Between you and me, the name Indominus Rex sounds less like a havoc-wreaking behemoth than a down-on-his-luck aging porn star in his 40’s. That analogy works, too, for Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” itself, a blockbuster rehash that actively loses none of the original’s charm, a forbearance that keeps it from becoming triumphantly its own. The film, released three years ago, is all but crowd-pleasing, ticking off every box that ensures it passes an Amblin aptitude test if such exists. I’m betting yes. As a reboot, it performed—better on the box office than with pundits and critics—but you know, it performed with essentially the same, quarter-century-old performance of Spielberg’s original.
The Indominus Rex died in that film. Good riddance. Imagine, then, the deathly-sized chortle I had to contain when I learned that the new Franken-dino baddie in the new film, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”, is called the Indoraptor. That name rings just perfect for a down-on-his-luck aging porn star in his 40’s…with anger management issues. Which, you know, can be very hot. Which is exactly what J.A. Bayona sets out to prove, and, though only to a certain extent, succeeds in doing so.
The screenplay, written by Derek Connolly and Trevorrow, is unmistakably Amblin-esque but structured like an espionage thriller. There’s a whole cast of villains more cartoon-like than its resurged prehistoric animals, from unscrupulous honchos to—excuse me while I repeat myself!—-government officials.
Thrust in the midst of it all is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose blind idealism leads her to a secluded manor, where Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) discusses a rescue mission which will save at least eleven species of dinosaurs from a long-dormant volcano which, poetically, become active again following the events of the first film. The plan is to transport the gargantuan creatures to a nearby island where they can peacefully exist without humans, and humans without them. Claire, as she later finds out, is enlisted to convince Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) rescue Blue, a raptor with advance intelligence, to be added to the dinos up for the salvage mission.
There are, of course, a handful of double-crosses, a lot of which I won’t get into so as to preserve the film’s silly twists-and-curbs. But I will let this be known: this new film recreates its take on the Indominus Rex, a genetic tapestry designed as a weaponized mindless berserker fit for warfare. It’s called the Indoraptor, and with its ghoulish demeanor, Xenomorph-like physicality, and unnerving intelligence, it makes for an unflinching villain. Bayona certainly has a grand time playing with it, and when he really lets loose and unleashes the beast in its sheer ferality, he peppers the film with a much-needed dash of thrill.
In its most thrilling chase—set at Isla Nublar, mere moments before the island becomes a deluge of lava, one of the film’s most impressionistic images—Bayona fixes the camera inside a sphere-pod slowly sinking to the depths of the Costa Rican waters. That moment is hair-raisingly tense, and neatly sets the course where the film is headed. Bayona is skilled in the art of tension and set piece; few filmmakers will be able to pull what he’s managed with the film’s final confrontation. Set in Lockwood’s mansion, that moment is one of the film’s best, and echoes the thick sense of dread felt in the kitchen scene in Spielberg’s 1993 original, “Jurassic Park”.
Everything else about “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is mind-numbingly okay. It’s one of those few films of which you’ll be hard-pressed to find something majorly irksome and winsome. Both Pratt and Howard are reliable actors and deliver well enough. Narratively, the film is neat enough, unfolding in a manner that leaves room for little surprise. Owen and Claire’s arc, for instance, is anchored by their guilt of being partly to blame to the chaos that’s currently happening. Their arcs are essentially forsaken in favor of setting the stage for the third film (there’s obviously a third film, right?), which will carry on the discussion with grimmer , more dire consequences.
The eruption of the franchise’s iconic setting is a portentous image, alluding, perhaps, to the rise of a less idyllic future for its heroes. The hope, of course, is that future isn’t just…okay.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
2018 / Action, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Thriller / US
Direction: J.A. Bayona
Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Toby Jones
When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.