'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' Review: A Sequel That's Bigger, Louder, With More Teeth

Universal Pictures

"Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?" Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing wistfully asks during Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park saga. I may not remember the first time I saw a sketching of a dinosaur in a history book or a skeleton erected in a museum, but I do vividly recall the feeling of watching Spielberg's 1993 Jurassic Park, of the awe and the majesty, the fright and the thrill. We all do, it's the prism by which we've viewed each of the Jurassic movies that followed it.

I suppose this is my of getting to the fact that I am a fan of Jurassic World, the 2015 reboot from director Colin Trevorrow, slick and clever and, in my estimation, the first sequel to capture some of the magic of Spielberg's original. It's not necessarily the most popular opinion amongst purists, so perhaps there is nothing that can be said for Fallen Kingdom, which I found a thrilling follow-up.

Set three years after the events of Jurassic World -- in which prehistoric hell broke loose at her theme park as guests became an all you can eat buffet for the dinos -- one-time corporate stiff Claire now runs the Dinosaur Protection Group, a "Save the Whales"-like non-profit focused on an impending volcanic eruption that would effectively bring about the second extinction of the dinosaurs living on Isla Nublar. With the government siding with Mother Nature, Claire accepts an offer from Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former business partner of the late John Hammond, we're told, to return to the island and assist in transporting the dinosaurs to a nearby sanctuary where they can live out their remaining days without human interference.

Where's Chris Pratt in all this?, you might be asking. Claire and Owen Grady's budding romance having fizzled out after the first movie, the former raptor trainer is now living off the grid, building his own cabin. When Claire comes a-calling, though, he's ultimately convinced to go back and, along with a panicky analyst (Justice Smith) and sardonic paleo-veterinarian (Daniella Pineda), the duo is soon Isla Nublar-bound. It's a lot of heavy setup andFallen Kingdom gets off to a rocky start, all that exposition landing with a thud, but once everyone is on the island, the blood gets pumping.

There's a line in the first Jurassic World, when Claire is monologuing to investors, and she says that consumers demand "bigger, louder, more teeth." It's the impetus for the Indominus rex but is intended as a denunciation in the context of the movie -- and at once, it's what this franchise has subscribed to: The dung hits the fan almost immediately on Nublar and leads to more action! More drama! More dinosaurs than all of its predecessors, combined, stunningly brought to life both practically and via CGI! This one not only destroys the park, but the whole damn island. And then it does something different.

If the original Jurassic World paralleled Jurassic Park -- in its surrogate parents keeping the kids safe in a Darwinian amusement park -- then FallenKingdom does hew close to The Lost World, with a return to the island and a mid-movie twist that transports the action elsewhere. Instead of a T. rex stomping through San Diego, however, this confines the action to one -- admittedly, massive -- estate home, where we are introduced to the Indoraptor, essentially the Indominus rex but with enhanced hunting capabilities and an obedience to human command.

By becoming smaller instead of bigger, by isolating the sprawling adventure to a single location, director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls) creates a nifty spin on a home invasion or haunted house flick, something together, more claustrophobic, where the monsters in the closet are carnivores creeping down the halls. The script, by Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly, can frequently feel on the nose -- Claire's character, especially, I wish had gotten another pass, though Howard emotes the hell out of what she's given -- but I appreciate some of the questions they've settled on in this one: So many previous Jurassic movies have asked, Should we do it?Fallen Kingdom says, Well, we did it. Now, what’s our responsibility to these dinosaurs that should not be here in the first place? What do we do when we can't put the toothpaste back in the tube?

There's plenty to pick apart, too -- a continued leaning away from science towards fiction with a late-in-the-movie twist that is treated with far less WT-actually-F-ery than it deserves, too many Tyrannosaurus hero shots -- but never to the point of outweighing the enjoyment of those close calls with chomping fangs and bellowing roars, of potentially the sweetest moment in the entire franchise (involving a certain baby dinosaur), of Pratt's charm and knack for physical comedy, of an opening sequence that is among the best dinosaur moments put to film, a one-two punch of the mosasaurs and T. rex, the unrelenting thrills and terror that will strike the fear of God in you as we hurdle towards a future in which this is not just a far-flung fantasy. But until then, gosh is it fun watching it happen to other people. And I'll never be upset about sitting down in the dark of a movie theater to spend two hours with dinosaurs.


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