Everyone loves the part in Jurassic Park where the Tyrannosaurus roars while the WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH banner flaps down to the ground. The Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom filmmakers seem to have been given the mandate to take that moment and make a whole movie out of it.
There are so many predator roars in the franchise’s newest installment that they start to sound like pigeon coos in Central Park. We get bipedal carnivores in at least four sizes, including a genetically-engineered super-beast designed to be sold as a weapon — plus, some of the most intimidating herbivores since Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.
Fallen Kingdom is the second film in what amounts to a Jurassic Park reboot series, although technically it’s a sequel series: the events of the 1993 original loom large in the backstory. Jurassic World (2015) effected some neat twists on that original, positing that the park-in-development had actually become a working attraction, complete with Chris Pratt as a velociraptor trainer and Bryce Dallas Howard as a manager infamously clad in high heels.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow, that film captured at least some of the original’s sense of wonder, with poignant throwbacks to its settings and iconic John Williams music. In Fallen Kingdom, Williams’s elegant theme flits around the edges of Michael Giacchino’s score as though it’s afraid to come out. No wonder: Fallen Kingdom is a relentless parade of dinosaur stalkings, yet that lack of variety makes it ironically far less frightening than the movie Steven Spielberg delivered a quarter-century ago.
There’s no shame in struggling to compete with the resourceful director of Jaws, but the basics here aren’t difficult. Spielberg, for example, might have taken more time than Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona and screenwriters Trevorrow and Derek Connolly introducing us to the geography of the secluded mansion where Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell, shot to look all of his 78 years if not a decade or two more) lives with his granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon).
When dinosaurs inevitably arrive, it produces the film’s most deliciously creepy moment — all the more so for being blessedly understated — but also creates a situation where a little Home Alone spunk would have gone a long way to vary the tone. Instead, we get a shot that calls back to the original film’s dino-stalked children but only serves to remind us of how much less inventive this installment is.
There’s one more big showpiece scene, involving Howard and Pratt escaping a volcanic island. Given that this is the O.G. Jurassic Park going up in smoke, again the filmmakers might have given us a little breathing room to appreciate the lost majesty. Instead, we get a quick chase, a motley stampede that doesn’t so much evoke Jurassic Park as the evacuation scene in Spaceballs, and a quick, cruel moment as the lava spills into the sea.
Lockwood’s scheming major domo (Rafe Spall) has designs to sell the aging Jurassic World stock to fund diabolical experiments in predator engineering. There’s something sadly quaint about the notion that in a world of chemical warfare and nuclear proliferation, a laser-guided (no, really) dinosaur is going to be the superweapon that tips the scales — but don’t expect any such self-awareness here, or any reflection on whether what amounts to a dime-store grab-bag of dinosaurs can really effect the transformation suggested in the film’s final scenes.
About those final scenes: like the film’s first minutes, they feature Jeff Goldblum, testifying before Congress as his character Ian Malcolm. (Also sadly quaint: the suggestion that the G.O.P. of Donald “Space Force” Trump would balk for a moment at the invitation to squander the public purse toting real live dinosaurs across the Pacific.)
Here’s the essential thing to know about Fallen Kingdom if you’re deciding whether or not to go: Goldblum never even gets up from his chair. His role in this film is (in the actor’s own words) “a little sprig of parsley,” despite what the trailers suggest. Maybe he’ll get more screen time in the next installment…and maybe Laura Dern will come back, and maybe we’ll all get a pony to feed to the T-Rex. Not this time, though.