For a movie series based on a novel full of detailed scientific explanations, the Jurassic franchise has become almost mind-bogglingly dumb. The idea of cloned dinosaurs interacting with (and eating) humans has always had a kind of pulpy B-movie vibe, but Steven Spielberg managed to turn it into something majestic, awe-inspiring and genuinely scary in 1993’s Jurassic Park. Since then, the franchise has struggled to find ways to extend its story, even when Spielberg himself was still the director (on 1997’s second film The Lost World: Jurassic Park).
In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the direct sequel to 2015’s massively successful Jurassic World, the central concept of an island filled with revived dinosaurs is mostly left behind, but bringing the dinosaurs out of the theme park (or its ruins) only makes the story sillier, more closely resembling the cheapo sci-fi knock-offs that flood VOD listings (and used to flood video-store shelves) around a Jurassic movie’s release. The initial setup is familiar from other Jurassic movies: Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park by rampaging dinosaurs, the island has been abandoned, with the remaining dinosaurs left to roam free. But when a dormant volcano becomes active, those “de-extinct” animals are in danger of going extinct all over again.
Former Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has become a dinosaur conservation activist, and she’s recruited by the obviously slimy Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) to join a rescue mission to the island, to preserve as many dinosaurs as possible before the volcano wipes them out. Eli works for the ailing Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the heretofore unmentioned early business partner of original Jurassic Park founder John Hammond, and possessor of a vast fortune capable of rehoming the endangered dinosaurs.
Claire convinces her ex, dinosaur trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to join the expedition, along with Claire’s colleagues Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a “paleoveterinarian,” and Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), a generic computer nerd who’s good for looking really scared when running from dinosaurs. Shockingly, the mission’s backers have ulterior motives, and the entire dinosaur rescue turns out to be a smokescreen for a more sinister (and completely ridiculous) agenda that involves selling dinosaurs on the black market.
That does at least allow director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) to draw on some of his horror roots (specifically his acclaimed 2007 debut The Orphanage) in the movie’s second half, which is set in Lockwood’s sprawling Gothic-style estate. The way that the plot gets there, and what happens when it does, is completely idiotic, but Bayona does know how to stage some stylish scenes of terror and build suspense around characters in peril from killer dinosaurs (as well as the now-requisite new genetically engineered super-dinosaur, a fierce predator called the indoraptor).
Owen and Claire have just a single scene of bonding at the beginning of the movie before being thrust into danger, and it’s hard to care about them as people, let alone get emotionally invested in the new characters. The heroes and the villains all make decisions that are monumentally stupid, and the script by Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly provides minimal justification for their actions. Even the characters’ motivations are often inconsistent, aiming to either protect or destroy the dinosaurs depending on the needs of a particular scene. By the end, the franchise’s world has been altered so extensively that it might as well be post-apocalyptic. The awe and wonder of dinosaurs come back to life has turned into the schlock and exploitation of a bargain-bin creature feature.