The best thing “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” has going for it is director J.A. Bayona, who takes a mediocre script by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow and directs the living daylights out of it. This installment may have merely shallow ideas, but it’s easy to be distracted in the moment by the verve and style “The Orphanage” auteur brings to the beloved dino franchise. It just won’t stick with you the second you leave the theater.
The story of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is transitory and transitional. It merely serves to explain just how and why genetically engineered dinosaurs make it from point A to point B, wherein point B serves as the jumping-off point for the inevitable and forthcoming “Jurassic World 3.” Along the way, Connolly and Trevorrow throw in some commentary about the ways in which dinosaurs are exploited for money, as if the commercial value of the creatures wasn’t totally obvious within the theme parks they so frequently destroy. The secret economies of arms dealers and shady pharmaceutical practices aren’t quite a revelation in that context, and while the film hints at larger, edgier ideas, it never truly goes there.
But in terms of classic action adventure, Bayona delivers. There are moments that reference classical Hollywood cinema, and glowing, sumptuous close-ups of our hero and heroine, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). The two are a lot like the dinosaurs in that they’ve evolved rapidly from one film to the next. Owen has softened and is more empathetic and protective (a lot like his favorite velociraptor, Blue), while Claire has turned from uptight corporate flack to strong, capable, dino-protecting activist. We can tell she’s evolved through her footwear — sturdy knee-high boots rather than impractical high heels. However, as fierce as they are, the chemistry between them is slightly dulled without the love/hate crackle they had in “Jurassic World.”
The cast does feel a bit scanty. Owen and Claire take only a vet, Zia (Daniella Pineda), and a techie, Franklin (Justice Smith), on a Noah’s Ark mission to help rescue several species of dinosaurs from Isla Nublar, where a gurgling volcano is threatening to wipe out all dinosaur life as we know it. They’re there at the behest of Eli (Rafe Spall), a representative of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former partner of dino DNA pioneer Jon Hammond, and they promise the dinosaurs will be transported to a sanctuary.
The film culminates in a showdown at the Lockwood estate, where Bayona’s talents truly shine. After disrupting a secretive, high-stakes dinosaur auction, the crew squares off with the Indoraptor, a genetically engineered killing machine with a golden stripe and spikes, which is sold to the highest Russian bidder. If “Jurassic Park” is “Jaws” with dinosaurs, Bayona puts his own spin on it, turning the film into a gothic haunted house horror film with dinosaurs.
Ultimately, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” wants to play with ideas of empathy, freedom and the ways in which those values get subsumed by commercialism. But rather than offer an answer or compelling message, it simply, dumbly just presents the question. That’s not enough. With charming lead actors and a talented director, “Fallen Kingdom” squeaks by, but with its thin story, it feels less like a film that stands on its own and more like a stand-in to hold us over until the next one.
‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith.
Rated: PG-13 Grade: B-
Running time: 128 minutes