Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom — 'Sauring' adventure

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) • View trailer 
Four stars. Rated PG-13, for relentless action violence and all manner of dino rage

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.22.18

This film is a cautionary tale that hearkens back to the immortal line from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, which has been paraphrased — in movies, TV shows and other books — many times since:

With a particularly nasty Indoraptor loose in her family's private Cretaceous museum,
young Maisie (Isabella Sermon, far right) hopes that Owen (Chris Pratt) and
Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) can keep her alive.
“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge.”

Its function as a klaxon-blaring environmental warning aside, this fifth installment in the Jurassic series also is a rip-snortin’ rollercoaster ride. Director J.A. Bayona and editor Bernat Vilaplana maintain an impressive level of intense, edge-of-the-seat suspense for two full hours. Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow’s script is cleverly structured into three distinct acts, each laden with distinct goals, challenges and dangerous pitfalls.

At the same time, a thoroughly unsettling message percolates beneath the surface, until finally blossoming — nay, exploding — during the climax.

That’s a problem. The care with which Connolly and Trevorrow have built their plot suddenly sags beneath the weight of too much extraneous exposition during the final 15 minutes: one genuine surprise, a failure to resolve, and a lingering catastrophe that has been foretold by Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm (and it’s very nice to see him again).

We’re left with enough open-ended material to fuel two or three more films ... which, frankly, is quite irritating.

Up to that point, however, Fallen Kingdom is a lot of fun, in great part because Bayona, Connolly and Trevorrow wisely follow — and often reference — many of the ingredients that made Steven Spielberg’s 1993 handling of Michael Crichton’s original novel so thoroughly absorbing.

Stalwart heroes: check. Well-meaning scientists with their ideals shattered: check. Greedy corporate villains: check. One (and only one) comic-relief character: check. A child in peril: check.

Plenty of unexpected jump-attacks by swiftly moving dinosaurs: Check-check-check.

This is how it plays out:

Three years have passed since the Jurassic World theme park and luxury resort — and many of its visitors — were damaged, destroyed and/or devoured by dinosaurs crafty enough to escape their containment (with the assistance of some dim-bulb humans). The atoll setting — Isla Nublar — has been abandoned by people, leaving the surviving dinosaurs to fend for themselves.

But the island’s dormant volcano has resumed activity, prompting animal-rights activists to lobby the U.S. government to intervene and save these majestic creatures. (Watch the C-SPAN-style text crawl during the congressional hearing sequence, for a droll — and delightfully apt — dig at our current Ignoramus-in-Chief.)

The previous film’s adventure has transformed Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s former bean-counting wonk, into an impassioned bleeding heart who heads the grass-roots Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG), and mourns the potential loss of Isla Nublar’s once-prehistoric inhabitants. Her hope for some sort of solution is rewarded after being summoned to the remote estate of Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell); he reveals himself as the enormously wealthy and hitherto unknown former business partner of John Hammond (the long-gone Richard Attenborough, who built the original Jurassic Park).

Don’t you love the way ongoing franchises re-define their back-stories?


Lockwood and his equally impassioned right-hand man, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), have used a chunk of the former’s money to create and terraform a wholly isolated ocean atoll: a safe haven to which Isla Nublar’s dinosaurs can be relocated. Lockwood believes that Claire is the best person to oversee such a massive operation; she, in turn, knows that the chances of success will improve exponentially with the added participation of velociraptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt).

He needs some convincing, having had quite enough of such things. But he can’t resist the opportunity to save his beloved, intelligent, raised-from-the-egg raptor, Blue.

They’re joined by two of Claire’s DPG colleagues: feisty paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), itching to test her special skills on a live dinosaur; and genius hacker Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), who really, really doesn’t want to go. (He’s the comic relief, a role he fills well.)

Passing thought: Has this become a needlessly redundant descriptor? Are any movie hackers not geniuses?


Bad enough that Isla Nublar’s volcano is getting more active by the minute; Owen and Claire’s unease is raised further by the ruthless swagger with which their “protectors” — tough-as-nails Wheatley (Ted Levine) and his fellow mercenaries — take their end of the assignment. And when Wheatley displays a fondness for extracting dino teeth as souvenirs ... well, then we know that something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.

At which point, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

The always capable Pratt maintains his charming insouciance as a well-rounded action hero: equally adept at flirty one-liners, handling tranquilizer guns, smacking baddies around, and in general evading certain death by the narrowest of margins. His first unlikely escape, from a lava flow, sets the physics-defying bar that repeatedly follows: our cue that Bayona and creature effects supervisor Neal Scanlan are gonna play with us. A lot.

It’s a welcome relief to find Howard’s Claire so thoroughly mellowed, having removed the stick jammed up her fundament, which made her so unpalatable in the previous film. She’s also no longer stumbling about in high heels, having traded them for more sensible boots (which Bayona makes a point of showcasing, wanting to ensure that we notice). Claire has become Owen’s ally in all respects: an equally hard-charging warrior determined to prevail against The Bad Guys. 

BD Wong returns as geneticist Henry Wu, once again up to no good; wanting to top the previous film’s Indominus rex, this time he’s working on something even more dangerous. The always malevolent Toby Jones pops up as a sinister “fixer” known as Mr. Eversol.

The still regal Geraldine Chaplin has a telling supporting role as Iris, who lovingly tends the ailing Lockwood. (Continuity flaw: Iris just sorta-kinda vanishes midway through the third act, for no good reason.)

And then there’s young Maisie (Isabella Sermon), Lockwood’s cute-as-a-button granddaughter, whose resourceful familiarity with the immense estate will have unexpected consequences.

Andy Nicholson’s production design is terrific: from the decrepit, decaying amusement park details of long-abandoned Jurassic World; to the fascinating blend of stately elegance and high-tech secrets found within Lockwood’s mansion; to all manner of small touches in between. 

Returning composer Michael Giacchino once again fuels these action-packed events with an invigorating orchestral score that lovingly references John Williams’ iconic Jurassic Park title theme.

In most respects, Fallen Kingdom is more satisfying than its 2015 predecessor, which suffered from a mean-spirited tone and a surfeit of nasty, stupid characters who spent the entire film behaving like complete idiots. This installment is more fun, more balanced, and (for the most part) smarter.

Until its quite disconcerting epilog, anyway...

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