Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom gets off to a promising start. We meet a whiny, cowardly IT guy, an insufferable hipster-feminist “paleo-veterinarian,” and a gaggle of environmentalist extremists bent on saving herds of homicidal dinosaurs even at the expense of humankind. I settled in and waited for these bozos to get chomped satisfyingly to bits. Within minutes, though, came a dreadful realization: In this movie, the bozos are the good guys.
Creating protagonists as slappable as these is a spectacular failure, but it’s only the first of many. The sequel to the hugely enjoyable Jurassic World is an onion of failures, with each mistake peeling away to reveal another. Moronic plotting, dull characters, predictable twists, and visual and thematic clichés mar virtually every scene. During what is supposed to be one of the most intense moments, when a grim comeuppance awaits a deplorable hunter, the level of stupidity on display was such that the audience with which I saw the film burst into laughter.
The digital effects may be superb, but now that a quarter of a century has passed since the original Jurassic Park, they’re no longer especially noteworthy. These days we demand (and get) visual sorcery in the average Pepsi commercial. Apart from said technical brilliance, all the movie has going for it is Chris Pratt’s easygoing charm as Owen, the velociraptor whisperer who is coaxed back to the theme park by his now ex-girlfriend Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former park manager who is now inexplicably an eco-warrior who even more inexplicably yearns to return to Isla Nublar to still more inexplicably rescue the dinosaurs who nearly swallowed her, high heels and all, in the first film. You’d think this character would be unable to sit through an episode of Barney & Friends without screaming, but today she comes across as game for anything and could probably give courage lessons to Indiana Jones. The comic spark of opposing personality types that helped make the previous film so endearing is now all but extinguished. Far from being bickering lovebirds, Claire and Owen seem more like fellow soldiers, and the kiss they share has about as much sizzle as the last time you greeted Grandma at Thanksgiving dinner.
Bayona even manages to waste Jeff Goldblum, who reprises Dr. Ian Malcolm but doesn’t appear with the other characters, instead blathering about chaos theory in a congressional hearing.
The film’s director, J. A. Bayona, and his screenwriters, Colin Trevorrow (who directed Jurassic World) and Derek Connolly, seem very obviously sensitive to critiques that Claire was too girly in the first film. (Former women’s-studies student and Avengers director Joss Whedon, who has appointed himself an authority on such matters, called the film “sexist.”) In overcompensation, the filmmakers have made Claire and everyone else as thin as playing cards. Where before she was a useful stand-in for anyone in the audience who might consider it scary to be within biting distance of a T-Rex, now she’s simply boring. The wisecracking paleo-veterinarian (Daniella Pineda) is boringly cocky; the IT guy (Justice Smith) thrown in for comic relief is boringly craven. Owen comes within inches of gruesome death many times and barely looks challenged, much less worried or terrified.
The baddies, a gang of cruel, greedy, gun-loving, white, male, capitalist creeps, are, meanwhile, so ineptly written and cartoonishly acted that they reminded me of one of Dr. Evil’s boardroom gatherings of cliché villains. One of them even calls one of our gutsy female heroes a “nasty woman.” Another is identified as a representative of Big Pharma. There’s virtue-signaling, and then there’s virtue-shouting-from-the-rooftops. (Speaking of shouting, that’s how a lot of dialogue tends to get delivered, usually lines like “Damn you!” and “Aaaaaah!”)
All of this brainless writing could be forgiven if we got our money’s worth from the dinosaur action. But we don’t. There isn’t a single moment where Bayona, whose previous films include A Monster Calls and The Orphanage, manages to create a sense of real peril around the protagonists. It’s obvious from the opening minutes that he lacks both the wit and the imagination to do anything unexpected with either the brave band of multicultural heroes or their wicked monocultural adversaries. If nothing else, at the moment of truth you know the dinos will simply get distracted or pause to yowl a bit, giving Owen and Co. an opening. Occasionally, the heroes escape because they’re resourceful, but mainly what they have going for them is luck. That, or simple impossibility, such as having a little girl win a footrace with a 40-foot dinosaur. At the climax, the director plagiarizes a key development from an almost identical scene in the original Jurassic Park. Five minutes later, he does the same thing again.
Bayona even manages to waste Jeff Goldblum, who reprises Dr. Ian Malcolm but doesn’t appear with the other characters, instead blathering about chaos theory in a congressional hearing. Bizarrely, the film’s concluding message is that some combination of greed and corrupt politics is responsible for the prospect of dinosaurs escaping into the U.S. Yet it’s environmentalists who make that happen. A more self-aware film would have teased out a truly alarming theme: Those who are loudest about animal rights are often indifferent to human ones.