By Dwight Brown
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Tyrannosaurus, velociraptors and brachiosaurus—run for your lives. The cloned dinosaurs from the theme park Jurassic World are in trouble on the volcanic isle of Isla Nublar, which is erupting, spewing hot lava and emitting a deadly ash cloud. If they aren’t rescued, they will die. That’s the premise in this sequel to “Jurassic World” ($1.7B at the box office). The question is this: Will this follow-up to the wildly successful “Jurassic World” be enough to hook action/adventure/sci-fi fans and reel them into the theaters?
Colin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World, passes on direction duties to Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (“Orphanage,” “The Impossible”), and the difference in style is negligible. Trevorrow writes the script with Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World,” “Kong: Skull Island”). Editor Bernat Vilaplana worked with Bayona on “The Impossible,” as did cinematographer Oscar Faura. Composer Michael Giacchino won an Oscar for his original score for the animated feature “Up”. Add in creature sculptor Wayne Anderson (“Underworld: Blood Wars”) and it’s no wonder that the footage rips along at a breakneck pace, with wondrous views of a paradise island being ravaged by 700-degree orange liquid rock and ancient beast clones running rampant. Everything is neatly coordinated—right down to the last scream for help.
Three years have passed. Isla Nublar, an isle 120 miles west of Costa Rica that housed the now abandoned reptile theme park, is desolate except for lush green vegetation and gigantic beasts. The Dinosaur Protection Group, run by former theme park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, “Jurassic World,” “The Help”), is out to save the gigantic animals. They aren’t as aggressive as PETA, but they’re dedicated.
Claire is approached by the duplicitous Eli Mills (“Rafe Spall,”” Life of Pi,” “The Big Short”), who has a plan to relocate the behemoths to a sanctuary, but not out of the kindness of his heart. Dearing is pulled into the mission. She enlists her ex-boyfriend Owen (Chris Pratt), who trained some of the less hostile and very intelligent velociraptors. A techy/hacker, Franklin Webb (“Justice Smith,” “The Get Down”), and an equally young paleo/veterinarian, Zia Rodriguez (Danielle Pineda, TV’s “The Detour”), become part of the A-team. Of course, nothing goes as planned.
The simple premise hovers around animal rescue. Working within that blueprint, the film moves quickly to add in a chain of action scenes, daring escapes, fist fights, dinosaur wrestling matches and some graphic violence (a man gets torn apart, so be wary of bringing really young kids to this movie) as it builds into several crescendos. Just as you think there can’t possibly be more mayhem or another challenge, there is; not ad nauseum, but it’s enough to make you shell-shocked.
The bad guys want to use the behemoths for an evil purpose that involves weapons of destruction. All of the subterfuge, angst and cause célèbre animal rights activism is a ploy to whip the audience’s emotions into a frenzy. On some levels it works. But most astute viewers will understand that there is no moral theme of any consequence in this reptiles gone wild orgy.
The relationship between Claire and Owen is fun, until they do stupid things like kissing in the middle of an action scene. The two leads have charisma and you like them regardless. Spall as Mills gives you a fitting antagonist to hate, and you hope he gets his just rewards. Ditto for Toby Jones who plays Mr. Eversol, a trafficker, and Ted Levine, as Ken Wheatley, the vile man who heads the rescue and misleads Claire. Smith provides some comic relief as Webb the nerd who hates to get his feet dirty. And, Pineada shows spunk as the brainy and fearless Rodriguez.
It’s obvious the dinosaurs aren’t real, but thanks to the special effects and photography, with a gigantic assist from the sound effects department (Marti Albert sound effects editor), your nerves will get frayed. You’ll jump out of your seat or sit with dread as you watch gnashing teeth bear down on human flesh. Also, a shout out to the vivid images of the volcano and the gorgeous shots of the island which perfectly set up the atmosphere for a verdant paradise gone wrong.
The 128 minutes roll by and you’ll feel like you just got back from a tour of duty in the war-torn jungles of some tropical island nation. Your adrenalin will be high. Your thoughts will race. You will not feel like you just watched the most innovative action/adventure/sci-fi film in the world (“Avatar”), but you’ll have to admit that “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” worked its magic in its own way, even if its aura doesn’t have a long-lasting effect.