I was pretty primed for this movie, I guess. I’m not sure there was a bigger fan of the first Jurassic World than me; I saw a lot of the imperfections everyone else did, but it was kind of the perfect nostalgia trip and I was absolutely transported by Jurassic World. The relationship to nostalgia is always iffy for a work of art; lean too heavily into it and you’re just pandering. Call me crazy, but for me Jurassic World dodged that bullet. Fallen Kingdom, on the other hand, has precisely the opposite relationship to nostalgia and that’s both the strength and the weakness of the film. In Fallen Kingdom, Bayona is trying very explicitly to change things up, to not just craft another excuse for people to run around the jungle being chased by dinosaurs and, while that effort is appreciated, and even occasionally works, the problem is that there isn’t that much brought to the table in terms of the new elements.
What Bayona has and has always had is an eye for striking visuals. I found the darker template of this film to be quite beautiful and Bayona brings horror back to the franchise in a big way. Horror has often been pushed aside in favor of pure action-adventure, but the climax of this movie is set in a creaky old mansion, during a thunderstorm no less, and he shoots his big bad, the Indorapter, like he’s Nosferatu. Some of these images really, really land. A confrontation in a room full of dinosaur panoramas is beautifully done as is the rooftop finale. And the entire first act, which mostly takes place on the Jurassic World island is really fun. The cold open of the film is a nightmarish, storm whipped set piece that only the Jurassic franchise can give you and a later underwater sequence is tense and thrilling and beautiful imagined, with dinosaurs plunging into the water around our characters.
What Bayona doesn’t have this time around is much in the way of a script; if you thought the story and characters were thin in Jurassic World, wait until you see what Fallen Kingdom has in store. Pratt still has charisma and it helps him skate by on some pretty stupid stuff, but not even he can escape unscathed. Bryce Dallas Howard continues to be the secret weapon of this trilogy; there’s one truly transcendent moment of tragedy at the end of the first act and her performance in that scene is absolutely beautiful. But there’s a late film revelation about a supporting character that is . . . gobsmackingly stupid. I mean, stupider than anything in this entire franchise. Yes, stupider than anything in either Lost World or JPIII. Yes, by far. When you see it, you’ll know. What does work, surprisingly, is the central relationship of the film which turns out to be between Pratt’s Owen and Blue, the lone surviving raptor of his training group. The shot of Blue gazing at Owen and then turning and sprinting off into the park at the climax of the first film was my favorite shot in the film and a truly moving moment. Here, they build on that even more by going back into Blue’s life and the training regimen and how that relationship was built between Blue & Owen. The final scene between the two of them is genuinely heart-wrenching because you know what you want to happen and you know it can’t. Blue is, in my opinion, a truly brilliant digital creation, able to express surprising emotion and to feel, as many of these CGI creatures, like the Indoraptor, really don’t, like absolute flesh & blood reality. That’s a real achievement.
So, the film is . . . problematic. It whipsaws from genuine thrills and chills in brilliant set-pieces to horribly bad dialogue scenes and from wonderful moments of heart-tugging emotion to incredibly stupid plot revelations. It’s very much a film by a visual director; frankly a lot of this movie could almost be from a silent film and, trust me, a lot of it would be a lot better if it was. Maybe Rafe Spall’s obnoxiously obvious villain wouldn’t seem so over the top if he actually had a mustache to twirl. So where am I on this ridiculous film? Well, it’s ambitious . . . and it misses the mark about half the time . . . but when it hits it’s glorious . . . but when it doesn’t, it’s ******* terrible . . . but there are dinosaurs and dinosaurs that I actually care about . . . and I don’t know what to do about that, but somehow the positives outweigh the substantial negatives. Giving this movie the rating I’m going to give it is kind of like me giving Scarface four stars. I mean, it’s terrible, but gloriously so. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – completely ridiculous, strange, poorly plotted but visually stunning; Fallen Kingdom is a hulking Frankenstein monstrosity, but one worth loving. 3 ½ stars.