When word came out that there was going to be a reboot/sequel of Jurassic Park, I dusted off my well-worn sceptical hat and sat, arms folded, waiting for a raptor to disappoint me with a predictable attack from the side. The law of diminishing returns had surely sent the franchise the way of its subject matter after Spielberg low-point The Lost World and the forgettable bollocks that was Jurassic Park 3.
As frequently happens, I was wrong and 2015’s Jurassic World turned out to be loads of fun. They took a chance on director Colin Trevorrow, a man with one cinematic release to his name at the time, and he engineered something both enjoyably familiar (Jurassic Park’s legacy woven into the DNA rather than in cheap callbacks) and surprising enough to offer thrills. The best thing about it was the characters: Chris Pratt cemented his place as a leading man with roguish dino trainer Owen, and enjoyed good odd couple chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard’s uptight Claire. Both were likeable and fun, and even the imperilled kids weren’t huge irritants like in previous films. Ifran Kahn was quietly charismatic as the Richard Attenborough proxy. Bad guy duties (the human ones, anyway – think mayor from Jaws) were handled by the immense talents of Vincent D’Onofrio, who made his military stooge more than a one-note raptor snack.
Naturally, huge success whetted studio appetite for sequels and with Treverrow decamping to join (and the leave) the Star Wars galaxy, J.A. Bayona was drafted in to marshal the carnage. A hugely disappointing trailer set internet tongues wagging, their main subject being “why didn’t they know the island was a volcano?” This detail is brushed aside in the film, but the volcano provides a decent ticking clock for the first half, in which Owen and Claire (and a couple of hugely annoying helpers with silly job titles) are drafted back to the island as part of a rescue operation which to the surprise of absolutely nobody turns out to be a flimsy excuse for making weapons out of dinos, and more genetic tinkering.
Rafe Spall’s character, Eli, is looking after Ingen’s interests for the infirm James Cromwell, who was Richard Attenborough’s silent partner. We find out that he’s a wrong ‘un early on when he shouts at a child, and he’s a dial-a-villain throughout. Spall is a charming and charismatic actor but he doesn’t have a lot to work with here. Doing more with less is Toby Jones (a man genetically incapable of playing a nice guy), whose smug auctioneer is particularly hateable and the film seemingly takes sadistic glee with his fate. The scumbags’ gallery is rounded off by Ted Levine, playing a greedy ex-military man. Levine brings authority and that voice but is a little underused, marshalling what looks like the same group of muscly mercenaries from Logan and being all gruff and stuff.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t bothered with Owen and Claire much throughout this review, it’s because the film isn’t really bothered with them either. Their relationship, so well established in the first (or is that 4th) film, is undercooked here and despite a few hints of what happened between the films, it’s as if Fallen Kingdom doesn’t really have room for them. The strength of Jurassics Park and World was in the main characters; likeable and able, yet only really able to run away from danger, occasionally protecting a child. Goldblum, Neill, Dern, Pratt, and Howard all give us something to root for among the chaos. Here, we have some bants and a bit of peril, but they feel like an afterthought.
Plot-wise, it’s somewhere between a juggernaut and a clown car. There is so much going on at such a high pace but so little of makes any narrative sense – a churlish argument when discussing a film about genetically engineered dinosaurs, I know – but it’s not as satisfying as the imperilled kids motif that drove the best parts of the previous films. Eli wants to ‘rescue’ the dinosaurs, sell them on to generate seed money for a project to engineer a new weaponized dino, which is already mostly complete, but needs super Raptor Blue as a kind of mother figure.
While they have admirably tried to build on and deepen Blue’s relationship with Owen, they have somewhat retconned Blue into a more empathetic and intelligent creature than she was before, and this doesn’t quite work. And ultimately, the Indoraptor , a hybrid of World’s Indominous Rex and a velociraptor (strange, considering that Indominous was part raptor to begin with), isn’t much of a threat. Not showing up until more than half way through, it’s smaller and spikier than the previous film’s new dino, and it isn’t as well developed. Its first kill, spotted from a mile off, shows off some possum DNA in the mix, and there’s an underused laser targeting motif. It looks pretty cool, but feels like a step down from the previous film, in which T-Rex and raptor alike were no match for the Big Bad. Here, somewhat predictably, it’s Blue to the rescue and this feels cheap.
Despite all the negativity there are plenty of things to like about Fallen Kingdom. It works nicely as a horror film, it’s loads of fun, and there will always be a piece of childhood glee which wakes up whenever I see a dinosaur chasing an asshole. However, while World wore nostalgia on its sleeve, but gave you enough new thrill, Fallen Kingdom hopes nostalgia alone is enough to carry a whole film. This is going to be disappointing and predictable, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s apt: Fallen Kingdom lacks a bit of bite.