Two men in a submarine rover search the dark sea floor for dinosaur bones. As they nervously extract a tooth sample from one fossil, lightning flashes above the surface, and we glimpse the silhouette of something big in the water above them.
There’s skill to how the tension builds in these opening moments of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, something reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s strong points in the visual implication of danger and rain-drenched cinematography. But alas, the scene quickly overplays its hand and ends with a minor character’s cruel death at the hands of an impeccably-timed plesiosaurus that’s oddly played for laughs. Suddenly it becomes clear—this is a sequel to Jurassic World, not Jurassic Park.
An exposition dump via BBC broadcast informs us Isla Nublar—former site of the Jurassic World theme park, and present home to the world’s remaining dinosaurs—is in imminent danger of experiencing an “extinction-level event.” Jeff Goldblum, reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm mostly via melodramatic voiceover, warns of intervening in this natural “correction” and predicts “manmade cataclysmic changes…Changes like death.” They got Jeff Goldblum, and they couldn’t write better lines for him than this?
Bryce Dallas Howard reprises her role from the more recent franchise installment as Claire Dearing, transformed from a regressive caricature of a corporate career woman to a bland, doe-eyed advocate for the dino cause—why? Who knows? She’s enlisted by Lockwood (James Cromwell), the wheelchair-bound lab partner of John Hammond from the first film, imparting some typical wheelchair-bound-old-man advice, and X (Rafe Spall), the shiny, happy heir to Hammond’s fortunes.
Since the government listened to Jeff Goldblum (wouldn’t you?), they plan to save a select few dinosaurs themselves and deposit them in another island sanctuary where they’ll be left alone. Also running around the mansion is Lockwood’s granddaughter and the film’s requisite precocious child, played by Isabella Sermon, who does little more than eavesdrop on expositional conversations and run scared before uncovering a disturbing revelation about herself that the film devotes roughly zero time to exploring.
Claire in turn enlists “animal behaviorist” Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, selling the jokes but never the squinty, Eastwood-esque macho posturing), who’s introduced building a house with his bare hands out of his trailer in view of the Grand Tetons. Along with a scared nerd stereotype, played by Justice Smith, they go to Isla Nublar to round up the dinosaurs and rendezvous with a commander played by Ted Levine, who you know is evil because he’s a) in the military, b) collects dino teeth for sport, and c) calls Daniella Pineda’s hip young progressive type a “nasty woman.”
As with the first Jurassic World, these characters are not so much characters as they are types, their personalities merely implied and minimal relationships established between them. Howard and Pratt share yet another movie as romantic leads, but the film is so overstuffed that the relationship stilldoesn’t get developed beyond some stolen glances, a kiss, and a few brief attempts at witty repartee in which Pratt just comes across as kind of a dick.
A good case that the movie’s most developed character is Owen’s raptor buddy Blue, who’s established as the “second-most intelligent animal on Earth” and shown growing up and developing empathy through old training videos, before being reduced—like all the film’s carnivorous dinosaurs—to just a device for executing all-too-convenient action beats or inexplicably drawn out horror sequences.
This is a movie that just wants to imply all the character stuff rather than do the work, which I guess saves more time for CGI dinosaur-fueled mayhem. And in that respect, the film works fine. It’s probably better than the last one, in fact, if only for having more memorable set pieces like that first scene, or another of Pratt and Howard trapped in a tranquilized T-Rex’s transport cage. Outside of the CGI blandness of its disaster sequences and dino-on-dino fights, Fallen Kingdomalso looks good on the big screen.
Unfortunately, this Jurassic Worldalso picks up where its predecessor left off in regards to its most mind-bogglingly dumb plot thread—weaponizing dinosaurs. This results in another Franken-species called the Indoraptor, an orange-striped cross between a raptor and T-rex that I’m sure will sell a lot of action figures.
The villains responsible are so stupid, callous and irredeemable in their destructive actions throughout (a trained hybrid of the two most deadly animals ever to walk the earth? Gee, what could go wrong?) that with no strong characters or moral compass to counterbalance them, we’re left with another oddly nihilistic PG-13 blockbuster far from the dreamy spirit of Spielberg’s original.
It’s telling that one of the movie’s most memorable scenes shows the death of a brachiosaurus, a moving sequence which can’t help but beg the question when compared against the bizarrely playful human death scenes: does this movie value dino life more than human life?
“They were here before us,” goes one of Jeff Goldblum’s vaguely ominous lines used in Fallen Kingdom’s trailers, “and if we’re not careful, they’ll be here after.”
The bonkers “happy” ending of Jurassic World doesn’t answer the implied question there—indeed, it raises waymore questions than it answers, which is by design, of course, to hype up another sequel. It does seem to come down clearly on one thing however: the dinosaurs probably deserve to be here after us.