‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ review: Hollywood weaponizes dinosaurs

J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom continues to show more interest in its dinosaurs than its human participants. If taken as a ride, this should come out as thrilling.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom picks up three years after the events of Jurassic World where Isla Nublar’s iconic theme park was once again closed when things went massively out of hand. Apparently, an active volcano sits on top of the island (the franchise has never mentioned it before) and its impending eruption can lead to the extinction of all the prehistoric creatures inhabiting there. During a senate hearing, Jeff Goldblum reprises in a cameo role as Dr. Ian Malcolm (of the original trilogy) and presents this sequel’s moral conflict: Should dinosaurs be given the same rights and protection extended to endangered species? Or should they let nature take its course?

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For its first half, the film’s goal is to save most of the dinosaurs as possible with the help of returning key characters Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) – both of which seem to have swapped beliefs since the last time we saw them. Gone with her corporate career attitude, Claire is now a dinosaur rights activist. She comes round to family values in the end of JW but this sequel does little convincing why she persists on their evacuation despite having experienced the dangers of dino genetic engineering—a technological advancement that proves to be more disastrous than beneficial for humans. It is Owen, the compassionate raptor trainer, who is now reluctant to go back to the island but nonetheless tags along the adventure to save his favorite velociraptor, Blue. The usual dynamic follows: Owen does most of the work while Claire widens her eyes and screams in distress. Thankfully, this time, she ditches her high heels in favor of a more sensible footwear and later on, she gets to do more work.

Chris Pratt as Owen Grady training velociraptor Blue.

Claire and Owen need all the help they can get so joining the rescue team are the gutsy paleo-veterinarian Dr. Zia (Daniella Pineda) whose mostly used as a plot device and the scaredy-cat IT technician Franklin (Justice Smith) whose high-pitched shrieks of terror rivals Howard’s. Of course, this won’t be a proper “Jurassic” movie without an endangered kid in the mix: inquisitive girl Maisie (Isabella Sermon) comes out as the most interesting here, albeit a fragment of her character seems to be missing to fully pay-off in the end. On the other hand, the villains played by Rafe Spall, Toby Jones and Ted Levine, are all painfully one-dimensional; they don’t care that these dinos can practically end the human race, they just want to sell them for a couple of million dollars, that’s it. I’m not even sure why these dinos come a bit too cheap? And one can even question the justification for Jones’ character when it can be merged with Spall’s (the former seems to be uninterested for most parts anyway). Better yet, the film could have benefited if these three slightly disappointing villains are amalgamated into a superbly formed nemesis instead.

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If there’s something that the Jurassic World franchise has edge over the original Jurassic Park trilogy, it is that the dinosaurs here have better characterization. Reprising writers Collin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly place the dinosaurs in a dichotomous position. Apart from being portrayed as Hollywood’s scaly green monsters with razor-sharp teeth, hell-bent on eating every human flesh in sight (at least for the carnivore ones), these creatures are also presented as victims needed to be empathized and preserved for future generations. The film consistently flips back and forth to these perceptions as evidenced by the numerous predatory cardio chases and Owen’s bond with his favorite velociraptor, Blue. With the help of some archival footage, a decent paternal relationship has been established between the two, though not as potent and sentimentalized as the simians from Rise of the Planet of the Apes (feat. James Franco and Caesar the Chimp) or at least with the recently-released Rampage (feat. Dwayne Johnson and George the silverback gorilla). Yes, I do have to mention “The Apes” franchise, because by its second half towards the end, the film has taken a similar path and more outlandish themes are in play. Occasionally, a few of them don’t work, and I’m mostly pertaining to the ‘dinosaur auction’ scenes.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing and Justice Smith as Franklin Webb

Still, the change of scenery is most welcome and director J.A. Bayona employs his horror background skills to spin the expansive island adventure into a more domesticated and claustrophobic level of fear—dinosaurs running loose in tiny hallways, stony basements and children’s bedrooms. It’s an eerie, gothic sight; but for the first time, the franchise actually feels dangerous. Never mind the shot of Owen, Claire and Maisie playing hide-and-seek with an Indoraptor – that scene is downright ridiculous. Surely, it should have smelled them a few feet away after establishing the fact that this dino has heightened senses.

READ MORE: Bryce Dallas Howard: more determined, focused in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Bayona may be working with an average and campy script, but he finds strength and tension through his outstanding use of shadows and light, along with the impeccable marriage of CGI and practical effects. He transforms action beats into memorable visions like the silhouette of an allosaurus looming in the end of a tunnel, Blue roaring on top of a moonlit roof during a storm, and the most poignant of all is the shot of a brachiosaurus trapped on the edge of an island, only to be consumed by smoke and lava. I also have to mention that this film’s opening sequence is the best one that they have in the franchise.

Franklin, Owen and Claire caught in the middle of a dinosaur stampede

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, like its predecessor, continues to show more interest in its dinosaurs more than its human participants. Come to think of it, most of the story here is actually propelled by the baffling actions done by its characters and in general, these dinos act more rational than them. Villains keep on making hybrids as instruments of biological warfare while completely disregarding the threat it poses to the human race. Even the heroes that we’re supposed to root for do a couple of stupid decisions too.

From a story standpoint, our prehistoric dinosaurs deserve better depth and realism, but if taken as a ride, this should come out thrilling. Sure, predictability starts to kick in by the third act especially when the film insists to retread certain themes from the past. But given the wake of JW’s box office success (5th highest-grossing film of all time), this sequel has the luxury to display overconfidence in its abilities. Its promising ending hopefully provides the jaw strength it needs to take things to the next level and further postpone its extinction.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Now playing in Philippine cinemas, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Geraldine Chaplin, Justice Smith and Isabelle Sermon. Directed by J.A. Bayona from a screenplay written by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. Based on the characters by Michael Crichton. Runtime: 128 minutes.

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