Sometimes you get to be so good at something that you forget what got you there in the first place. The Jurassic Park series is the eleventh-biggest box office draw of all time (though, frankly, it’s only batting .500—the second and third films could be expunged from the series without even causing a hiccup), and it’s obviously all about the dinosaurs. Who among us doesn’t remember those first images of a brontosaurus grazing in 1993’s Jurassic Park? Twenty-two years later, Jurassic World featured them rampaging, chasing, and terrorizing theme park visitors. Plus we got the bonus of an all-new dino, the Indominus Rex. And the all-time best death-by-dino sequence.
So why, half-way through Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, do the dinosaurs go the way of—well, the dinosaur? Yes they’re physically there, but save for a couple, they’re all sleeping, sedated, or trapped in cages. And it’s then that we realize the series may have lost its teeth. Director J. A. Bayona (The Impossible) does wonders with what he’s given, but that isn’t much, and it makes Fallen Kingdomone of those movies that feels thrilling and exciting in the moment, only to disintegrate when you take a second to reflect on what you’ve just seen.
Bryce Dallas Howard returns as dino-lover Claire, now leading a non-profit group to rescue the de-extinct residents of Isla Nublar from an impending volcano. She recruits Owen (Chris Pratt) to return to the island, under the auspices of transferring the creatures to a nearby sanctuary owned by gazillionaire Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), the late John Hammond’s old business partner. Lockwood’s slimy financial advisor Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), however, has other plans—he’s hosting an auction to sell the dinos to a group of the world’s worst people, and he’s using a cadre of mercenaries to carry out his dastardly plan. Heavens, what could go wrong?
The first half of the film, as Owen, Claire, nebbish computer whiz Franklin (a hilarious Justice Smith) and dino-vet Zia (Daniella Pineda) battle the elements and the dinosaurs on the island, is classic Jurassic stuff, and there are plenty of call-backs to Jurassic World, as the dilapidated, long-abandoned park serves as the backdrop. Heck, Claire even wears sensible shoes!
And then, just as all hell is breaking loose and we’re clawing our armrests in the throes of dino-fueled fury, the brakes screech, the record skips, and the rest of the film plods along in and around Lockwood’s palatial estate, where most of the dinosaurs are either caged, tranquilized, or both. Yes, the new, genetically-engineered Indo-Raptor has a bit of a field day causing some carnage, but the running-from-dinos-in-the-wild feel has evaporated.
Much of how you end up feeling about Fallen Kingdom, however, depends on where you land in the whole “Should we save them?” debate. The script by Jurassic World screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow leans heavily on the idea that these dinosaurs are living creatures worthy of protection and being allowed to freely roam the earth. Agree, and you’ll cheer along throughout. If, however, you’re firmly in the camp that these things are man-made, unnatural creations that drop humans a rung or two on the food chain, you may find yourself yelling at the screen early and often.
No matter what, make sure to stick around through the credits for a brief scene that sets up what looks to be a welcome return to the glory days of the Jurassicseries, and then hold on until the summer of 2021.