J. A. Bayona’s Fallen Kingdom is immensely more watchable than its predecessor, but it’s still a pointless and visually exhausting chapter in a tired series.
Life hack: if you’re ever offered an opportunity to visit an island where a fierce volcano is fatally erupting and killer dinosaurs roam free, consider turning it down, no matter how tempting the gig may sound. In The Orphanage director J. A. Bayona’s chaotic and altogether unnecessary sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard)—returning characters from Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World—ignore this piece of wisdom and travel to the heart of Isla Nublar yet again. Once a callous, fashionably-bobbed dino theme park executive in (controversial) heels; now, three years after the catastrophic events of the first film, an animal rights activist with a friendly ponytail and sensible shoes, Claire on-boards a well-funded (but poorly sketched) mission to rescue the surviving dinosaurs from re-extinction and recruits Owen as an experienced trainer along the way.
If you are thinking, “dinosaurs were already extinct before humans decided to play God, so perhaps we shouldn’t interfere with nature taking its course this time,” you’re in good company. Also returning to the extended Jurassic universe is the original’s ethical scientist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, respectably keeping his shirt on), who, hearing after hearing, publicizes his belief that the dinosaurs should be left alone with their fate, however doomed it may be.
But tell that to the corrupt, money-driven corporate types, in a film that makes a juvenile and coarse attempt to distinguish between good and evil with predictable beats. The crooks of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom not only disregard and disrespect the immense power dinosaurs possess (the stale, recurring theme of the entire series), but also abuse the good intentions of Claire and Malcolm for their evil purposes: worldwide dinosaur trafficking for monetary gain, creating a new, notoriously dangerous raptor breed (called Indoraptor), and so on. At least the evil mayor in Jaws was motivated to keep the unsafe beaches open only to maintain the modest livelihood of his small town. In the year 2018, even movie villains seem to have evolved in their wickedness in malevolent proportions.
Of course, Claire and Malcolm become aware of the despicable plan they’ve involuntarily become a part of in due course, and through a complex scheme of events, find themselves in the isolated mansion of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell); Dr. John Hammond’s well-meaning and wealthy partner-in-crime in bringing Jurassic Park to life. There, they face off various power-hungry players such as Lockwood’s once-trusted ally Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) and the operation’s supervisor Eversoll (Toby Jones); and join forces with Lockwood’s sweet, precocious granddaughter Maisie (Isabelle Sermon, the film’s most memorable asset) who resourcefully puts the pieces of the puzzle together. In the role of the loyal housekeeper and Maisie’s caregiver Iris, Geraldine Chaplin also makes a sturdy impression, occasionally distracting the viewer from the film’s overstuffed canvas.
In fairness, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom introduces an intricate dimension to the series on ethics of animal welfare and packs a pair of emotional moments in its scope; one, involving an abandoned Brachiosaurus, longing after a departing ship that just left her to die on the collapsing island. It’s a schmaltzy but effective scene, that briefly reminds the viewer the depth that used to run through the soul of the franchise. Yet despite Bayona’s admittedly competent direction, various engrossing set pieces (best one is in the opening) and the film’s (very welcome) resurrection of female agency after a predecessor that openly despised women, Fallen Kingdom adds up to nothing more than a visual headache; one that’s more watchable than Jurassic World, yet, still not as crucial or philosophically sound as Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic. When the fifth installment of a franchise reads like a genetically-engineered Jurassic Park-Alien-King-Kong hybrid, cooked up in a soulless meeting room, perhaps it’s time to stop trying.