With “Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom”—the fifth film in the series and the middle chapter of the reboot trilogy begun in 2015 with “Jurassic World”—the franchise has achieved a milestone. Of sorts. Dropped into a story that's little more than a series of set pieces cobbled together with recycled plot contrivances and stock characters, the computer-generated dinosaurs,which generated such awe and terror 25 years ago, have finally been rendered boring, merely a requisite threat that could have been replaced by Transformers or zombies, for all it would affect the repetitious action beats of spot, scream, and run.
As the film opens, the dinosaurs left roaming the theme park three years ago are now the center of a worldwide ethical debate due to the eminent eruption of the island's volcano: Should they be saved or allowed to return to extinction? It's an interesting philosophical dilemma. In congressional hearings, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), “Jurassic Park”’s resident chaos theorist and Greek chorus, not surprisingly, recommends leaving nature to its own devices, an opinion which the U.S. government very surprisingly chooses to follow.
Screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connoly, two of the writers of “Jurassic World,” which Trevorrow also directed, are less concerned with philosophy, however, than with finding a rationale for getting folks back on that island again, face-to-snout with the colossal carnivores.
Enter Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former park manager but now head of the desultorily titled Dinosaur Protection Group, to lead a covert mission to transport the dinosaurs to a new sanctuary island funded by philanthropist billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) For reasons only vaguely explained, velociraptor-whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is critical to the operation, too.
Ignoring good sense and the overwhelming evidence of four previous disastrous visits, a boat-load of adventure film types materialize, including a tough, tattooed female dinosaur vet (Daniela Pineda); an Urkel-syle IT nerd and dinophobe (Justice Smith); and Ted Levine, having a ball chewing the scenery as Ken Wheatley, the quintessential amoral white mercenary leading a crew of burly paramilitary henchmen (read: dino-fodder).
That the mission devolves into chaos, double-crosses, and a volcanic eruption comes as no surprise. What does surprise is how little suspense all of this manages to generate. Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who crafted such atmospheric thrills with “The Orphanage, “ rushes through his cliffhangers so quickly that the impending dangers barely register. One scene, however, lingers: as the rescue boats depart, the head and elongated neck of an Apatosaurus left behind rises above the lava and smoke that engulf it, its bleats and bellows echoing across the water.
Having barreled through what took their predecessors an entire film to unfold, the filmmakers abruptly shift locale and tone from doomed island expedition to gothic mystery by way of James Bond.
Enter Toby Jones as Bondian-styled baddie Gunnar Eversol, who intends to auction off the dinosaurs--including a genetically-weaponized super-dino called the Indoraptor--from a preposterous secret lab in the basement of Lockwood's mansion to an assemblage of international kingpins straight out of “Goldfinger.”
There's yet another precocious child throwing a spanner in the works and more talk about what John Hammond, the OG dinosaur cloner, would have wanted. Pratt and Howard strain, once again, to generate the least bit of chemistry. And it becomes apparent quickly how little awe and terror are generated by images of dinosaurs confined to titanium cages or attempting to rampage through narrow hallways.
Near the end, however, another moment suggests what could have emerged had director Bayona not been saddled with such an unimaginative script. Scared silly at the sight of real dinosaurs, Lockwood's pre-teen granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) makes a beeline for her bedroom and burrows beneath the covers. As she peeks out, the shadow of the Indoraptor glides across the room's sheer curtains as it descends from the roof, and a large single talon clicks as it grasps at the tiny window latch.
Here, with no larger context, it's completely out of place. But in a different film, a film of more atmospheric, more mythic roots—a film more suited to Bayona's peculiar sensibility—it could be the stuff of nightmares.