Oh, the halcyon days of 1993. When Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park opened, the massively popular adaptation of Michael Crichton’s speculative science-fiction best-seller featured visual effects that truly dazzled. Ironic, considering it was barely the beginning of the CGI revolution that’s long since overtaken cinemas. Who wasn’t awed by the first glimpse of the towering, majestic Brachiosaurus, or terrified at the slow reveals of the Tyrannosaurus rex or, especially, the pack-hunting velociraptors? Not only were dinosaurs resurrected within Crichton and Spielberg’s thrilling work of filmed fiction, but these creatures felt tangibly alive. It was as if the species that had been extinct for 65 million years were now suddenly walking among us—as real as the person wincing in pain beside us as we dug our fingernails into their arm. In other words, Jurassic Park was something special. But after 25 years and four sequels, the magic is gone.
The CGI overkill in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a convoluted mess of a film from director J.A. Bayona (2016’s A Monster Calls), makes nearly everything look artificial, from the once-thundering lizards to the gothic wooded mansion where the third act inexplicably takes place. But before that unfortunate bit of business, Jurassic World’s stiletto-wearing Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Raptor-training Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) are recruited for a return trip to Isla Nublar, where the dinosaurs’ longtime sanctuary is about to be destroyed by a heretofore unmentioned volcano, which conveniently explodes within hours of our heroes’ arrival. Claire and Owen’s mission is to extract as many species as possible before the creatures meet their second extinction, during an expedition that’s being paid for by ailing nonagenarian Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of Jurassic Park’s late founder, John Hammond. And yes, Lockwood is new to this series, just like the volcano and this ridiculous movie’s genetically engineered new super-predator, the Indoraptor, which has been cloned inside a secret lab whose location doesn’t seem to make a lick of sense. But then, very little in this overplotted nightmare seems to hold up to even a modicum of scrutiny—and I haven’t even mentioned the most egregious howlers, the worst of which involves a late-movie revelation surrounding the identity of Maisie (newcomer Isabella Sermon), a young girl who joins a long lineage of this series’ Children in Peril.
Another callback comes when Jeff Goldblum turns up in a glorified cameo as Dr. Ian Malcolm, his fan-favorite character from the first two, Spielberg-directed installments. But his appearance has a sketched-in quality, as if gaps in Malcolm’s gene sequence were filled in by another species’ DNA—or the screenwriters have no idea what to do with him. And that just about sums up the film’s main problem: As scripted by Jurassic World’s director, Colin Trevorrow, and that 2015 picture’s co-writer, Derek Connolly, Fallen Kingdom is a sequel to a reboot. What’s missing, mainly, is Spielberg’s sense of wonder, replaced by hoary sights such as a raptor knowingly outrunning an explosion. For some audiences, this will be enough. And for them, there’s another sequel on the way. (At Assembly Row, Boston Common, Fenway, Seaport, South Bay and in the suburbs.)