Film Review: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

J.A. Bayona picks up where Colin Trevorrow left off in the sequel to 2015 hit, Jurassic World… 

Jurassic World - Fallen Kingdom

Get ready to run: Chris Pratt faces danger in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, from Universal Pictures.

 

Spoiler-free review 

Starring:  Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, James Cromwell, Jeff Goldblum

Directed by:  J.A. Bayona / Written by:  Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly / 128 minutes

What’s it about?

Owen Grady and Claire Dearing join an expedition to rescue the dinosaur residents of Isla Nublar when the island’s volcano threatens its destruction…

In review

Life once again finds a way in the sequel to Colin Trevorrow’s smash relaunch of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World.  With J.A. Bayona – director of The Impossible and A Monster Calls – at the helm this time out, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t nearly as good as the first Jurassic World (which in all fairness did set the bar exceptionally high) although it still delivers plenty of gripping dino-fuelled action and mayhem to keep the majority entertained.

It’s been three years since the disaster that befell Jurassic World and the park’s genetically engineered dinosaurs have been left to roam free and live out their own existence without any interference from humanity.  This of course all changes once Isla Nublar’s once inactive volcano begins to erupt, threatening to destroy the island and leading to a rescue mission of sorts as philanthropist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), an old colleague of John Hammond, devises a plan to capture as many species as possible and transport them to a new home.  As is always the case though, there are sinister forces that have other plans for the creatures.  The scenario is perhaps a little familiar and does lead to some predictable plot beats but there are still a few surprises thrown into the mix that keeps it all from becoming too stale.

Leading the cast once more is Chris Pratt’s dino-wrangler (more accurately, animal behaviourist) Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard as Jurassic World’s former park manager, Claire Dearing.  Both are as solid as they were previously and continue to have great chemistry and are joined by Daniella Pineda as dino-veterinarian Zia and comical technology whiz Franklin, played by Justice Smith.  Rounding out the supporting cast is Isabella Sermon as Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie and a trio of slightly cartoonish villains played by Rafe Spall, Toby Jones and Ken Wheatley.

James Cromwell is a tad underutilised as Lockwood but certainly serves a purpose and a small cameo from Jeff Goldblum is welcome yet seems a missed opportunity to include Dr. Ian Malcolm in a more active and more significant capacity (he was the best thing about Independence Day: Resurgence after all) – maybe in the already announced third instalment then?

However, it’s arguably one of the film’s non-human characters that steals the show – the velociraptor called ‘Blue’ who makes a heroic return and who audiences had already become attached to in the previous film.  The character of Blue is deepened further with an exploration of the bond between the raptor and Owen that’s actually quite believable and endearing.

One aspect of Fallen Kingdom’s narrative that works particularly well is that it treats it’s dinosaurs as living, breathing animals and not just bloodthirsty monsters, granted there is an element of that and how else could the threat of the ‘Indoraptor’ – the film’s central ‘nasty’ created using the DNA of Jurassic World’s Indominous Rex – be made effective, but it’s also refreshing that we end up rooting for ‘characters’ such as Blue and Tyrannosaur ‘Rexy’ (Jurassic Park’s original T.Rex who was also a triumphant addition to Jurassic World) as much as main stars Pratt and Dallas Howard and actually caring about the plight of these creatures who are being callously exploited in the pursuit of wealth.

Fallen Kingdom boasts some exciting action (although surprisingly, far less time is actually spent on Isla Nublar than the trailers might suggest) and J.A. Bayona handles it all with skill and whilst there’s naturally a lot of CGI on display there’s still a decent amount of practical effects being utilised.  There are numerous laughs (some moments funnier than others) and a great deal of fun to be had but Fallen Kingdom is a touch darker than the first Jurassic World and the terror has been pushed up a notch, delivering some genuine heart-pounding scares and sweaty-palm tension – the film’s atmospheric opening sequences (which easily ranks as one of the franchise’s finest moments) and pulse-pounding final act being the biggest highlights.

When it comes down to it Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t a sequel that exceeds the greatness of what’s come before, but it’s definitely more a case of The Lost World than Jurassic Park III and neatly sets the scene for part three.

The bottom line:  Not quite as successful as Colin Trevorrow’s beast, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still an entertaining addition to the Jurassic Park saga that has some great moments despite an overall lack of originality.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in U.K. cinemas now and opens in the U.S. and worldwide from 22nd June.

Film Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

Marvel’s cosmic Avengers are back…

 Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell

Directed and Written by: James Gunn (based on the Marvel Comics by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning) / 116 minutes

What’s it about?

Falling foul of an alien society they were supposed to be working for, the Guardians of the Galaxy find themselves in deep trouble and thrust into an adventure where Peter Quill finally meets his father…

In review

Marvel’s rag-tag bunch of cosmic heroes return in the fun-filled and heartfelt sequel to 2014’s runaway hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.  Picking up a few months after their inaugural adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finds the group, comprising Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and ‘Baby’ Groot being pursued by a squad of Ravagers, hired by a race called the Sovereign to take out the Guardians when a mission goes awry.  It’s during this cross-galaxy chase that Star-Lord comes face to face with his long lost father, ‘Ego’ – played by screen icon Kurt Russell.

If the first Guardians of the Galaxy was more concerned about introducing the various characters and the coming together of a team a la Avengers Assemble, then Vol. 2 goes a little deeper and more personal whilst still delivering the charm, laughs (in this instance a Marvel film where the humour is actually a welcome and natural component) and excitement audiences will expect.

As Peter Quill/Star-lord, Chris Pratt is once again the charismatic and heroic lead whose father issues and yearnings for Zoe Saldana’s Gamora form the backbone of the film’s emotional crux.  The casting of Kurt Russell (whose Tango & Cash co-star, Sylvester Stallone also appears) as Quill’s father is a real coup with a reliably great performance from the star of numerous hits from 80s cult classics Escape from New York and The Thing to more recent turns in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and goliath blockbuster The Fate of the Furious.  It’s a role made all the more enjoyable by a solid rapport with Pratt and the script’s satisfying character arcs.

Vin Diesel earns another easy payday as the cute youngling version of Groot (see the events of the last film) who together with the gun-toting mania of wisecracking space Raccoon, Rocket (a well-cast Bradley Cooper) and the hilarious and inappropriate perspectives of Dave Bautista’s Drax, especially in his interactions with Ego’s companion, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), facilitate the biggest laughs.

Complicating matters for the Guardians is the return of Michael Rooker’s Yondu who, having fallen out of favour with his fellow Ravagers, soon finds himself having to ally with Rocket and Groot in desperate circumstances.  Also back is Karen Gillan as Nebula – the ‘other’ daughter of galactic overlord (and mega villain of the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War) Thanos – whose adversarial relationship with Gamora is explored in greater detail, adding some nice dramatic weight that’s to the benefit of both Gillan and Saldana and their respective characters.

Writer and Director James Gunn infuses Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with the same enthusiasm and quirks for this second helping of fun space adventure that melds soulful and funky 70s tunes and influences of Star Wars and Flash Gordon with a good story brought to life via lavish, colourful visuals, equally colourful characters and rollicking action that still manages to excite despite culminating in the usual disaster-laden cataclysm of CGI doom.  The only real shortcomings arise from the early separation of the team that the script calls for and like the first Guardians there’s some sluggish pacing here and there and it perhaps feels a little overindulgent at times – but it’s mostly forgivable when the overall results are as entertaining as this.

The bottom line:  A fun, exciting and at times emotional blockbuster ride, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is bound to be another crowd-pleasing hit for Disney and Marvel Studios.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in cinemas across the UK now and opens worldwide from 5th May.

Guardians 2

They’re back! Marvel’s cosmic crusaders return in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ from Marvel Studios/Disney.

Film Review: ‘Jurassic World’ (spoiler free)

Everybody walk the dinosaur…

Starring:  Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, BD Wong

Directed by:  Colin Trevorrow / Written by:  Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly / 124 minutes

What’s it about?

Over two decades after the disaster of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar is now a fully functioning prehistoric attraction that’s host to thousands of visitors each year.  In order to ensure continuing interest in the park, the chief scientists of Jurassic World create a new dinosaur hybrid…which proves to be far more dangerous than they could have ever imagined…

In review

For audiences of a certain generation, the summer of 1993 stands as a defining moment in cinema, a time when they found themselves captivated and enthralled by Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park – a film that was marketed as “65 million years in the making”.  Now, 22 years after the release of Spielberg’s landmark production (and fourteen after the lacklustre Jurassic Park III) arrives Jurassic World, the sequel it almost feels as though we’ve been waiting 65 million years to see.

Skilfully handled by director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), Jurassic World captures the magic of summer 1993, encapsulating all of the thrills and excitement of Jurassic Park, whilst ensuring the demands of a modern blockbuster are carefully met.  Given the advancement in digital effects technology and larger production budgets commanded by today’s blockbusters, Jurassic World is presented on an appreciably larger scale in comparison to the original Jurassic Park – which in 1993 was as big as any film could ever hope to be.  This is a visually spectacular film, with digital elements combined with practical sets and real environments, all melding seamlessly together to bring the various areas of Isla Nublar and its prehistoric attractions to life.

With their being very little in the way of animatronic effects on display, Jurassic World relies heavily on digital effects to create it’s genetically engineered dinosaurs and luckily they appear far better than those initial trailers suggested, being of a quality comparable to any of today’s effects laden cinematic behemoths.  All the old favourites return from Velociraptors and Triceratops, to Pterodactyls and the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, yet Jurassic World’s biggest and most impressive creation is the park’s newest ‘attraction’, the ominously named Indominous rex which the park’s scientists (lead by BD Wong, reprising his Jurassic Park role) have created from the genes of various other dinosaur breeds. The Indominous proves to be as cunning as it is lethal and an animal that doesn’t intend to be caged, unleashing edge-of-the-seat chaos as it escapes captivity to carve a path of death and destruction across Isla Nublar.

Leading the human cast of Jurassic World are Terminator Salvation’s Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing, the park’s chief of operations and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt (further proving he’s an ideal candidate for that inevitable Indiana Jones reboot) as Owen Grady, the park’s dino-wrangler and alpha male to a pack of Velociraptors he’s been charged with ‘training’.  Both are great in their respective roles and share great chemistry with Howard as the strong willed women of the corporate world and Pratt as the skilled swashbuckling hero – there have been criticisms of sexism levelled here but Howard’s role branches beyond merely establishing a romantic sub-plot and is afforded plenty of opportunity to demonstrate she’s just as capable as Pratt in the action stakes.

Ty Simpkins (previously seen teaming up with Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3) and Nick Robinson are also fairly well presented as Claire’s visiting nephews, chases frantically ensuing as they become lost deep within the park as the chaos unfolds, whilst Vincent D’Onofrio’s security chief seeks to manipulate events to his own benefit.

Amongst all of the blockbuster action and excitement (and a smattering of humour for good measure) there are ethical themes of man interfering with nature present in Jurassic World which, just like Jurassic Park, are handled intelligently (even Grady’s training of raptors, which could have easily been one of the more outlandish elements, seems fairly plausible), without placing too much burden on the audience.  There’s also some welcome self-deprecating cynicism with jibes at brand sponsorship and other corporate sensibilities in creating the next “thing” that’s bigger, better and “cooler”.  With numerous nods and winks to Jurassic Park laced throughout and John Williams’ themes incorporated into Michael Giacchino’s exciting score, Jurassic World comes with a healthy dose of nostalgia yet it feels as fresh and as relevant as Spielberg’s film did in 1993 and is sure to appeal to cinema goers of all ages.

The bottom line:  Jurassic World is a visually impressive and intelligently executed blockbuster that returns the Jurassic Park franchise to its former glory with a strong leading cast successfully balanced against blockbuster action and an impressive array of CGI creatures.

Jurassic World is in cinemas now.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are the heroic leads in the long awaited 'Jurassic World'.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are the heroic leads in the long awaited ‘Jurassic World’.