For a review of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,
The best thing “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” has going for it is director J.A. Bayona, who takes a mediocre script by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow and directs the living daylights out of it. This installment may have merely shallow ideas, but it’s easy to be distracted in the moment by the verve and style “The Orphanage” auteur brings to the beloved dino franchise. It just won’t stick with you the second you leave the theater.
The story of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is transitory and transitional. It merely serves to explain just how and why genetically engineered dinosaurs make it from point A to point B, wherein point B serves as the jumping-off point for the inevitable and forthcoming “Jurassic World 3.” Along the way, Connolly and Trevorrow throw in some commentary about the ways in which dinosaurs are exploited for money, as if the commercial value of the creatures wasn’t totally obvious within the theme parks they so frequently destroy. The secret economies of arms dealers and shady pharmaceutical practices aren’t quite a revelation in that context, and while the film hints at larger, edgier ideas, it never truly goes there.
But in terms of classic action adventure, Bayona delivers. There are moments that reference classical Hollywood cinema, and glowing, sumptuous close-ups of our hero and heroine, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). The two are a lot like the dinosaurs in that they’ve evolved rapidly from one film to the next. Owen has softened and is more empathetic and protective (a lot like his favorite velociraptor, Blue), while Claire has turned from uptight corporate flack to strong, capable, dino-protecting activist. We can tell she’s evolved through her footwear — sturdy knee-high boots rather than impractical high heels. However, as fierce as they are, the chemistry between them is slightly dulled without the love/hate crackle they had in “Jurassic World.”
The cast does feel a bit scanty. Owen and Claire take only a vet, Zia (Daniella Pineda), and a techie, Franklin (Justice Smith), on a Noah’s Ark mission to help rescue several species of dinosaurs from Isla Nubar, where a gurgling volcano is threatening to wipe out all dinosaur life as we know it. They’re there at the behest of Eli (Rafe Spall), a representative of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former partner of dino DNA pioneer Jon Hammond, and they promise the dinosaurs will be transported to a sanctuary.
The film culminates in a showdown at the Lockwood estate, where Bayona’s talents truly shine. After disrupting a secretive, highstakes dinosaur auction, the crew squares off with the Indoraptor, a genetically engineered killing machine with a golden stripe and spikes, which is sold to the highest Russian bidder. If “Jurassic Park” is “Jaws” with dinosaurs, Bayona puts his own spin on it, turning the film into a gothic haunted house horror film with dinosaurs.
Ultimately, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” wants to play with ideas of empathy, freedom and the ways in which those values get subsumed by commercialism. But rather than offer an answer or compelling message, it simply, dumbly just presents the question. That’s not enough. With charming lead actors and a talented director, “Fallen Kingdom” squeaks by, but with its thin story, it feels less like a film that stands on its own and more like a stand-in to hold us over until the next one.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. Running time: 128 minutes. ★★½
The Austin, Texas-based Zellner brothers make strangely humorous films that defy categorization as much as they reference cinematic history. Their feature debut from David and Nathan Zellner, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” took the Coen Brothers’ film “Fargo” as literal inspiration for the lead character. Their followup film, “Damsel,” plays with the Western genre to make some incisive commentary about the modern state of gender politics.
The Zellners bring a sense of methodical stillness to “Damsel” that might make some audiences uncomfortable, as they work with a deliberate pacing that simultaneously frustrates, wrings humor and allows room to breathe and take in the glorious natural vistas. This indie deconstruction of the Western has shades of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” in some of its wry comedic moments.
David Zellner stars as Parson Henry, a man from back east, seeking a fresh start. He’s also not a parson, he just happens to be waiting for a stage coach with one (Robert Forster) who gives up the cloth and wanders into the desert, leaving Henry with his suit, Bible and identity. When the eager young Samuel (Robert Pattinson) comes into town to collect the parson, he’s hired to officiate his wedding. He scoops up Henry and makes his merry way.
We discover, along with Parson Henry, that the bright-eyed, lovesick young man in his company — who shows him the ring and his locket, and croons a ballad called “Honey Bun” — isn’t exactly on the level when he reveals that the planned proposal to his love, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), involves kidnapping her back from a rival, Anton, and then staging a wedding on the spot. Parson Henry becomes his unwitting posse, despite his protestations, and ends up involved in a love triangle that spirals into lethal violence.
Penelope is no damsel. She’s a self-possessed woman making her own choices who has no patience for the macho posturing of Samuel, or Anton’s brother, Rufus (Nathan Zellner), a skinsclad mountain man. The only reason Parson Henry survives her rage is his utterly submissive nature, a beta male among alphas. The Zellners use the masculine representations of the Western to perform a shockingly contemporary satire of traditional notions of the male hero. Our passive parson persists, but the only hero here is our heroine.
“Damsel” is the kind of film you admire without fully enjoying. There’s a layer of artifice in performance and dialogue, as well as the slow plotting. The intention is to reveal the deconstruction of the genre’s conventions to the audience, but it prevents the audience from getting swept away by the story and scenic landscapes. There are some oddball laughs throughout, but whether or not one responds is a question of personal taste.
“Damsel” is a film that’s intellectually stimulating and beautiful to look at, but a bit too arch to truly fall in love with. Nevertheless, the Zellners have assembled an excellent cast, fully committed to the cause, and as performers, they hold their own across from Pattinson and Wasikowska. Pattinson, who is on a run of working with daring indie auteurs, takes a hold of this role with vigor and pours himself into it. He’s incredibly game for anything, and his talent elevates the project, as does Wasikowska, who proves herself a true Western heroine.
“Damsel,” a Magnolia Pictures release, is rated R for some violence, language, sexual material, and brief graphic nudity. Running time: 113 minutes. ★★½
Mia Wasikowska, left, and Robert Pattinson star in the Magnolia Pictures release “Damsel,” in theaters today.