“Jurassic World” is about as plastic as Hollywood blockbusters get; a glossy, lazily meta re-tread of the same one-hit-wonder premise that was sold to the viewing public 25 long years ago. In the annals of franchise reboots, it really is one of the worst. This of course leaves “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” with an extremely low bar to hurdle. Forget the bar set by Steven Spielberg’s original (and his worthy follow-up… yes, you heard right), because expectations for the fifth entry in most franchises really shouldn’t be so high. With that aside, “Fallen Kingdom” is a strange, bewildering hybrid of influences, not unlike the hybrid dinosaurs that have been peddled for two movies now. It goes in some pretty kooky directions, which is more than can be said for its predecessor. Nevertheless, the sequel falls somewhere between frustratingly ridiculous and wildly unremarkable.
The dinosaurs face extinction once again, this time from an erupting volcano on Isla Nublar, where Jurassic World once thrived before the escape of the Indominus Rex led to the destruction and shutdown of the park. (Why the park was built on an island with an active volcano, no one will ever know.) Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) - former park operations manager turned dino-rights activist (*snort*) - recruits dino-trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and a team of mercenaries to return to the island and save the pre-historic animals. There’s little time given to the debate on whether or not the dinosaurs ought to be swallowed by nature’s fury without human intervention, and understandably so. People gotta run, shoot, and jump, while dinos gotta chomp, stomp, munch, and roar… a lot.
“Fallen Kingdom” is just about every ounce as bad as what came before, but what edges it above Colin Trevorrow’s sandbox of re-enactments is its desire to actually be different this time around. This is, in part, thanks to the replacement of Trevorrow with J.A. Bayona in the director’s chair. Bayona’s experience with horror and disaster aid the film in its balls-to-the-wall blending of such distinct genres. Everything the film promises has been made clear in its marketing campaign, but for those of you who are unaware, “Fallen Kingdom” transitions from modern day environmental catastrophe to Gothic creature feature faster than you can say Pachycephalosaurus (packy/sefaluh/saurus).
Bayona embellishes each act with more style than they probably deserve, but it’s nice to see something this trashy treated this well. It’s definitely a better-looking picture than Trevorrow’s, finding Bayona and cinematographer Oscar Faura playing with heavy shadow and flashing lights, which is then accentuated by Michael Giacchino’s ferociously operatic score. CGI remains overused and underused in equal measure, but Faura’s camera aids the dinosaurs - particularly the new hybrid monster, dubbed the Indoraptor - in their intimidating, Gothic presentation. Bayona even finds time for two effective moments of tragedy involving the dinosaurs’ demise, proving that his skills would have been put to better use if the film’s intentions were grimmer, or if the script - penned by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly - made but a lick of sense.
Perhaps I’m being a little too harsh on it. After all, the film features the kind of innocent, imaginative fun my dino-loving, 7-year-old self probably would have loved to see. All the more power to the kids who find enjoyment in seeing dinosaurs auctioned off one by one to the highest bidder, drowning in the ocean after falling off a cliff, or treated like trained wolves (looking at you, “Blue”). I suppose no sequel to “Jurassic Park” should stop after the people-running-away-from-and-being-eaten-by-dinosaurs shtick, but if they continue to be increasingly burdened by thinly-sketched plots and cookie-cutter characters, they will soon cease to be fun at all.