I’ll give JURASSIC WORLD:FALLEN KINGDOM this. When it leaps off the rails into utter inanity, it does so with grim determination and the courage of its (misguided) convictions. It continues on, camera swooping majestically and music swelling heroically with monotonous regularity, robbing the few truly worthy moments of their specialness, and drowning the rest of it in cinematic idioms that are well-directed by J.A. Bayona, but utterly abandoned by a relentlessly mediocre script and a running time that stretched on into infinity.
It is three years since the last time humankind’s hubris threatened humanity, or at least that well-heeled portion of it enjoying the bioengineered marvels of Jurassic World. Because if people learned from their mistakes, there would be no sequels, we start our new adventure with an underwater team returning to Isla Nublar expressly to retrieve the DNA of the custom-made dinosaur that took the island down. Of course it won’t go well. We know that even before one of the first victims innocently asks that infamous question, “What was that?” We can all pretend that we don’t know what’s coming next, but I assure you that there is no point.
On the other hand, there is a point in cutting to Jeff Goldblum as the older, even more baleful, Dr. Malcolm. He’s testifying before Congress as a way of catching us up on the doings of the last film, and to set the stage for this one with his gloomy view of a future. Viz to wit, a volcano is threatening Isla Nublar, and if nothing is done, the de-extinct dinosaurs will go back to being merely extinct, and maybe it’s for the best considering what we’ve done with genetic engineering up until now. Enter Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), formerly the media maven of Jurassic World, and currently running an advocacy group to save those dinosaurs. Oh, and she’s still wearing very, very high heels. Her prayers are answered when the money and means necessary to do just that are offered up by Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). the erstwhile partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough courtesy of an oil portrait), and doting grandfather of barely pubescent Maisie (Isabella Sermon).
In a radical break from its predecessors, this installment will feature only one intrepid kid.
Back to saving the dinosaurs. It will, further of course, involve bringing raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) on board, what with his special relationship with the raptor Blue. Don’t ask. It’s the special relationship that he no longer has with Claire that might be a sticking point. Kidding. They’ll re-meet cute and before you can say “What was that?”, the two of them are on a charter flight with Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), the systems analyst from Claire’s save-the-dinosaurs group, and Zia Rodriguez (Daniella PIneda), another member who is also a dinosaur veterinarian who has, get this, never actually seen a dinosaur. Why are those two going? Comic relief for the former, and another tough female character for the latter. The convoluted reasons given us in exposition (there is A LOT of exposition in this film) are proffered in a fashion that is half-hearted at best. Granted, though, Franklin comes through as a nerd whose phobia about the T. Rex roaming the island is just about the most sensible thing in the flick.
The point of this exercise is the dinosaurs, and they are spectacular. They bellow. They stampede, They even swim. And the new genetically engineered super-dino even plays with its food in a way that is indisputably malevolent, not peckish. I would even go so far as to say that they are more sympathetic than any of the humans involved. Howard’s steely gaze puts her at an emotional remove, while Pratt’s boyish charm is wasted in a script where things happen more to show off his character’s derring-do (including a captivating slow-speed retreat from gelatinous lava) than to advance the story. He has far more chemistry with Blue, a feisty gal he raised from an egg and who is capable of showing more attachment for him than Howard can summon. In truth, the most poignant moment on screen comes not from anything the humans do, but rather from a doomed Apatosaurus bellowing as the lava makes its inevitable and fatal way around her.
JURASSIC WORLD: THE FALLEN KINGDOM, you see, gives us not just rampaging dinosaurs with a complex emotional life, but also exploding lava to further menace the humans trying to save them. There are also menacing humans, sad cardboard caricatures of true villains, including Toby Jones as the suitably slimy money man, and Ted Levine as the crusty expedition facilitator with a bad attitude. It has also given us glass with a tensile strength untenable in the physics of this dimension, a sick man who conveniently leaves his cell phone very far away, Rafe Spall as the amanuensis who has lost his ideals, and Geraldine Chaplin as the humorless nanny.
The dinosaurs run wild in one action sequence after another, during which astonishingly little damage is done to Pratt or Howard. All the while, the camera swoops majestically, the music swells heroically, and we in the audience wonder when it will all be over.