2.5 stars (out of 4)
“Change is like death,” a character intones early on in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. “You don’t know what it looks like until you’re standing at the gates.” Sure, buddy, whatever you say. The problem is that in a Jurassic Park movie, we know exactly what both look like. Change? Bad. Death? Gnarly.
What are we going to do about those genetically manipulated dinosaurs and the greedy human bastards that want to profit off them. A quarter-century after the original Jurassic Park hit theaters, the DNA of director Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking blockbuster remains intact. Fact is, humans and dinosaurs aren’t meant to coexist even in a tightly controlled environment. And when carnivore dinos feel threatened, they won’t settle for a treat and a belly rub. That kind of effectively heart-thumping familiarity should thrill longtime fans of this epic franchise — and frustrate anyone looking for a dynamic (dino-mic?) shakeup.
Time flies when you’re settling $800 million worth of settled class action suits. Three years after the dinos ran amok at the Jurassic World tourist attraction (as seen in the previous film), a dormant volcano has come back to life on the island and is threatening to wipe out all the remaining dinos. One of them is a raptor named Blue, the de facto pet of super-trainer Owen (Chris Pratt). We’re supposed to still care deeply about this special inter-species bond, perhaps because of the raptor’s cutesy name. We don’t, at least not really. This isn’t Tom Hanks and Wilson.
The question is whether to let the dinos go extinct again or save them all for posterity. Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm from the original vocalizes his pro-perish opinion to a Senate Committee; Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who used to manage the Jurassic World park, is leading the ecological charge. Before I continue, let’s get the real issue out of the way: Howard continues to wear her heels in the office but soon changes into sensible brown boots. Clever girl.
This is where an interesting plot starts to nosedive. Turns out that Jurassic Park creator John Hammond, ever conveniently, had an estranged business partner named Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). He and his associate Eli (Rafe Spall) recruit Claire to go back to the island off Costa Rica and transport all the dinos to a safe haven island. They also want her to pitch her ex Owen so he can communicate with Blue. He agrees and away they go.
Amazingly, the “save the dinos from the hot lava” crusade is not the main focus of this Jurassic World sequel. The mission is a double cross: That snake, Eli, really wants to bring the dinos to the states and sell them off to the highest bidder in a secret auction. Leapin’ lizards! And the dinosaurs, which include a viciously cool genetic hybrid, do not respond well to being treated like caged animals on display. Cue the dramatic roaring and dismembering.
The admirable assured Pratt and Howard take care of business, with Pratt himself now evolved into a mature, strapping leading man. Their sidekicks are chirpy annoyances. Franklin (Justice Smith) is a nervous, fidgety computer nerd; Zia (Daniella Pineda) is a dino veterinarian even though she’s never interacted with a dino. Lockwood’s cute granddaughter (Isabella Sermon) gleans pertinent information just by roaming around Grandpa’s austere mansion. It’s never a promising sign when you’re actively rooting for the dinos to eat some of the good guys for dinner. Note: This wish does not apply to Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), the geneticist bridging the gap between the Jurassic past, present and future. He remains the most fascinating, morally complex character on any island.
Strip away the novelty of seeing the dinosaurs on the United States mainland, and you’re left with derivative, well-tread material. You’ll know it when you see it, from the “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” gag to the T-Rex maneuvering a door handle. A ferocious opening sequence gives way to the usual pattern of the lizards slurping up all the evil folks. Director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls, The Impossible) has riveting films on his resume, but he adds little to the imagination. When Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom manages to entertain, it does so in spite of its hokey dialogue and predictable plotting.
Thanks to a cliffhanger ending, the World is wide open for more Jurassic installments. Alas, the filmmakers are so preoccupied with whether they could they probably haven’t stopped to think if they should.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens in theaters on Friday, June 22