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When reviving a brand like Jurassic Park, it's important to balance both the familiar and the unexpected. If Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was too much of a retread of the previous sequels in the franchise, it would be easy to pick on that and call it lazy. In this case, rather than resting on the skeletons of films like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, director J.A. Bayona's sequel takes the DNA of movies past and splices it with some wicked new tricks. It all adds up to a summer blockbuster and a sequel that delivers on the promise established in previous adventures, plus comes in a slick, scary package.
Three years after the incident at Jurassic World, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) is tasked by a mysterious man (Rafe Spall) with saving the remaining dinosaurs on the island. With the reluctant help of ex-flame / raptor keeper Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and some research assistants (Danielle Pineda, Justice Smith), this intrepid group will attempt to capture and save the denizens of the fallen kingdom (aka the theme park). It is that adventure that will lead down the path to something much darker, bigger, and with more teeth.
Hiring J.A. Bayona was the best idea for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, full stop. The director's sensibilities fit this film perfectly, as he walks the line between beats of emotion, spectacle, and old-school monster movie terror. Come to think of it, the idea of dinosaurs as characters rather than set-pieces really comes through in this particular case, as there are quite a few moments where you'll be feeling emotional about the creatures at the heart of this narrative. These dinosaurs will make you cheer, cry, and cower at random points throughout this movie, and all of it is earned.
It should also be said that the human component of the cast is also quite solid, as Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard continue to have fun playing off of each other. Though Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has an advantage in making Howard's Claire a stronger character than she was in the first film. One could even hope that after the experiences this time around, Claire could become the Ellen Ripley of the Jurassic World series. As far as new characters go, there's some particular standouts, such as Danielle Pineda's spirited and take-charge character Zia, and Ted Levine's absolutely insane Wheatley, as both add even more spice to the proceedings.
With all of its successes, there are minor hiccups during the ride that is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. In particular, there's a narrative thread that while certainly exciting doesn't entirely work in the context of the film. There's also a mild undercurrent of humor that never fully pans out, as the film's more sinister tone marked by the film's tense-as-hell opening would have been better served if it was fully committed to. At the very least, the film knows what it's going for by time the third act kicks in, with an extended sequence of events and set-pieces that cap the film with some top tier action and thrills. Still, between the film's first ten minutes and it's final act, there's a patch of film that delivers a mixed bag of results.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a high-class summer blockbuster, with some unexpected emotions, a heap of the action that one would expect from such a film, and a dash of surprisingly dark moments that folks have been waiting for since Michael Crichton's book first hit shelves. This movie needs to be enjoyed in a setting that is as big and as loud as you can get it, simply because it deserves to loom larger-than-life over its audience. It's a shame that J.A. Bayona isn't returning for the third film, as his direction is a breath of fresh air in a series that seems to be setting up for a killer continuation and/or finale in the third planned film. In the here and now, this is the sort of dinosaur romp that makes the Jurassic World saga something to pay attention to.