To the creators of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I offer words of wisdom uttered 25 years ago by the legendary Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a character in both this film and the 1993 original. “You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now, you’re selling it,” Malcolm rants, furious at the park’s tawdry use of its incredible dinosaur-cloning technology.
How else to describe the Jurassic World trilogy, which began in 2015 with Colin Trevorrow’s reboot/sequel and is continued here by J.A. Bayona (Trevorrow, with his collaborator Derek Connolly, wrote the script). These are men standing on the shoulders of geniuses (namely, Steven Spielberg) and selling a half-baked cash-grab—an echo of a blockbuster that packs in the requisite sights, scares, and thrills, but has no real reason to exist. Bayona, the Spanish director who first emerged with his terrific horror film The Orphanage, does his best to inject some more intimate action into a series that usually operates on an epic scale, but he’s working with too absurd a plot for his craft to really matter.
The film begins with the surprising revelation that the volcano on Isla Nublar, the Costa Rican island on which multiple dinosaur theme parks (first Jurassic Park, then Jurassic World) were constructed and abandoned, is about to explode. Good news, says Ian Malcolm, testifying before Congress—let nature take its course and return these beasts to their correct state of extinction. If only Fallen Kingdom were a short film, five minutes long, in which Malcolm (who tangled with these creatures twice already, barely escaping with his life both times) finally gets his way.
But no, every Jurassic Park sequel requires that humans ignore logic and try to get as close to the sharp-toothed dinos as possible, despite reams of evidence that it’s a good way to get yourself killed. Trevorrow and Connolly’s script deals with the ridiculousness of that choice by having heroes Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) decide to return to the island as quickly as possible. For Claire, going back to Isla Nublar is a form of activism, rescuing these species for what she thinks is an animal sanctuary sponsored by businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). For Owen, it’s a chance to reunite with his favorite Velociraptor, Blue, whom he helped train from birth.
If you don’t remember any of this from Jurassic World, you’d be forgiven—Trevorrow’s 2015 film was a huge box-office hit but a very disposable one, a reboot of Spielberg’s classic with none of the real danger. It was set in a functioning park, with friendly raptors and vertically integrated branding. Yes, everything eventually went wrong, but the park’s failure felt less like a Promethean punishment and more like a symptom of brand overreach. Jurassic World ended in calamity not because humans dared create life, but because they dared create sequels, in a sense, cross-breeding dinosaurs to make even scarier hybrid predators.
The first half of Fallen Kingdom is set on the island amid total anarchy, tapping into Bayona’s skill for directing chaotic, large-scale tragedy (he was also behind the tsunami disaster film The Impossible). Mills’s proposed sanctuary is, of course, a smokescreen, and the usual callous paramilitary villains abound, rounding up dinos to be sold for nefarious purposes (Ted Levine plays the nasty-in-chief). It’s hard to watch the destruction without marveling at how spectacularly stupid Owen and Claire were for returning to Isla Nubar in the first place, but the cataclysm at least unfolds pretty quickly, serving as a rote setup for the film’s more interesting back half.
The rest of the movie is set entirely within a giant mansion, a cloning facility where captured dinos are sold off to the highest bidder. Here, I thought, Bayona might finally have some fun—The Orphanage is an excellent haunted-house film, after all, and the antagonist here is a hybrid creature called an Indoraptor, a particularly stealthy and ruthless beast. There are definitely some moments of monster-movie showmanship that had me smiling, particularly the King Kong–esque uber-capitalistic carnage of the auction.
But too often, Fallen Kingdom gets hamstrung by its muddled larger message. These creatures are single-minded, cold-blooded killers, but they’re also sometimes presented as sweet, harmless animals worthy of protection. Leaving them all in a sanctuary is brought up as the ideal solution, but that’s basically how the original Jurassic Park series left the dinosaurs—running wild in their own “Lost World,” a concept Jurassic World totally undid. As Fallen Kingdom rushes toward its conclusion, it becomes clear that it’s just putting things in place for an already greenlit sequel (to be directed by Trevorrow), where the aforementioned brand overreach will be complete at last. The viewer might be left with a few decent frights, but at this point, the mortal terror of Spielberg’s original film has been diminished beyond repair.