If who directed blockbuster movies didn’t matter, than any average filmmaker with a script outline, sizable budget and the filmography of Michael Bay on DVD could make a good popcorn movie.
Thankfully, Spanish auteur J.A. Bayona took the helm for “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” a dinosaur film much better than it probably has any right to be, with Bayona and stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard doing much of the heavy lifting.
It also happened to make $150 million domestically at the box office this weekend with more stories of Tyrannosaurus Rex, raptors and other prehistoric creatures sure to follow.
Despite a brief appearance from original star Jeff Goldblum, “Fallen Kingdom” take steps further and further away from Steven Spielberg’s iconic “Jurassic Park.” An expansion — in all sense of the word — of the 2015 blockbuster “Jurassic World,” this sequel to a sequel reunites raptor trainer Owen Grady and dinosaur advocate Claire Dearing in a high-stakes rescue mission to save the remaining dinosaurs from an impending volcano eruption.
Pratt once again shines as Grady, an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer with a quick wit and deep connection to the raptors he trained in “Jurassic World.” He displays an ease in playing the relatable hero, which gives authenticity to the thinly-crafted character and overshadows the increasing implausibility of events.
Continuing her most prominent role, Howard wavers between damsel in distress and can-do adventurer as the screenplay calls for, though aside from the ample screen time, her performance doesn’t particularly stand out in any way.
The ensemble cast works to varying degrees of success with veteran character actor James Cromwell virtually wasted as an aging billionaire and Rafe Spall playing the requisite mustache-twirling villain in a matter to be expected.
While a trio of newcomers play heroic roles in “Fallen Kingdom,” it’s the film’s most prominent dinosaur — Owen’s trained raptor Blue — that stands out memorably. Surprisingly, the raptor shows the most character development over the course of the film and Pratt has more chemistry with the CGI character than love interest Howard.
There’s also a deceptive amount of humor hidden within “Fallen Kingdom” and the film’s plethora of exotic dinosaurs get just as many well-earned laughs as perennial funnyman Pratt.
“Fallen Kingdom” is vibrant and broad, but lacks the emotional depth and message Bayona attempts to infuse. Most of the film’s beats are telegraphed far too easily, though Pratt’s charisma allows audiences to ignore the bland script and enjoy the ride.
Midway through, the style takes a hard left turn from grandiose blockbuster to more cerebral monster movie. Bayona is able to flex his cinematic muscles, transitioning out of bright colors and vivid landscapes to haunting darkness and claustrophobic intensity.
The film gets bogged down in a lot of minutiae, which spread the action sequences a little too far apart. A tighter cut — or more correctly, a better screenplay — could have easily cut 10 to 15 minutes off the running time without losing anything of consequence.
For the most part, the CGI used in the film in large sequences flows quite nicely with intimate animatronic scenes that occasionally evoke the technical style of Spielberg’s 1993 film.
Bayona creates small moments within “Fallen Kingdom” where audiences will truly feel transported, visually iconic scenes that are trademarks of the director’s unique style. This beautiful and transformative directorial vision are even more definitely on display in Bayona’s wonderful and underseen 2016 film “A Monster Calls.”
Unfortunately, it’s almost more important for audiences to see “Fallen Kingdom” as preparation for the inevitable third film in the “Jurassic World” offshoot trilogy than it is to see the film on its own merits.
If it allows Bayona to earn the capital to more closely develop his original work and gets more attention to his other films, then “Fallen Kingdom” will have been well worth it.
On its own, this is a film that simultaneously takes itself too seriously and not seriously enough, making for an occasionally puzzling, yet largely entertaining outing at the movies.