The first and certainly most beloved of the Jurassic Park films sums up the entire franchise with a single line, when Sam Neill’s Grant first sees a dinosaur and exclaims, “It’s a dinosaur!” Even when directed by a genuine master like Steven Spielberg (and especially when they’re not), these films always have a pretty low bar to clear. One can pine all they want for the sense of awe and wonder in the face of nature that was maybe evoked by the 1993 original, but really all we’re after is to see a bunch of dinosaurs chase stupid people around and then eat them. Eat them while they’re hiding in the toilet, rip them in half to be shared, impale them on pterodactyl beaks, drop them into a pool where they’re gulped whole by some massive water monster like a trained seal swallowing a tasty fish. By even this meager barometer, though, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom fails.
Recall another line from the original Jurassic Park, spoken by Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm (who has an all-too-brief cameo here): “Now eventually, you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?” That’s right, there are somehow precious few dinosaur encounters in Fallen Kingdom. The film has a laborious setup, of course, which explains how the people are once again tricked into going back to the remote island where the giant monsters live; has some painfully lame moral handwringing about the rights of man over these majestic cloned creatures; and — you guessed it! — even has a rich guy whose plans for the dinosaurs aren’t entirely kosher. The highlight of this first section is the 20-or-so minutes during which Jurassic Island, or whatever it’s called, literally starts blowing up, the central volcano tossing giant flaming rocks into the air and the dinosaurs jumping off cliffs to save themselves. Everything’s exploding, all over the place — although, annoyingly, nobody gets killed during this part. (None of the nasty commando guys, even, get pancaked by one of the volcanic meteors.)
“Now eventually, you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?”
Director J.A. Bayona does make Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom look good; he has a knack for aggressive frames mostly shrouded in shadow, and he seems to get a genuine kick out of his numerous visual callbacks to the previous films in this franchise. The thing is, that stuff shouldn’t be most important. Even Colin Trevorrow’s more basic directorial competence with his Jurassic World deserved more of a pass because at least that film was jammed with lizards and sharp teeth and it had a real mean streak. Here, most of the monster action is limited to a truly bizarre second half that basically becomes a haunted house film: Once the characters are off the island, the dinosaurs get stuck in a basement while a really mean new dinosaur called the Indoraptor chases a little girl through a mansion and we root for Blue, the super-intelligent Velociraptor from the last movie, to save her. And look, I get it — the terrifying prehistoric killers from films of old are now cute and friendly. These movies are almost diabolically stupid anyway, and always have been. But how dare one of them be allowed to be so crushingly boring? This had one job.