Thursday, 28 June 2018

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)




The plot: Three years after the destruction of the theme park Jurassic World, a now-active volcano on Isla Nublar poses a serious threat to the dinosaurs still on the island. Wanting to save as many of these animals as possible, wealthy benefactor Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) hires former raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) and former JW manager and now dinosaur activist Claire (Byrce Dallas Howard) to take a team to the island. However, once they arrive, it seems that not only is their task going to be a difficult one, but the people who hired them have ulterior motives for what they plan to do with these dinosaurs. The Indominus Rex was just the beginning.


Pratt is in prime lovable scumbag form here, once again managing to make his occasionally-unsavoury dialogue (like the incredibly dickish moment where he tells Howard that if he doesn’t come back, she should remember that she brought him there in the first place) palatable. Howard is largely unhindered by the very patronising characterisation she was given in the first film, meaning that while she does come off as slightly bland, she definitely works as the strong-willed animal activist. Bonus points for their chemistry together actually working out this time around. Justice Smith is one of the better purely comic relief performances I’ve seen in quite a while, absolutely nailing every one-liner he gets to make for an affable but still entertaining presence, same with Daniella Pineda as the very wilful dino doctor. Spall marks a turn as far as thinly-veiled antagonists go, as not only does he make for a quietly-intimidating presence, he even manages to bring our leads to task for their actions in the first film. For a character this blatantly amoral, he still manages to give some surprising depth to the character. Not a whole lot, admittedly, but there’s still some in there.

James Cromwell as John Hammond’s former partner brings some good sombre moments to the proceedings, while Ted ‘Buffalo Bill’ Levine as a dino-hunting mercenary brings more menacing touches to the screen, particularly his rather ‘great white hunter’ approach to the dinosaurs. B. D. Wong returns for a glorified cameo that only just manages to work, while Jeff Goldblum returns for a proper cameo that ends up giving an incredibly solid denouement to the narrative. Toby Jones as a sneering auctioneer makes for a pretty good slimy presence, and Isabella Sermon shows J.A. Bayona’s aptitude with child actors is only growing with how much she manages to bring to the film with just a single line of dialogue.

And speaking of Bayona, words cannot express how good it is to know that the orange/teal colour palette that Colin Trevorrow brought to the first Jurassic World is nowhere to be seen. Right from the very first sequence, showing a group of deep-sea divers looking for the remains of the Indominus Rex, it’s clear that Bayona is still tapping into his horror cred to bring this story to life. As a result, this film manages not only a great smoothness of tone, allowing each of the set pieces to flow into each other, but the set pieces themselves are downright fantastic. The louder and more bombastic moments, like our leads having to rescue dinosaurs from a volcanic eruption, show a great sense of scope between Bayona’s direction and A Monster Calls DOP ├ôscar Faura’s camera work. Not only that, even if the effects work is still more CGI-heavy than practical, they still work in bringing the sheer chaos of the scene to the forefront. And then there’s the smaller moments, usually those involving characters getting up close and personal with the dinosaurs one-on-one, which emphasise a sense of tension and even dread to really sink into the audience’s skin. Hell, Bayona even manages to bring in some darker moments in the production, using the power of suggestion and implication to show characters doing awful and occasionally-gory things. I say “gory”, but again, that’s mostly implied; a fair bit of self-censorship goes on here, right down to explicitly censoring someone saying “shit” at one point. It really says something when the film feels this safe, and yet this daring at the same time.

But enough about the humans who put this together; what about the dinosaurs? Well, it seems that this is yet another aspect of the first film that got a major upgrade in a number of areas, and it all starts with the resident Frankensteinosaur of the film: The Indoraptor. Now, while it still suffers from a certain banality of design, much like the Indominus Rex, that ends up being dwarfed by the character’s real strength. The Indoraptor is basically the apex of the franchise’s musings about the intelligence of certain dinosaurs, and with how the effects work is utilised, you definitely get the impression that this is quite a clever girl. On top of that, we also have the return of Blue, and for the first time, the relationship between Blue and Owen feels like something meant to be taken seriously. Credit here goes to not just the aforementioned suspects but also to Bernat Vilaplana’s editing, who uses cross-cutting during a crucial moment between Owen and Blue to highlight that there is a genuine bond between them. Of course, both of these points ultimate dance around what really makes the dinosaurs here work: Because we, the audience, actively care about what happens to them. Between Bayona’s direction and the surprisingly solid writing (more on that in a bit), whether it’s the dinosaurs that are hunting after our leads or the dinosaurs that they’re trying to save, it feels like the main attraction for this franchise actually has that enigmatic pull that they once had. I mean, how often will a modern audience get this worked up about a CGI-rendered creature dying?

Now, as good as this all sounds, there is still a lingering problem with this film’s creation: The script. While Colin Trevorrow (wisely) decided to give up the director’s chair, he and Derek Connolly still put this screenplay together. Knowing how weaksauce a lot of the writing and characterisation was the first time around, this initially had me worried… until it became clear that even they seemed to have upped their game here. There are still some head-scratching moments, like the showing of classic Hollywood science in how this film thinks that pyroclastic flows work, but unlike with OG Jurassic World, they merely come across as silly or even kitschy rather than outright stupid. That combined with the genuinely humourous moments, mostly thanks to Webb’s character contributions, give this the feeling of a popcorn flick that doesn’t need to be incessantly dissected, nor would you be remiss if you actually tried doing so. Not only that, it’s an incredibly lean script, meaning that we don’t get bogged down with anything that doesn’t need to be here. Whatever does show up on screen, it never outstays its welcome and always gives the impression that it’s here for a reason. Even the one potential low point as far as character relevance, Sermon's Maisie Lockwood, ends up reaching an insanely poignant moment by the end that not only justifies her own character’s build-up, but also makes an incredible statement about the dinosaurs themselves. Yeah, they were supposed to be extinct, but we put a stop to that… which makes them our responsibility. Best we do the right thing, lest we lose the genetic race to these age-old creatures.

All in all, I am genuinely stunned by this. Not only is it a definitive improvement over the first Jurassic World in pretty much every regard, it might even give the original Jurassic Park a run for its money. The acting is rock solid, feeling like every performance on screen exists for a specific reason and not just for the sake of clutter, the visuals combined with Michael Giacchino’s sweeping orchestrations give the film a real punch, whether it’s aiming for action spectacle or low-key horror, and the writing has improved from being rock stupid to only being campy in places, as the dialogue and characterisation actually end up making some solid points over the course of the narrative. And to top all that off, this film will make you care about the dinosaurs; this is the first time this has happened since the nearly-30-year-old original. J. A. Bayona has made one hell of a saving throw here, joining the likes of Ouija: Origin of Evil as far as sequels that manage to completely eclipse the already-dismal original. Knowing how near and dear I hold OoE to my heart, that is one hell of an accomplishment.

It ranks higher than Tag, which was also quite nimble in its action-comedy-thriller offering, but this honestly made for a more impressive production. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom not only tramples the quite banal first film, it also serves as the only truly great sequel the franchise has gotten to date. However, even with that said, this film is still just a fun popcorn flick that is incredibly well-crafted from the ground-up. The Shape Of Water goes even further than that in not just giving a greater context to its own niche, but also for the person who brought it to life. This film is good, but it’s not “contextualises the director’s entire body of work” kind of good.

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