[Note: This review contains spoilers.]
As genetically engineered as its new super-dino, the Indoraptor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is designed to trigger specific responses from and ingratiate itself with an increasingly jaded audience. This scheme becomes increasingly obvious by the third triumphant T-Rex roar in this film — a series trademark that has now been drained of its original bone-chilling effect. This fifth Jurassic film goes so far afield from the smart and sophisticated origin directed by Steven Spielberg, 1993’s Jurassic Park, that both the dinosaur and human characters have become comic-book superheroes and villains battling for world domination. The prehistoric animals no longer inspire awe they once did, no matter how desperately the filmmakers attempt to squeeze it out of their audience.
The titular dinosaur theme park is now closed and destitute, and its home of Isla Nublar outside of Costa Rica is gradually being subsumed by the active volcano at its center. Former Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) now leads a political lobbyist group whose mission is to save the dinosaurs from extinction. Her new care for the creatures could probably be explained by the trauma she endured during the disastrous final days of the park, as depicted in Jurassic World (2014), but moment after moment, Fallen Kingdom ignores logic and takes drastic leaps to put its characters into stupefyingly ludicrous positions.
Dearing is approached by the (retconned) former partner of Jurassic Park creator John Hammond, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), and his smarmy business representative, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), to save the dinosaurs from their demise. She recruits her former boyfriend, the dino trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), and her dino-rights cohorts, paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and former Jurassic World IT technician Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), to return to the island with her. Unfortunately, the mercenary team they meet there is headed by sociopath Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), who reveals their true mission of smuggling the dinosaurs out for sale rather than safety — after shooting the hyper-intelligent velociraptor, Blue.
The bewilderingly popular Pratt returns with his good looks and empty eyes. Grady’s reunion with his former girlfriend reveals the performer’s ability to use his natural charm beyond delivering a good wisecrack, which he has plenty of here. Otherwise, he’s a leading man stand-in and a muscley cypher, obliged to save the day in a series of improbably survivable perils. Dallas-Howard, whose character absurdly wore high heels while sprinting from dinosaurs in the previous film, is serviceable. (Her knowing introduction in Fallen Kingdom is a closeup of her heels that pans up to her smile.) In one scene, the pair is trapped in a cage and attempting to draw blood from a sleeping Tyrannosaurus rex. It should be screwball-comedy fodder that highlights the performers’ potential chemistry. Unfortunately, it climaxes with Pratt laughably jumping to safety through the T. rex’s open jaw after the animal wakes, ferocious and irritable.
Beyond its two stars, Fallen Kingdom is also inexplicably packed with game, masterful actors giving it their all: Cromwell as the sickly and dying Lockwood; Geraldine Chaplin as caretaker to him and his granddaughter; Toby Jones as a ruthless auctioneer; and a perpetually insidious Levine (as always).
The film is, admittedly, buoyed by its own audacious stupidity. The protagonists’ escape from Isla Nublar is one of the most gobsmackingly over-the-top, CGI-fueled set pieces in recent Hollywood filmmaking. Not only are the characters trapped in three disparate places throughout the park, but Grady has to outrun molten lava while partially paralyzed by a dinosaur sedation dart. He eventually catches up to Claire and Franklin as they try to outrun hundreds of dinosaurs also attempting to escape the volcanic spew. The former two find themselves locked in one of the previous film’s spherical park vehicles-cum-escape pods, which rolls off a cliff and plummets into the ocean.
A single take inside the pod as Claire and Franklin nearly drown while myriad dying dinosaurs crash into the water surrounding them reveals that director J.A. Bayona is more than capable of orchestrating pulpy action-movie fun. The Spielberg acolyte has already worked in the Hollywood master’s vein with The Impossible (2012), a disaster film about a family caught in the middle of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and A Monster Calls (2016), an E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) facsimile. Although never dull and always propulsive, his filmmaking here is enslaved to a think-tank product, limiting his ability to work within the film’s ridiculous proceedings.
Bayona does, however, indulge in moments that recall his sublime 2007 haunted-house story, The Orphanage, when the Indoraptor stalks Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon) through the family’s creepy, sprawling estate. The suspense in this scene culminates in a shot of the predator's meters-long talons slowly creeping over the frightened girl hiding under her bedsheets — an image that is symptomatic of the entire enterprise. The film does illogical backflips to achieve moments culled from a dump of ideas in order to keep a creatively failing franchise alive. Its most cringe-worthy play toward survival is milking Maisie’s mysterious lineage for all it’s worth, eventually revealing that she’s a clone of Lockwood’s daughter. The character exists only to set the dinosaurs free to roam the world: “They’re just like me,” she says. It’s a numbingly stupid device, rivaled only by a moment when the fake-sleeping Indoraptor all but winks at the audience while Wheatley attempts to extract one of its teeth for his collection.
The film series that began as an indictment of the folly of man and technology now ascribes humanity to the beasts and removes it from the humans. There will be more, however, as Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum in a waste of a cameo) lets the audience know in the film’s last beat: “We are now living in a Jurassic World.”