Those of you who read my Worst of 2015 know that I was no fan of Jurassic World. Among its greatest faults was its insistence on bludgeoning its audience with slavish callbacks and references to the series’ first installment. Jurassic World’s follow-up manages to escape the shadow of its revered progenitor, but creates new headaches in the process.
The most obvious thing Fallen Kingdom takes from the original trilogy is its plot, lifted from The Lost World. Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), our heroes from the previous movie, are recruited by a mysterious benefactor to save the defunct Jurassic World theme park’s remaining dinosaurs before a volcano wipes them out. And so the stage is set for another dinosaur rescue mission, another corporate double-cross, and another finale set outside the park.
But despite this borderline self-plagiarism, Fallen Kingdom is decidedly better-made than its immediate predecessor, and new director J.A. Bayona deserves the lion’s share of the credit. The rain-drenched opening sequence, which starts out quietly ominous and evolves into a nail-biting chase, is genuinely scary, which is more than can be said of any of Jurassic World’s uninspired set-pieces. In fact, the whole movie has a cleaner, more assured visual style than its prequel, and one particular image, enhanced by a rare moment of relative silence, boasts real power.
The rest of the movie, alas, doesn’t fare so well. Our requisite humans are just as flat as they were last time around, if not more so. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, talented actors both, are once again stuck playing the thinnest of archetypes in the lead roles, and the supporting parts are just as dire. The franchise’s signature annoying kid has now been replaced by two annoying millennials, mugging IT guy Franklin (Justice Smith) and hostile veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda), whose characters are incidental at best and insufferable at worst. The villains are even more lazily written, headed up by two-faced businessman Eli (Rafe Spall) and animal-abusing mercenary Ken (Ted Levine, shamefully wasted here).
Time and time again, Bayona and his actors are let down by the movie’s script, an uninspired mess that’s both overstuffed and slight. Like Jurassic Park III before it, it possesses only the scantest of plots, but that movie had the decency to last a breezy ninety minutes, while this one is a bloated two hours and change. The movie often feels more like a loose collection of scenes than a fully-formed story, and constantly relies on deus ex machina and the infinite stupidity of its characters (both good and evil) to lurch the plot forward. Who dies, and in what order they do so, is of no surprise whatsoever, and aside from the opening the creature attacks lack any bite. There’s exactly one unexpected twist in the movie, and while I admire it for its sheer ridiculousness, it regards the origins of a character whom the audience has no reason to care about.
But ultimately, Fallen Kingdom’s cardinal sin isn’t its shambling screenplay or its hollow characters. What seals its fate as a bad movie is banal overfamiliarity. At this point, the series has simply done all that can be done with its brand of mass-appeal dinosaur action, regardless of how competently it may be crafted. We’ve seen human-dinosaur standoffs where the slightest sound means doom. We’ve seen raptors pounce on their prey before the requisite PG-13-ensuring cutaways. And we’ve seen far, far too many shots of T-Rexes roaring triumphantly at the camera. After five movies, Fallen Kingdom’s inevitable sequel-hook ending is more likely to inspire sighs of exhaustion than hums of anticipation. Perhaps the producers should follow Dr. Ian Malcolm’s advice, and let these poor creatures die already.