Clutch the kids tightly folks, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will have them jumping out of their seats. The fifth installment injects some much needed terror into the dinosaur franchise. Director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls) adds a visceral element that elevates the film above its predecessor. It is darker and scarier than expected. The plot is still formulaic as hell, but the attention to tone marks a vast improvement. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom blends the big-budget action spectacle with bonafide chills.
Fallen Kingdom opens with Isla Nubar threatened by a volcanic eruption. The park abandoned, politicians struggle to decide the dinosaurs fate. Should they be left to face impending doom? Or rescued, to cheat extinction one again. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to save the animals at all costs. She's recruited by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), an agent of billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Richard Hammond's original partner in Jurassic Park. Capturing the animals will be difficult, but one in particular poses extraordinary risk. Blue, the trained Velocirapter, is the smartest and most cunning creature on the island. Claire will have to mend fences with her former lover/partner Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the only man capable of tracking the beast.
Fallen Kingdom gets down to business quickly. We get a blast of exposition and then back to the island theatrics. Art imitates life as the Hawaiian setting succumbs to the volcano's fury. The first part of the film is the race to rescue. These are the money shot action scenes you see in the trailers. Bayona lobs lava and fleeing dinosaurs from every angle. It's a symphony of destruction as the characters and animals struggle to survive. The second act of Fallen Kingdom takes a completely different tact. It is a more personal and menacing adventure, where the actual plot kicks in. The bangs and whizzes are the appetizer. The real thrills come in a quieter place. The normal playbook is slickly reversed.
A new character adds much of the depth to Fallen Kingdom. Isabella Sermon co-stars as Maisie, Lockwood's granddaughter. Every Jurassic film has a child or children as some part of the story. Sermon is pivotal to this movie's success. She spends the film in abject fear. Bayona whittles down the dinosaur experience through the eyes of a terrified girl. One scene in particular will raise the hair on your neck. It's the ultimate shout out to the monster in the closet. Fallen Kingdom does not go overboard. It targets base instincts and exploits them for maximum impact. This is a welcome change to the barrage of visual effects that have driven recent tentpole films. It hearkens back to the most thrilling scenes in the first Jurassic Park.
Fallen Kingdom faces the same criticisms as every movie in the franchise. Characters act foolishly, dinosaurs go wild, chaos and destruction ensues. This is the formula, tried and true. What distinguishes Fallen Kingdom is its approach. It hits the requisite marks early, gets the story rolling, then earnestly goes for your gut. Bayona, who is fantastic at building tension, makes a known commodity effective. I found the final act of Fallen Kingdom to be wildly entertaining. The film ends on a high note, taking the dinosaur threat to a whole different level.
Universal Pictures will claw the box office to shreds with Fallen Kingdom. I was not a fan of Jurassic World, and was pleasantly surprised by my reaction here. J.A. Bayona adds a Guillermo Del Toro, horror touch to the film. It's a much needed, fresh perspective to the blockbuster formula. Stick around after the credits; the dinosaurs aren't through with you yet.