The dinosaurs are back in JA Bayona’s rip-roaring, highly entertaining sequel to the 2015 reboot of the Jurassic franchise.
This is a summer popcorn movie with all the trimmings – action, cheesy in-jokes, startling visual effects and a storyline with a moralising, eco-friendly subtext.
It’s a 12A certificate – so we know that even if an occasional baddie gets his arm bitten off or disappears down into the digestive tracts of some prehistoric beast, matters will never be allowed to become too gruesome.
Chris Pratt’s dinosaur whisperer, Owen Grady, will always crack a joke at the most hair-raising moment while Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire Dearing, will still find time to explore her conscience, whatever creature looks on the verge of eating her.
There will always also be time for a closeup of her looking anguished, with her piercing blue eyes reflecting guilt and doubt about her part in the dinosaurs’ woes.
As the film begins, a volcano is erupting on Isla Nublar. Three years have passed since the collapse of the Jurassic World theme park there. Now, it appears, all the dinosaurs are about to be burnt up anyway in the flood of lava.
Back in the US, Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Ian Malcolm (who appeared in the very first Jurassic Park a quarter of a century ago), is warning the politicians that humanity is on the verge of “man-made cataclysmic change”.
This is a long-winded way of saying we are all about to die – and it is our own fault. Claire is desperately lobbying to save the dinosaurs. At first, no one seems to care.
However, the venerable Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the old business partner of Jurassic Park founder John Hammond (the Richard Attenborough character whose portrait is hung in a prominent place), is hatching plans to rehouse the creatures on their own island sanctuary.
Here, they will be safe and free from humans. First, though, they need to be rescued. Claire persuades Owen, who has been living in a van in the wilds and drinking too much beer, to help her in the mission to save them from the volcano.
As ever in Hollywood blockbusters, the most deceitful villains are played by British actors. Rafe Spall is in unctuous, smirking form as Lockwood’s clammy, two-faced business partner. Toby Jones also pops up as a mercenary type who wants to auction dinosaurs off to rogue regimes around the world as if they’re impressionist paintings.
Just occasionally, the production design looks a little creaky and artificial. We see Owen deep in the jungle of Isla Nublar but you can’t help but think that the foliage is a bit on the rubbery side and that we’re on a studio set.
Thankfully, the lava looks altogether more realistic. Just when he is unconscious and it looks as if he is about to be consumed in the molten liquid, a passing dinosaur gives his face a long, slobbery lick and he wakes up in time to roll out of the way.
The filmmakers throw in some very vivid, old fashioned stunts. For example, we see Claire driving a truck at high speed off a harbour just in time to land it on the ramp of a departing ship. We have underwater rescues and jailbreaks. In the final reel, there is a lot of tiptoeing over rooftops and clinging to ledges.
Owen’s rugged, outdoor heroism is contrasted with the cowardice and squeamishness of the computer whizz kid, Franklin (a nicely judged comic performance from Justice Smith).
A key subplot involves Lockwood’s young granddaughter, Maisie, a doe-eyed little girl who never knew her mother and who has been brought up by a Mrs Danvers-like housekeeper (Geraldine Chaplin).
At times, the portrayal of this mischievous and mixed-up child rekindles memories of the boy trying to cope with bereavement in Bayona’s previous film, A Monster Calls.
As in Jurassic World, scientists have been playing dangerous games with genetics, trying to build their own test tube dinosaurs. Their proud creation, still at the prototype stage, is the Indoraptor, a fearsome creature that has been developed to be as violent and destructive as possible.
One of the boldest conceits here is to combine the dinosaur action with elements of gothic horror. Some of the story unfolds in the Lockwood mansion, a vast and draughty old pile that comes complete with terraces, greenhouses, underground labs, labyrinthine corridors, dumbwaiters (very useful for hiding in whenever the Indoraptor is nearby) and its own exhibition hall. (This appears to have been modelled on the Natural History Museum.)
Continuity and plausibility both occasionally wobble. We’ll see a character who seems to have a badly damaged leg one moment clambering onto a rooftop in acrobatic fashion the next. For no particular reason, hydrogen cyanide will suddenly be released into the atmosphere or there will be power cuts and random explosions.
None of this matters. The film has such momentum that we hardly notice the holes in the plotting.
Bayona doesn’t just show us the dinosaurs full frontal. We spot their shadows or see heads of humans craning upward to look at them as they stealthily emerge from the undergrowth.
Amid the mayhem and destruction, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard still find time to flirt. As ever, the dinosaurs are more sinned against than sinning.
The cruellest, most violent creatures here are the humans. The film ends on a graceful note, teeing affairs up nicely for what promises to be an even more apocalyptic next instalment.
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