The ensemble’s antiquated earnestness is matched by composer Michael Giacchino’s bombastic score (one that’s almost completely absent of John Williams’ iconic cues), cementing a broader, overall b-movie milieu. It’s a tone that would’ve been better used as an occasional spike for fun, cheeky moments – both comic and horror – rather than the operative baseline from start to finish.
So much of it reeks of implausibility, even within the rules of its sci-fi DNA cautionary tale, right down to the overindulgence of how many times our heroes can be just inches away from the snapping jaws of an attacking dinosaur, which has them dead to rights, only to be rescued by a serendipitous distraction.
Rarely has the discrepancy between what works (a palpable cinematic atmosphere fortified by a rich, colorful 35mm film palette) and what doesn’t (the fundamentals of script and performances) been so disproportionate in a major Hollywood release.
But if the laughs, shrieks, and cheers from my preview audience are any indication, this Frankensteinian tentpole is the kind of monster people are ready for – including the post-credits stinger that teases where all of this is likely headed.
Not really a “so bad it’s good” shlock disaster (although it may have benefited from an all-in gonzo Sharknado absurdity), this is more the case of a blockbuster so well done – in the all the right parts and all the right ways – that it’s easy to turn off the brain and dismiss the infinite holes (plot, logic, and otherwise), as well as the thematic pretentions that feel as recycled as they do obligatory.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a really stupid movie, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.