Forty-three years after the launch of his blockbuster shark flick, Steven Spielberg's now-patented Spielbergian thrill ride is still all about the jaws. In the latest chapter of his dinosaur-themed franchise, director J.A. Bayona skillfully clones Spielberg through well-choreographed action and witty visual touches. Now if only he had a script worthy of his talents ...
"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" picks up three years after 2015's "Jurassic World." Isla Nublar's volcano has awoken, and thus dinosaurs have become endangered species again. History repeats itself in another respect when Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the disaster site of "Jurassic World" in a pretty clearly misguided effort to save the dinosaurs (Jeff Goldblum returns to the franchise for a voice-of-reason cameo).
When the characters aren't literally popping back up (like Pratt, Howard, Goldblum, and B.D. Wong as a mercenary geneticist), new ones lazily retread familiar types (the always terrific Ted Levine as a militaristic "great white hunter" who's called as such, and James Cromwell as a knockoff of Sir Richard Attenborough's departed John Hammond). Likewise, in what starts to feel like a "meta" running joke (or admission of creative exhaustion), the characters keep stumbling upon the leftovers of the earlier films, whether they be abandoned buildings or vehicles.
The dialogue proves equally obvious, with lines like "You can't just run away from everything, Owen" (eye roll) and "Save the dinosaurs from an island that's about to explode? What could go wrong?" (face palm). "Fallen Kingdom" practically writes itself, with its kid in peril (the Cromwell character's daughter, with a backstory you literally won't believe) and a pair of twenty-somethings to flip the gender script: a sassy female scientist/Marine who shows no fear (Oakland native Danielle Pineda) and a skittish male IT guy who can't stop screaming (Justice Smith). With a cast of caricatures -- and Pratt and Howard playing little more than flirty action figures -- the picture wears out its welcome by its second act.
And that's really too bad, because Bayona remains an enormously talented director. The picture opens on a series of unexpected and striking images that reach an action-horror crescendo by the title card, and the story's first act, if largely old hat, fires up enough big spectacle and hurtles along with enough of a cliffhanger that the audience is having too much fun to care whether they've literally been here before. But once the story transitions to the turf of the bad guys (Rafe Spall and Toby Jones), the fun largely leeches out of the picture, and the mind wanders.
The "Jurassic" movies always test logic and common sense, and "Fallen Kingdom" is no exception, with its dubious if novel dinosaur trafficking subplot and a crazy wrapup that vigorously points at a sequel (with enough of a big idea, however loony, that it could hit a sweet spot of dumb fun). Meantime, I'd advise setting your sights as low as a wide-eyed kid. That's a target audience seldom disappointed by this constantly resetting of running-from-dinos game.