Is “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” worth a date night this weekend? Yes! The fifth movie involving genetically engineered dinosaurs rampaging against humans isn’t quite as perfect as the first “Jurassic World,”” but there are still enough thrills and chills to have an exciting date night.
It’s been a full 25 years since the first “Jurassic Park” movie hit theaters. It scared up over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. The film proved that director Steven Spielberg could scare moviegoers as much as any horror filmmaker. With that kind of money pouring out from filmmakers, Hollywood has just had to find new ways to keep dinosaurs rampaging in the modern world. The first two sequels quickly felt more tired because there was no great hero to really root for in them.
But three years ago, a new series of dino-films came roaring back into theaters to bigger success than ever. Their success is thanks to the wise choice of hiring the unlikely new superstar Chris Pratt. He was fresh off his global success with “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Jurassic World” was a pure adrenaline rush. The film is filled with laughs and a charismatic performance by Pratt. He plays a daring yet compassionate trainer who had a preternatural rapport with the dinosaurs under his care at a resort island that brought humans and beasts together on safari-style vacations.
The thrills are still there, but the characters are starting to feel thin
The age of the series is starting to show as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is heavy on thrills, yet forgets to make viewers care much about the characters at its core. The first “World” had the advantage of introducing Owen and his unique skills to the world. It also introduced resort bureaucrat Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Claire went from by-the-books resort exec to a rifle-toting adventurer over the course of the film.
Now they’re back in this new film. But with their characters established, they fall victim less to dinosaurs than to sequel-itis. Followup films are almost inevitably weaker because they lack the element of discovery that draws viewers into the world of a film.
Director J.A. Bayona has done some incredible films in the last few years with “The Impossible” in 2012 the vastly under-seen classic “A Monster Calls” in 2016. But Bayona’s work is more serious-minded than the prior film’s Colin Trevorrow. Trevorrow was making a go-for-broke jump into the mainstream after a career in indies.
A slam-bang opening sets up an ethical dilemma
The latest “Jurassic” opens with a terrific action set-piece. A team of mercenaries swoop in via helicopter to an island overloaded with dinosaurs amid a raging storm in the dead of night. They attempt to take as many types of dinosaurs off the island as possible. Elderly industrialist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) says that he wants to save the dinosaurs from imminent death by a volcano that’s about to explode.
As they fly away with a beast in tow, a bigger monster than anyone has ever seen lurks under the ocean. The monster swallows an entire exploratory pod with two men inside. But it also leaps out of the water to eat another man dangling from a rope ladder after he believes he is off to safety.
It’s a great start to the film. But then we’re rushed through our first sightings of Owen and Claire. Within minutes they are led to believe they need to help get the last species off the island. The rescue is put in place in order to save the dinos at a new preserve. The goal of the preserve is to protect the dinosaurs from humans forever.
But there’s a problem. Owen and Claire are tricked into collecting the monsters. The real goal of the “rescue” is to auction of the dinosaurs. An array of evil millionaires are competing to have their own beasts. The villains want to exploit and clone for various industrial and military purposes. As Owen and Claire come to realize this agenda, their allegiance suddenly shifts. Now they begin to look out for the mostly vulnerable dinosaurs against ruthless humans.
This creates an interesting dilemma, and the turning of the tables is fun. Our heroes – who are also protecting Lockwood’s granddaughter from the rampaging creatures— find themselves torn between their higher natures of preserving as much life as possible, and their own desperate self-preservation. They have to constantly decide which dinosaurs are safe to be around and which can destroy them.
A monster movie-haunted house mashup that’s fun but not timeless art
Director Bayona and writers Trevorrow and Derek Connolly bring some fresh excitement into the mix by having the final dinosaur assaults happen within the confines of a giant, remote mansion. Thus, they create a hybrid of monster and haunted-house genres that is often grin-inducing and jaw-dropping at the same time.
So is it worth seeing on a date? If you want to have the fun of some laughs, some scares, jumping in your seat and maybe even a good excuse to clutch your date’s hand, the “Jurassic” movies still are top-notch ways to do so.
But, if you’re looking for a deep conversation starter or a straight-ahead romance, this isn’t the movie for you.