If anyone wondered if moviegoers still had an interest in big screen dinosaurs, 2015’s “Jurassic World” seemed to provide the answer. With a $1.6 billion worldwide box office take, these huge CGI Mesozoic monsters showed they can still draw a crowd. Now we get “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”, a nearly $200 million sequel that may be stretching those affections to their limits.
With “Fallen Kingdom” J.A. Boyana directs a screenplay written by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, both of whom worked on the first “Jurassic World” script. And you can tell. It doesn’t take long to recognize a couple of rehashed and repackaged plot points from the previous film. And my issues with “Fallen Kingdom” don’t stop there. Perhaps its biggest problem is that it lacks that sense of awe and wonder we get from the better “Jurassic Park” pictures. That’s not good for a movie about massive dinosaurs.
Both Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the first film. It’s three years since the events of “Jurassic World”. Pratt’s Owen is a hermit living out of a camper and building a remote cabin in the mountains. Howard’s Claire now works for a dinosaur protection advocacy group. Yep, you read that right.
The two are brought back together by gazillionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough’s character in the original films). Lockwood tasks Claire and Owen with assisting a team in the rescue and relocation of the dinosaurs that remain on the island. With the inevitable eruption of a powerful volcano threatening the dinos, Lockwood locates a new uncharted island that can serve as a sanctuary. But as you can probably guess, things don’t exactly go as planned and sure enough Owen and Claire find themselves right in the middle of both human and reptilian threats.
To say the story strays from its roots is a bit of an understatement. The wonder and mystery of the island is quickly tossed as the filmmakers clearly seek to take the series in a different direction. To try something new is certainly admirable and in a way I like the goofiness of what’s going on. But “Fallen Kingdom” tries to be a lot of different things and does none of them particularly well. While goofy in idea, it still takes itself far too seriously. Attempts at being scary fall well short of Boyana’s past efforts (see the much better “The Orphanage”). It doesn’t work as a thriller as there is practically no suspense whatsoever. It’s predictability is disappointing. To the film’s credit it does attempt to once again wrestle with the moral implications of ‘playing God’. But even that gets lost among everything else the movie tinkers with.
Another issue is with the film’s handling of its characters, especially the two main people we are supposed to care about the most. “Fallen Kingdom” doesn’t take Owen and Claire in any new direction whatsoever. They are the same bland people at the end as at the beginning. You could argue that more happens to Claire in the three years between films than in this movie. She’s in an entirely different place than when we last saw her (how she got there is all but ignored). Pratt rarely gets an opportunity to show off his strengths – humor and charm. The material he is given leaves his character stuck in neutral for the entire movie.
There are several other paper-thin characters that do little more than fill in roles – the antagonist, the comic relief, the disposable military dudes, etc. And the mandatory kid role belongs to Isabella Sermon. She plays Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie and lets just say her story-thread teases something weird and fun. Unfortunately (like so much) the movie doesn’t capitalize on it.
I know it sounds like I’m brutalizing this film. It’s because sometimes being painfully mediocre is a bigger disappointment. “Fallen Kingdom” isn’t an egregiously bad movie. It’s just a glaringly flat and seemingly rudderless one. The perplexing ending all but sealed that for me. Here’s the thing, I was never bored and I never checked out of the movie. But at the same time I found myself constantly puzzled by the creative decision-making and lack of aim. Overall I guess there is enough here to satisfy series devotees, but I’m not sure. Take my son, a professed “Jurassic” fan. As we walked out of the theater he looked at me and said “I don’t know what to think about that one.” I’m with him.