[This story contains spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.]
A sequel to Jurassic World feels like it should be a sure bet for Universal. The 2015 film was a massive hit at the box office, enough so that the studio has already announced a third film in the franchise, slated for 2021. One of its stars, Chris Pratt, is arguably one of the biggest names in Hollywood at the moment thanks to being one of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. And people remain fully in love with the Jurassic Park franchise as a whole. But Jurassic World was not without its criticisms, and there was some hope among fans of the 1993 original that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom might represent a step up from its predecessor with new director J.A. Bayona. The good news is that Bayona’s presence is an improvement; the bad news is that not much else has changed.
Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly wrote the script for Fallen Kingdom, and it sadly shows. The setup here is simple enough: Three years after the chaos of Jurassic World, the remaining dinosaurs on Isla Nublar are in danger of becoming extinct due to the presence of an active, lava-spewing volcano. Former Jurassic World honcho Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to save the last dinosaurs, and is tasked by John Hammond’s old partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to rescue the velociraptor Blue, with the help of Blue’s wrangler Owen Grady (Pratt). However, Claire and Owen realize after it’s too late that Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), a ruthless industrialist working for Lockwood, is trying to sell the remaining dinosaurs to cut a massive profit.
Admittedly, some aspects of the script for Fallen Kingdom feel like necessary and welcome course-correction. It is to this film’s credit that A) Claire doesn’t wear high heels, and B) outside of an introductory shot that begins at Claire’s feet (she’s wearing flats), it never comments on her footwear. Owen is also slightly less of a forcibly masculine type in this sequel; again, it also helps that Claire no longer seems like a damsel in distress who’s woefully out of her depth when faced with death-defying scenarios. Pratt and Howard are reasonably charming to watch, more so than in the original. But the movie surrounding them, and the plenty talented cast, is often riddled with stupid character choices that feel less like natural reactions these people might make as much as decisions the writers force them to make so we can get another dino-styled action sequence.
Here’s one painful example: Mills has hired some mercenaries, led by the gruff Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), to accompany Claire and Owen on the island. Once our heroes realize that something cruel is afoot, it’s because Wheatley reveals his true, evil colors. (At one point, he dubs one of the female characters “a nasty woman,” because that is the kind of tin-eared humor you will find in this film. Fair warning.) Eventually, the volcano on Isla Nublar erupts, but Wheatley and his men are able to take back 11 species of dinosaurs to Northern California, where they’re auctioned off to the highest bidder. All goes haywire once the auctioneer unveils a brand-new hybrid dinosaur called the Indoraptor, a heartless, murderous beast.
But even after the auction has been vacated, the Indoraptor has been left behind; all the better for good old Wheatley, who wants both a bonus for bringing Blue back to the mainland and a new dinosaur tooth for his big-game necklace he totes around like a trophy. So, Wheatley tries to sedate the Indoraptor and perform some light dental surgery. He only learns too late, in very violent fashion, that the Indoraptor is not only very smart, but able to withstand a mild sedative. If only poor Ken had resisted the urge to collect a bonus from his boss after dinosaurs started attacking humans, and also tried not to yank out a dinosaur’s tooth after walking into said dinosaur’s cage.
Honestly, there’s a lot of head-scratching decision-making all throughout Fallen Kingdom. It’s the same frustrating idiocy that marked both Jurassic World and the second Jurassic Park film, 1997’s The Lost World. That movie, at least, had the presence of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm (he makes an all-too-brief cameo here), vocally pointing out how painfully stupid everyone around him was. It didn’t make the stupidity go away, but it helped that at least one character knew what was up. Here, even Claire and Owen — neither of whom seem terribly concerned about the dangers of bringing dinosaurs to the mainland — fall under the spell of stupidity. A talented ensemble and director can’t help correct the course too much for Fallen Kingdom, a movie that falls prey to the old line from the first Jurassic Park: They were too preoccupied with whether or not they could, so they didn’t stop to think if they should.