There is something inordinately exciting about watching dinosaurs roaming across the screen in front of you.
Perhaps it’s the inner five-year-old in all of us that has never the lost the wonder of watching these “terrible lizards” storm, thunder, bellow and swagger with an epic majesty and otherworldliness that feels natural and yet is far removed from today’s natural world.
Or simply that primal part of us, the part that loves and devours getting scared out of wits, summoning our inner cave person who, though they never co-existed with dinosaurs, still know danger when they see it.
Whatever it is, and it could be a mix of the two plus a whole of other gee-whiz thrill seeker variables that make up the contrary mess that is the human psyche, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom answers our call for more dinosaurs, doing more exciting things, on an even grander scale.
The biggest slate ever of dinosaurs has been assembled for the film which offers up franchise stalwarts such as T-Rex, Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Ankylosaurus and a whole panoply of new ones including Allosaurus, Baryonyx (which co-stars with lava in one thrilling scene), Carnotaurus (chomped on by a T-Rex so it’s time in the spotlight is exciting but brief), Sinoceratops and Stygimoloch.
Most of their time in the narrative sun occurs on the doomed Isla Nublar, the site of Jurassic World which was undone and destroyed in the first film of the new trilogy Jurassic World, but some of them manage to dodge the lava, falling rocks and panicked falls off towering cliffs to be taken to the estate of Sir James Lockwood (James Cromwell) in northern California who is promising to relocate them to a spanking new sanctuary far from harm and exploitation.
It all sounds delightfully warm and fuzzy, so alluringly ideal in fact that reformed ruthless corporate employee Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), now the head of the Dinosaur Protection Group, signs on immediately to help rescue the imperilled dinosaurs, encouraged by Lockwood’s assistant Eli Mill’s (Rafe Spall) luxuriant claims of dino heaven here on earth.
While she and former Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) are no longer an item – remember what they said in Speed? Relationship forged in stressful situations never last – she convinces him to come along for the ride too, with the opportunity to save his beloved Blue from a fiery volcanic death the major motivating factor.
Thrown in easily-frightened computer nerd Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), who gets most of the laugh-out-loud lines (such as they are) and feisty ex-Marine, now paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Panieda) and you have the main four goodies of this tale of dinosaur rescue and salvation which, naturally enough, turns out to be anything but a simply altruistic snatch-and-grab.
In fact, in a narrative that makes no real pretense to any kind of sophistication, and fair enough too since we are here to watch people run and scream and get their comeuppance at the hands and jaws of rather angry dinosaurs, it becomes patently obvious, and in record time too, who the baddies are and what they plan to do with their captured creatures (trust us, there isn’t a sanctuary to be seen).
Even so, with the narrative split in half between Isla Nublar and Lockwood’s Estate, the simplicity of the storyline works quite nicely in a blockbuster that tries to be astutely clever but never quite manages to generate the gravitas it’s aiming for.
It does, of course, wag its finger in knowing fashion, via a cameo by Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm who appears in front of a Senate committee deciding if the dinosaurs should live or die, about the dangers of genetic manipulation and humanity’s propensity for delivering up promising advancements that soon turn out to have a darker side.
We can’t help ourselves; or some of our number can’t at least.
We see something cool like dinosaurs, like genetic manipulation, and we immediately think about ways it can be used to wage war, shape creation to our specs and to enrich ourselves, idealistic notions be damned.
It’s a dark but persistent thread in our evolutionary journey and it’s exploited by screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow and director J. A. Bayona to add some narrative heft to the storyline, most notably in the form of Indoraptor, a Frankenstein dino who, as you might expect, wreaks much havoc.
Throw in some greed, corruption and death and naturally dinosaurs on the rampage, and you have the making of a fine addition to the Jurassic canon.
The film doesn’t always work, of course.
There is some dislocation between the scenes on Isla Nublar, which feel like classic Jurassic Park, and the cascading destructive series of events that play out at Lockwood’s estate, and the throwing in of one particular big reveal almost gets lost in the clamour, but generally speaking, this is a film that your inner five-year-old will adore.
The action is gleefully relentless, with Dearing, Pratt, Webb and Rodriguez joined in their quest to stop the bad guys by Lockwood’s nine-year-old granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), with the group putting in some serious Fitbit-boosting miles running hither and yon to escape the dinosaurs who end up having way room to roam than anyone ever expected.
Throw in appearances by evil dino geneticist Henry Wu (B. D. Wong) and references to “spare no expense” Jurassic founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and you have pretty much everything we have to know and love about the Jurassic franchise.
It’s not going to have anyone standing on stage at the Academy Awards – although the use of CGI and animatronic dinosaurs is pretty impressive – but that’s never the point of pure blockbusters like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
They exist for escapist purposes only, and if they get us to think a little, and this film does, then all the better; but they are primarily there to please our fight-or-flight inner cave dweller, to enthrall with the majesty and spectacle of a world long gone and to push adrenaline through our veins with edge-of-the-seat momentum.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom does all that and more, giving us dinosaurs doing their bombastically thrilling thing (and in one scene a heartbreakingly poignant scene involving a Brachiosaurus that will leave you weeping), humans helping and hindering them, and a morality tale on steroids that asks once again if just because we can do something, we should.