One of the key elements missing from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the audience’s vicarious exploration of a fantastic theme park. The unbeatable 1993 original and 2015’s Jurassic World offered a sense of awe, not only towards reanimated dinosaurs, but also in its depiction of a lavish, fascinating science lab and family-friendly ride that shows us the impossible. Never mind that the creatures within are deadly, powerful and awfully hungry – the audience was given a first-person view of a most awesome sci-fi destination (outside of Westworld). We were drawn in by how enticing the set-up was and on the edge of our seats when things inevitably went south.
In the latest installment, “The Park Is Gone” (as stated in the movie poster tagline), the dinosaurs risk extinction from an erupting volcano and the survivors of the previous film improbably put themselves in incredible danger once again. It’s all so by-the-book, only the ferocious dinosaurs seem to be enjoying themselves.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels implausible and forced every step of the way, with star Chris Pratt’s here-we-go-again attitude extremely on-the-nose. Despite being directed by J.A. Bayona, whose 2012 The Impossible perfectly mixed searing emotions and state-of-the-art special effects, the pacing is initially sluggish, then switches to frantic once the action kicks into high gear. Bayona sets up moments and frames scenes in ways that suggest he’s studied the works of Steven Spielberg (who returns here as an executive producer).
Yet, Spielberg’s touch is sorely missed. Note the justifiably famous scene from the first film: the agonizing slow build of two children, trapped inside a stranded vehicle, while a curious T-Rex terrorizes them from outside. In comparison, Bayona leaps from one set pierce to the next (Volcano erupts! Humans run! Dinos pursue! Repeat!) and we barely register anything as scenes fly by.
Dwelling on John Hammond story leftovers is the wrong way to go. If Jurassic Park is now a thing of the past and the future of the dinosaurs is the current, most pressing issue brought up, then looking back only keeps the film from embracing anything new, plot-wise. The same can be said of returning star Jeff Goldblum’s unfortunate appearance, in which he’s stuck sitting and talking ponderously at a table. As hard as it is to believe, Independence Day: Resurgence wound up using Goldblum far better and gave him far more to do.
Much of this is surprisingly depressing, as the plight of the doomed dinos is used to make references to human trafficking, unlawful confinement and the inevitability of death. There’s no sense of wonder to any of this, as the towering creatures are either chasing, chomping or being abused by humans. The volcano ambush is the film’s best sequence, though bad timing hurts it. To state the obvious, recent events on the Big Island make it hard to enjoy lava-based destruction at this point in time.
Pratt gamely spends the running time auditioning for the next Indiana Jones installment and still seems detached. Bryce Dallas Howard works hard to muster tears during key moments, but her performance is better than the role. The supporting characters (particularly those played by Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda) are so obnoxious and poorly acted, I was rooting for the dinos to devour them. Even the acting veterans, like Ted Levine and Toby Jones, are really bad here.
Also subpar is the screenplay, which doesn’t get truly interesting until literally the last few minutes. While this ends on a cliffhanger and sets up world-building along the lines of the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, it fails to create something similarly complex and fresh. This is easily the weakest of the sequels: while it’s livelier than the big-nothing of Jurassic Park III and has a larger scale than the mostly awful The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Bayona’s film leaves an unsatisfying aftertaste. There are exciting moments and excellent CGI effects to carry it, but this is all very been-there, stomped-that.
Rated PG-13 / 128 Min.