Bad news, everyone: dinosaurs are boring now. People were so preoccupied with whether they could make a fifth Jurassic Park movie, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a direct sequel to 2015’s passable but familiar Jurassic World, is missing nearly everything that made the original so much fun 25 years ago. It’s like director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) never saw it, only had it described to him by thirdhand sources.
Fallen Kingdom, written by two of the four writers of Jurassic World, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, hinges on the question of what to do about Isla Nublar now that the theme park is closed and a volcano is about to kill the dinosaurs still wandering the island. Some say these “de-extinct” creatures, the result of man’s interference in the first place, should be left to die. Others say we’ve had real, living dinosaurs for an entire generation now, and wouldn’t it be sad if they went extinct again?
On the pro-dino side is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park executive who had two nephews in the last film (they’re not mentioned). She’s approached by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a dying billionaire who was John Hammond’s heretofore unmentioned partner in the early days, who wants to fund a mission to rescue the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar and move them to a sanctuary to live out their days in peace. Claire is eager to help, but they also need the best dino-whisperer in the business to track and capture the beasts: Owen Grady.
Who? Sorry, Chris Pratt. The guy Chris Pratt plays.
Owen doesn’t want to go. He’s on the side that says we should let our scientific mistakes die and never speak of them again. Playing on his attachment to Blue, the raptor he worked with, Claire says, “You’re just gonna let her die?” Owen’s response: “Well, yeah.” I’m with him, but the movie persists. He changes his mind for no reason other than that the movie needs him to change his mind, and he and Claire lead a team that includes tough paleo-veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda), cowardly nerdy tech guy Franklin (Justice Smith), and obviously-a-bad-guy mercenary Wheatley (Ted Levine) back to the island.
Like a King Kong story, Fallen Kingdom spends its first half collecting and occasionally being killed by animals on a remote island, then transports the animals to a new location so they can get loose and kill some more. The first half has a well-shot sequence with Claire and Franklin trapped underwater in one of the park’s gyroscope bubbles, effectively made to look like one long, breathless take. (It’s nice not to hear Franklin screaming for a while.) But the rest of the island scenes are garden-variety dinosaur hijinks, made irritating by the human characters all being the sort who, when something is running toward them, stare at it in terror for several seconds before running away (to name just one of many recurring dumb choices).
The second half of the film turns small and mundane, set mostly indoors, with the major characters relatively safe while nameless baddies get eaten. Kindly old Lockwood is OK, but his business manager, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), has secret, greedy plans. Scientists have concocted another new dinosaur, even scarier than the one they made up last time, yada yada. There’s a totally off-the-wall subplot involving Lockwood’s young granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), that I suspect is setting up ideas for the next film, which, if I’m right, should be a monumental trainwreck.
I’ll give Bayona and his team credit for making us feel sympathy for the scared CGI herbivores locked in cages. The people, on the other hand, are flat and forgettable (except for Jeff Goldblum’s three-minute cameo, of course). There are no laughs. And the predator dinosaurs? Over-familiarity has drained them of their ability to terrify us. Once they made the velociraptors trainable and turned the T.rex into a Godzilla figure who saves people from other monsters, the writing was on the wall. Rarely have I seen a movie franchise become such a metaphor for itself.