The blockbuster-friendly strain of science fiction practiced by the late Michael Crichton was always heavier on fiction than science. Still, there was something inherently plausible in the brave-new-world premise of his 1990 bestseller Jurassic Park. What made Steven Spielberg’s 1993 popcorn-ride adaptation so great is once you got past its most indelible thrills (like the objects-are-closer-than-they-appear T. rex chase), it actually had the audacity to noodle on the idea: Sure, maybe it can be done, but should it be done?
As the Jurassic series has metastasized and mushroomed, science and Big Ideas have fallen by the wayside in the headlong pursuit of jack-in-the-box entertainment. You could argue that three summers ago absurdity reached its delirious breaking point. Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World was a ridiculous movie, which came with its own can-you-believe-this meme: the image of Bryce Dallas Howard’s heroine sporting a towering pair of high heels while being chased in the jungle by prehistoric predators. To be fair, her less than sensible choice of footwear wasn’t any sillier than anything else in the film, but it caught on as a sort of naysayer’s shorthand. Still, it was possible to have a good time by suspending your disbelief. Well, not just possible, but preferable.
The same holds true for the preposterous-but-effective Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The less you try to dissect it, the more you’ll enjoy it. Directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls), the fifth installment in the life-finds-a-way saga even has a sense of humor about itself. When we first see Howard’s former park operations manager Claire, before we even catch a glimpse of her face, we get a close-up of her high heels. If you can’t laugh at yourself….
But I’m getting ahead of things. Fallen Kingdom comes out of the gate just as you’d want it to. We’re back on Isla Nublar, 120 miles off of Costa Rica, and which every Jurassic fan knows as the island where all hell broke loose not too long ago. Two pilots in an underwater pod are cruising through the dark ocean looking for the skeleton of a giant Indominus rex to harvest. One turns to the other and says, “Relax, if there was anything alive we’d be dead by now.” Those famous last words kick off the bodycount with impish glee. Needless to say, things are no safer on the island itself. As pre-credit sequences go, Fallen Kingdom‘s is damn near perfection.
The park attractions on Isla Nublar now lay in rubble. But the island’s resurrected beasties are alive and well — and hungry and ticked off. At least until the island’s volcano is about to blow and it must be decided whether the remaining dinos deserve the same protection as other endangered species or if they should just be left alone to die out. The question gets debated on Capitol Hill with none other than Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum in a brief but welcome cameo doing his staccato brainiac Jeff Goldblum thing).
Meanwhile, Claire is lobbying to save them and gets her chance when an ailing billionaire and former partner of the late John Hammond (James Cromwell in a wheelchair and ascot) sends her on a covert mission with a reluctant-but-not-too-reluctant Chris Pratt to fly to Nublar, capture the dinos, and bring them to a nearby preserve. Honestly, when will these people learn? Along with a paleo-veterinarian and a computer nerd (Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith), they find themselves working with a team of locked-and-loaded mercenaries, who they quickly learn are the ones who are actually in charge — both by dint of their weaponry and their baddest of the badasses squad leader played Silence of the Lambs‘ Jame Gumb himself, Ted Levine (kudos to the casting director).
What could possibly go wrong?
To give away any more would be churlish and may just spoil your fun (which Fallen Kingdom has a plenty of). Needless to say, idealism butts heads with greed, children will be put in peril, doublecrosses will be doublecrossed, and a menagerie of various CG raptors and rexes will pop up to serve well-timed scares to younger moviegoers, including a bit of run-amok mayhem off of the island that’s like a haunted house version of The Lost World‘s San Diego sequence. Howard, thankfully, gets more to do than the last go round (and in combat boots, no less!), Pratt busts out his signature Indiana Jones cocktail of can-do heroism and deadpan sarcasm, and Bayona and his screenwriters (Trevorrow and Derek Connolly) test the laws of incredulity with varying degrees of success. At least, until the final half hour when forehead-slapping hooey finally win out. Up until then, Fallen Kingdom is exactly the kind of escapist summer behemoth you want it to be. B+