My bar for all things dinosaur-related, including the Jurassic Park film franchise, has always been notoriously low. The first Jurassic Park movie is generally beloved and iconic, but I also ravenously consumed the sequels, sticking with the franchise through every indefensible decision like a tortured sports fan. Dr. Ian Malcolm’s adopted daughter doing gymnastics to escape the velociraptors in The Lost World? I’m fine with it. A typically moist-eyed Téa Leoni rescuing her parasailing son from dinosaur island in Jurassic Park III? Sure, why not. Jimmy Fallon as Jimmy Fallon in Jurassic World? Yes.
But even by my admittedly basement-level standards, J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom still feels like a giant glob of triceratops spit lobbed right in the audience’s face. The first Jurassic World was incredibly retrograde and dumb, but it was also driven by an irresistible premise, while this dutiful follow-up just feels numb and exhausted. As with his 2016 film A Monster Calls, Bayona displays a talent for incorporating special effects into the drama, but no talent whatsoever for dramatic coherence. He also exudes a mechanical humanity that feels more synthetic than any test-tube pterodactyl.
One of the weird strengths of the Jurassic Park sequels is that they are not wed to their human protagonists (ultimately, the dinosaurs are the stars), but Fallen Kingdom makes the baffling decision to reunite sleepwalking leads Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard as star-crossed lovers Owen and Claire. These two numbskulls were never anything more than attractive dinosaur bait in the first Jurassic World, yet Fallen Kingdom assumes that we hold some sort of burning affection for the characters.
Fallen Kingdom opens a few years after the events of Jurassic World, with Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm still delivering dire prophecies, while the dinosaurs on the abandoned amusement park are threatened by an active volcano. If you’re wondering why they built a luxury amusement park on a tiny island with an active volcano in the first place, you are officially more intelligent than anyone who worked on the script (officially credited to Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, although the film feels cobbled together from a half-dozen scripts that were also written by hacks).
Jurassic World introduced the concept of enhanced intelligence into the dino-verse, seemingly setting the stage for a Planet of the Apes-like veer that could have knocked the franchise out of its rut, but that is largely abandoned in favor of endless callbacks. As little as I care about Owen and Claire’s wooden repartee, the new characters in Fallen Kingdom are even less engaging and original. We get a new Hammond-esque billionaire, a new evil man in a suit, a new wimpy good guy and a new spunky kid. I never cared about them for a second.
Thanks to some arresting images and a few intense sequences of dinosaur-related peril, Fallen Kingdom remains watchable enough, but my patience has clearly reached the tipping point. I don’t mind if these movies are stupid, but they should never be so dull.