Ask most movie fans where the “Jurassic Park” franchise started going downhill; they’ll probably say anything except the original and be correct whatever they choose. That’s because picking your favorite Jurassic sequel is a case of picking your preferred poison. They’re all good-looking creature features with flimsy narratives that depend on stupid decisions from human characters so idiotic that velociraptors shredding them apart almost feels like a mercy killing.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the second in the “Jurassic World” trilogy and fifth in the franchise overall, fails to clear the low hurdle set by the previous sequels and actually exacerbates the symptoms that bogged them down. The film treads over similar narrative ground as Steven Spielberg’s first Jurassic sequel, 1997’s “The Lost World,” with dinosaurs getting transported off of their South American island and brought to the U.S for a scumbag business venture. Only this time, those evil capitalists are even more cartoonishly drawn, as are the tree-huggers trying to protect the dinosaurs.
The movie is set three years after the genetic hybrid therapod Indominus Rex escaped from its paddock at Jurassic World, plunging the theme park into the same calamity that destroyed the original Jurassic Park. Jurassic World’s former manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) now runs the Dinosaur Protection Group, a dinosaur-rights organization trying to save the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar from a volcanic eruption after the island’s long-dormant volcano becomes active.
After a wealthy businessman (James Cromwell) and his somewhat shady protégé (Rafe Spall) approach Claire with a proposition to transport the dinosaurs off of the island, she enlists Jurassic World’s former velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join the expedition and save Blue, the last surviving velociraptor. Unfortunately for the protagonists, the whole operation is just a plot to sell the rescued dinosaurs and create yet another psychopathic hybrid.
If that synopsis seems to give away too much, it would if the trailers didn’t spoil absolutely everything. Though director J.A Bayona makes dinosaurs look more weighty and convincing than Colin Trevorrow did in the first “Jurassic World,” most of the suspenseful dino action he creates with his visual gimmicks pays off predictably for anybody who has followed the film’s marketing. Adding insult to injury, even during unspoiled scenes like the climax Bayona can’t help but spell out exactly how they’re going to end.
The one truly unexpected twist comes in the form of the wealthy businessman’s granddaughter (Isabella Sermon). Without giving it away, suffice it to say it’s completely insane.
The movie has plot holes big enough for a T-rex to walk through and an utterly warped sense of morality and politics. In an early review in Variety, Owen Gleiberman referred to “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” as a “liberal pulp message movie,” citing upper class greed and endangered species protection amongst its themes. His description is correct, as well as his assessment that the movie takes these way too seriously.
It goes without saying the bad guys are of course foolish and greedy enough to bring dinosaurs to the mainland and sell them, but the heroes also commit actions in favor of these themes that are morally dubious and make no sense. For me, this was most apparent toward film’s end. Without disclosing too many details, there’s a scene where the protagonists must decide whether to let the dinosaurs die or release them on the rest of humanity. Though the film treats this as a grave dilemma, I broke my suspension of disbelief accepting that the characters would even consider the latter, let alone act on it. Spoiler alert: They act on it.
As if the movie didn’t have enough philosophical and scripting problems, it also has a cringe worthy throw-away line where one of the dino-trafficing mercenaries (Ted Levine) calls one of the supporting heroines (Daniella Pineda) a “nasty woman.” When I heard that, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Congratulations, movie. You’ve dated yourself to the late 2010’s.”
Like so many recent entries in long-running blockbuster franchises, the other albatross hanging around this film’s neck is its overreliance on callbacks to older movies. Not only does the movie take its story from “The Lost World,” but it gives us a low-rent copy of the epic Brachiosaurus introduction from “Jurassic Park” and a stampede scene reminiscent of the original movie’s Gallimimus stampede. Even the villainous Indoraptor is just a smaller version of the previous movie’s Indominus Rex.
In the fourteen years that it took for “Jurassic World” to reach the big screen, I actually built up a yearning for this franchise to return. Unfortunately, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is only further proof that there is no topping the original “Jurassic Park.” Though I haven’t decided for sure whether this is the franchise’s worst entry, I’m certainly considering it.