This photo released by Universal Pictures shows Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” (Photo courtesy Universal Pictures)

“Fallen Kingdom” not as smart as its predecessors, still thrilling

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

As the years go by, the “Jurassic Park” franchise has begun to experience something the real dinosaurs never did: evolution.

These films have gone from being a science-based thrill ride to a thrilling creature feature that was once based on actual science. Gone is the Mr. DNA cartoon to explain how creatures like the ones featured in the film might be created, and what’s left are magic buzzwords. They might as well be incantations. Geneticsum Indominatus Chompisaurus! Zap! There appears a new dragon to bedevil the villagers. The question is: is this a bad thing?

While I wholly acknowledge that these movies aren’t as smart as they used to be, I’ll be damned if they don’t just get more and more entertaining. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” can be pretty silly at times, and the writing leaves something to be desired, but I take issue with he comparison being made between these films and that other gigantic sci-fi goofball franchise, “Transformers.” “Jurassic World,” though violent and scary at times, never devolves into nihilism and never displays contempt for it’s subjects, unlike anything from the odious Michael Bay. Where this film, and it’s fellows, shines is in its continual, unabashed giddy amazement and joy at the existence of real live dinosaurs. What the original “Park” accomplished back in 1993 was a game-changer for all of genre cinema, but I can’t fault each of these subsequent films for trying to capture that lightning in the bottle one more time.

The previous film ended with dinosaurs running rampant over Isla Nublar, the original home of Jurassic Park. Our heroes, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing, have since moved on. Owen is living in the remote wilderness building his own cabin, and Claire is trying to undo some of the damage she caused as the park’s administrator by working for a dinosaur rights advocacy group. INGen, the company that owned and ran the park is no more, but now a new threat has arisen. The island itself is an active volcano which now threatens to destroy this fragile biological line. Dinosaurs, currently labeled “de-extinct” animals, are on the verge of disappearing once again. While Congress dithers, however, a private corporation — the estate of John Hammond’s own original business partner — is interested in saving the animals, but first they need Owen and Claire to go back to the island and help them get the dinosaurs out. In theory, the dinos will be transplanted onto an idyllic new island where no one will ever bother them again, but you can imagine how well that works out.

“Jurassic Park” sequels have not always been particularly successful, but this movie and its predecessor have a few key advantages over those older films. One — great stars in Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The two are genuinely funny, and their chemistry in “Fallen Kingdom” is much better than in “Jurassic World.” They are joined by a great supporting cast — some recognizable, some less so, but all mesh perfectly. The other reason these movies work is that technology and studio investment are at their peak. “Fallen Kingdom” looks amazing. The effects work is top notch and the scale is grand. Director J.A. Bayona uses that budget to full-effect, creating heart-stopping actions sequences that may sound cheesy on paper — everybody run from the volcano! — but work in practice. He’s also not afraid to use his palette to craft beautiful, sometimes heart-breaking scenes. There is a definite style and artistic sense to many of the shots in the movie, beyond your basic big cool dinosaurs stomping around the screen.

Those dinos may be cool, but they are definitely scary as well. It’s not a surprise that this is the scariest of the “Jurassic” films considering Bayona’s previous work. The young Spanish director is best known for the spooky, atmospheric ghost story, “The Orphanage.” My kids love dinosaurs and have seen all the previous films in the series, so we took them to this and, while my ten-year-old son was rapt for the entire film, my eight-year old daughter spent much of the film with her head buried in the seat. Fair warning.

I guess my one gripe is that, like I mentioned, these films aren’t as smart as they used to be. There was a time when they at least paid lip service to identifying most of the dinosaurs on screen, and the genetics at work, though definitely science fiction, were still at least plausible. These days the dinos have been spliced and diced enough that the writers have quit trying to make it make sense and the dinosaurs go, for the most part, unnamed. That doesn’t make them less fun or interesting, just harder to go look up later. And, while I like the character of Blue, the super-smart Velociraptor, just the phrase “Blue, the super-smart Velociraptor” sounds like it comes from a Saturday morning cartoon.

The first “Jurassic World” made more money than just about any other movie ever and while this movie isn’t quite doing as well as that, “Fallen Kingdom” is raking it in at a rate that guarantees a sequel. Most of the films in this series end with a shot of the dinosaurs back on their island, happily living their lives, waiting for the next time mankind is foolish enough to mess with them. No spoilers, but I’ll say that’s not how this film ends. I’m interested to see where they go from here, and if current box office can be believed, I’m not alone. Grade: A-

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is rated PG-13 for frightening dinosaur violence and mild language.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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