Review: 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' drives the franchise into the ground
Universal Pictures, 2018.

The full title of this article should have read: "Drives the franchise into the ground, where it hopefully remains buried for thousands of years," because if  this installment is any indication, that's where this saga belongs. There is no pleasure and it truly hurts to report that "Fallen Kingdom" - the fifth "Jurassic" movie since 1993's game-changing "Jurassic Park" - takes everything that the previous chapter had going for it and drops a massive dino-dump on it. This coming to you from a critic that absolutely loved...LOVED...the Colin Trevorrow-helmed "Jurassic World" film back in 2015 (see the full review of "Jurassic World" here). But where that movie had the perfect mix of ingredients, "Fallen Kingdom" is certain to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Book-ended with a cameo by OG dino-expert Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" takes place some time after the events of the previous film, in a world where people now march the streets in protest for "dinosaur rights." Yes, these monstrosities, brought to life by mostly greedy scientists, are if nothing else alive, so even though dinosaurs are now roaming freely far outside the constructs of the Jurassic World theme park, many people want these beasts saved...the sanctity of life and whatnot. This notion (whether or not dinosaurs should be treated with the same dignity as other "animals") is quickly brushed aside to make room for a shoddy, implausible action flick that is as smart as a T-Rex's arm is long.

Apparently, there was a once-dormant volcano at Jurassic World (was this a missed detail from the last film? Seems weird they'd build such a valuable park on a volcano? Sigh.) and now that it has erupted it has sent the last of the dinosaurs cooped up on the island of Isla Nublar scrambling for the safety of the Americas. Also apparently (despite never being mentioned), the legendary founder of Jurassic Park, Dr. Hammond (played by the late Richard Attenborough) had worked with a close business partner, introduced in this film as the filthy-rich Benjamin Lockwood (James Crowell). Reaching the end of his years, he still enjoys time with his granddaughter Iris (newcomer Isabella Sermon) and he has given over control of his businesses to the shady Eli Mills (Rafe Spall). Eli has plans to extract the DNA from the bones of the Indominus Rex - the big baddie dinosaur from the last film - with the hopes of creating an even more destructive creature: The Indo-Raptor. His end-game? To sell off this and other captured dinosaurs to the highest bidders, who look to...keep them as pets? Take them for long walks? It's never really made clear, other than that it would be bad if this was allowed to happen.

Brought back into the mix is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt), but this time there are much larger problems than just Claire wearing high-heels during key chase sequences (a fact that was lambasted online following the prior movie). The Jurassic films that have worked - namely the original film and "Jurassic World" - have understood that this franchise was meant to be more than just your average blockbuster. Yes, all of them have included iconic moments, PG-13-rated scares, and enough action to get your blood pumping, but they also existed on an intellectual plane: The age-old "man vs. beast" struggle and the pitfalls of man playing God with human nature. Even the pitfalls of how technology can be a blessing AND a curse, borders more in the realm of science-fiction than it does "action-thriller." The good Jurassic films were hugely successful because of their abilities to operate on all of these different intellectual levels...leave the mindless stuff for the Transformers.

But "Fallen Kingdom" seems proud to be low-brow. It's so "dumbed-down" for audiences though that it's insulting to anyone with a functioning brain.  Sure, we don't buy a ticket for "Jurassic World" expecting Oscar-worthy performances or flawless continuity, but can someone at least not have our characters appear bone-dry the very next scene after we see them completely submerged under-water? We know the bad guys were looking to get their hands on the Indo-DNA, but...huh?...in a matter of a few "movie hours" they can go from having a fossil to there being a fully-grown and functional Indo-Raptor? Is there some sort of super-microwave you can just toss DNA into, hit defrost, and then a fully-cooked dinosaur will pop out? And yes we've established that the Lockwood estate is massive, but is there really a huge auction room located in the basement, complete with a runway, meant as a means to sell off these animals to the black market? Isn't Lockwood a "good guy" and it's only his recently-appointed employee Eli who had these dastardly plans? What, was Lockwood not aware this guy built an auction hall in his basement? Yeesh. And for Exhibit Z, apparently all computers in the Jurassic franchise have been equipped with the laughable on-screen "simplify everything for dumb people" notifications...you know, how in movies the computer screens give us plot details like a big graphic that says "Transferring files - 60%" or "Bomb Exploding in 3...2...1..."  Trust me folks, this isn't by accident...these filmmakers (or those that they answer to) feel the need to include crap like this because they're afraid you won't be able to follow the plot otherwise.

As for the action, it isn't all that exciting on its own. Despite the dinosaurs being freed from their island of origin, things have never felt so claustrophobic and...small...within this Jurassic Universe. There are scenes where they battle a T-Rex inside of a truck, or they try to escape an underwater pod that just flew off a cliff...like the film itself, everything just feels constrained. There's also more than a few cliched callbacks to the original films with dinosaurs roaring into the night sky or having them slowly lurk around a nearby corner. For this being a Jurassic "World," almost all of the action was disappointingly tiny in scope.

No, this isn't being nit-picky, this is asking for filmmakers across the spectrum - from indy films to mega-blockbusters - to stop condescending to the movie-going audience. "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is the latest, greatest example of Hollywood believing that we, the audience, will consuming anything. They may be right. But long-time fans of "Jurassic Park," who adored the nostalgic tie-ins that existed in "Jurassic World," should feel extremely leery about the future of this franchise now, when as recently as 2015 it seemed like the Jurassic franchise might have new life.

Well, be careful what you wish for, because once things are alive they can go in unexpected directions. The magic that existed behind those massive doors of the original park are completely gone, and "Fallen Kingdom" is a cheap clone. And if there's anything we've learned from "Jurassic Park," it's that sometimes things are better off dead.

Grade: D+

Rated PG-13. 
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Run Time: 2 hours and 8 minutes. 
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Jeff Goldblum, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Isabella Sermon.
Directed by J.A. Bayona ("A Monster Calls," "The Impossible," "The Orphanage").