“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” asks Claire Dearing (Howard) in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. We do. When Steven Spielberg’s photoreal prehistoric predators hit multiplexes in 1993 they changed cinema forever. And they were terrifying. To paraphrase Dr Ian Malcolm, after the “oohs” and “ahhs” came the running and screaming. But the original Park’s perfectly-attuned moments of pure suspense (the tap-tap-tapping velociraptor claw, the water rippling in a T-Rex footprint) have never been matched — until now. Enter J.A. Bayona, director of The Orphanage, who injects his gothic horror sensibilities into the series’ DNA and conjures a new instalment steeped in tightly-wound tension. Hold onto your butts.
But Bayona doesn’t just pull off the carefully crafted white-knuckle frights you expect of him – he also goes bigger than any other Jurassic film. Where The Lost World and III struggled to deliver convincing motivations for their characters to willingly return to dinosaur-filled terrain, Bayona and Colin Trevorrow (director of Jurassic World, who produces and co-writes here) crack it with a time-bomb premise: Isla Nublar’s no-longer-dormant volcano is about to blow. Is humanity obliged to save the creatures it brought back from extinction? Or has life, uh, found a way of course-correcting in explosive style? It’s a set-up which sends the park’s former operations manager Claire – now campaigning for dinosaur rights – and Owen Grady (Pratt) on a quest to rescue a handful of species, including velociraptor Blue, from the lava-seeping ruins of the failed park.
Howard and Pratt develop their characters beyond the archetypes they inhabited last time.
The island is where Bayona’s disaster movie credentials come into play. He invokes the relentless intensity of The Impossible’s harrowing tsunami in a thunderous stampede sequence as the volcanic eruption escalates, boldly providing the film’s biggest set-piece at the midway point. Such mass destruction is a new flavour for the Jurassic series, and Bayona wisely punctuates the bombast with human-scale peril — an underwater sequence with Claire and her scaredy-cat tech nerd colleague Franklin (Smith) trapped in a sinking gyrosphere is a breath-holding highlight.
While the volcano cranks the Isla Nublar action up to 11, back on the mainland Bayona holds a tight focus on the creaky, creepy Lockwood Estate — the mansion home of John Hammond’s former business partner — orchestrating beautifully-framed, precision-tuned scares with his scaly new star: the Indoraptor. Yes, InGen has been up to its gene-splicing tricks again, cooking up a new nightmare hybrid that, of course, is soon on the loose. With such hissable baddies as Ted Levine’s trophy-collecting mercenary Ken Wheatley and Toby Jones’ Trump-wigged auctioneer Gunnar Eversol on site, watching it wreak toothy havoc is a scream.
As for our heroes, Howard and Pratt develop their characters beyond the archetypes they inhabited last time. Claire 2.0 is more engaging and sympathetic — and yes, she wears sensible shoes this time — while Owen’s more brash, chauvinistic edges are rounded off. The pair have real chemistry, best evidenced during a hugely entertaining sleeping T-Rex sequence that delivers laughs, gasps, and top-notch animatronic effects. You wanted more ‘real’ dinosaurs this time? You got ’em.
There are niggles — one character’s mysterious identity is telegraphed far too heavily, Goldblum’s cameo is well-conceived but extremely brief, and Michael Giacchino’s score underuses the John Williams fanfare. But despite some familiar echoes of The Lost World, Fallen Kingdom also takes big, ballsy, irreversible strides, deriving tantalising logical conclusions from Michael Crichton’s original premise and setting up a brave new World for this trilogy’s final chapter.