Despite some fun moments, the latest instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise fails to capture the brilliance of the original.
"Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?" asks Bryce Dallas Howard in the latest instalment of the Jurassic Park franchise, Lost Kingdom.
We do indeed. It was twenty five years ago, and - as John Williams's iconic score built to its majestic climax - the original film's cast rose from the seats of their jeep, jaws agape and stared wide-eyed at a beautiful, towering Brachiosaurus.
Twenty five years.
A quarter of a century since the first Jurassic Park captured the imagination of moviegoers the world over and ushered in the brave new world of CGI-enhanced filmmaking. The whole thing was classic Spielberg: a rollicking, family-friendly adventure that pushed the boundaries of innovation whilst remaining grounded in entirely relatable, human stories. Its extraordinary success made sequels inevitable, but, unfortunately, none except for perhaps The Lost World have come even close to recapturing the magic and wonder of the original. In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom we have a film significantly better than its predecessor, yet one that still falls well short of the mark overall.
Much of the problem lies with the franchise's 'villains'. In Jurassic Park the combination was perfect: flawed human antagonists in Dennis Nedry and John Hammond, existential menace in the form of technological hubris and, of course, those dinosaurs. Between the thuggery of the T-Rex, the cunning of the raptors and the toxic spit of the Dilophosaurus, every step through the failing park held unbearable peril for its characters, instilling a dread that neatly overflowed into the audience.
Since then, though, all Jurassic movies have largely used just one, generic and recurring villain: INGEN, the unscrupulous genetics corporation behind all that Dino-DNA splicing. Even worse, the raptors and T-Rex have become, thanks to their broad popularity, inadvertent heroes, leaving the Dino-threat to come from species that never even existed. Here again in Fallen Kingdom it's that same formula at play: INGEN is secretly cooking up some new species to sell as weapons (still as ridiculous a concept as it was in Jurassic World), and the big scary dinosaur is a genetically-engineered ultra raptor. Around them are cookie-cutter human bad guys in the form of mercenaries, big game hunters and money-hungry suits, as well as franchise regular Dr Wu (BD Wong), the original Jurassic Park geneticist who continues to learn precisely zero from his mistakes of the past.
There is still a lot of fun to be had here, and even a few unexpected feels as director J.A Bayona (A Monster Calls) reminds us that monsters of choice are always worse than monsters of instinct. The film's central conceit, too, is a compelling one. A volcano on the island upon which the dinosaurs currently reside is poised to erupt, meaning they will again become extinct without human intervention. To rescue or not to rescue hence becomes the burning question for Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Claire (Dallas Howard) and fan favourite Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), whilst INGEN predictably wants then rescued for less noble means than preservation.
The island sequence of the movie is its strongest, if also far too short, and features the film's (and perhaps even entire franchise's) most affecting moment; a heart-wrenchingly sad callback to that iconic Brachiosaurus shot from twenty five years ago. Thereafter, Fallen Kingdom transforms into a semi Gothic horror film as the action shifts to an isolated mansion in which our characters are stalked by Wu's latest creation. Toby Jones and James Cromwell give spirited performances during this phase, but the weakness of the script here refuse to be covered up. The bad get eaten whilst the good live on and it never feels like anything in between was even contemplated.
As part two of a planned trilogy, the end-point of Fallen Kingdom certainly offers some interesting possibilities for the final instalment. That said, absent a more nuanced and, dare we say, sympathetic villain, the cinematic world of dinosaurs, just like Dr Wu, seems destined to repeat the mistakes of its past.