Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

One of the key elements missing from “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is allowing the audience to vicariously explore a fantastic theme park. The unbeatable 1993 original and 2015’s “Jurassic World” offered a sense of awe, not only towards reanimated dinosaurs, but also in its depiction of a lavish, fascinating science lab/family-friendly ride that shows us the impossible. Never mind that the creatures within are deadly, powerful and awfully hungry- the audience was given a first-person view of a most awesome sci-fi destination (outside of Westworld). We were drawn in by how enticing the set-up is and on the edge of our seats when things inevitably went south. In the latest installment, “The Park Is Gone” (as stated in the movie poster tag line), the dinosaurs are becoming extinct by an erupting volcano and the survivors of the previous film improbably put themselves in incredible danger once again. It’s all so by the book, only the ferocious dinosaurs seem to be enjoying themselves.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” feels implausible and forced every step of the way, with star Chris Pratt’s here-we-go-again attitude extremely on-the-nose. Despite being directed by J.A. Bayona, whose 2012 “The Impossible” perfectly mixed searing emotions and state of the art special effects, the pacing is initially sluggish, then switches to frantic once the action kicks into high gear. Bayona sets up moments and frames scenes that suggests he’s studied the works of Steven Spielberg (who returns here as an executive producer). Yet, Spielberg’s touch is sorely missed. Note the justifiably famous scene from the first film: the agonizing slow build of two children, trapped inside a stranded vehicle, while a curious T-Rex terrorizes them from outside. In comarison, Bayona leaps from one set pierce to the next (Volcano Erupts! Humans Run! Dinos Pursue! Repeat!) and we barely register anything as scenes fly by.

Dwelling on leftover John Hammond story business is the wrong way to go. If Jurassic Park is now a thing of the past and the future of the dinosaurs is the current, most pressing issue brought up, then looking back only keeps this from embracing anything new plot-wise. The same can be said of returning star Jeff Goldblum’s unfortunate appearance, in which he’s stuck sitting and talking ponderously at a table. As hard as it is to believe, “Independence Day: Resurgence” wound up using Goldblum far better and gave him far more to do.

Much of this is surprisingly depressing, as the plight of the doomed dinos is used to make references to human trafficking, unlawful confinement and the inevitability of death. There’s no sense of wonder to any of this, as the towering creatures are either chasing, chomping or being abused by humans. The volcano ambush is the film’s best sequence, though bad timing hurts it. To state the obvious, recent events on The Big Island make it hard to enjoy lava-based destruction at this point in time.

Pratt gamely spends the running time auditioning for the next Indiana Jones installment and still seems detached. Bryce Dallas Howard works hard to muster tears during key moments but her performance is better than the role. The supporting characters (particularly those played by Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda) are so obnoxious and poorly acted, I was rooting for the dinos to devour them. Even the acting veterans, like Ted Levine and Toby Jones, are really bad here.

Also subpar is the screenplay, which doesn’t get truly interesting until literally the last few minutes. While this ends on a cliffhanger and sets up world-building along the lines of the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, it fails to create something similarly complex and fresh. This is easily the weakest of the sequels: while its livelier than the big-nothing of “Jurassic Park III” and has a larger scale than the mostly awful “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” Bayona’s film leaves an unsatisfying aftertaste. There are exciting moments and excellent CGI effects to carry it but this is all very been-there, stomped-that.

Two Stars

originally published in Maui Time Weekly