Jurassic World isn't what I'd call a great movie, but it's a dumb and earnest movie that knows how to sell the idea of revived dinosaurs in a way that at least feels reminiscent of Steven Spielberg's original Park, even if it never quite finds its own coherent identity in all its mess of spectacle. It's a film that is slight and goofy but knows the inherent and visceral appeal of watching dinosaurs attack humans, and even though I wasn't exactly expecting an elevation from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and new director J.A. Bayona, I held out hope that the sequel could play into the strengths of the first Jurassic World while maybe having a bit more of a vision for what the World films are meant to be. But as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I gotta tell you folks: Fallen Kingdom is bad. It's really bad. And some of you are going to love it.
The first and biggest problem is with the film's plotting. It opens with Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) repurposed as a dinosaur rights activist – for… reasons – hoping to save the remaining dinosaurs trapped on Isla Nublar from a volcano that has turned newly active because… reasons. Claire is recruited at the behest of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond's research partner (who has thus far been unmentioned in this franchise because… reasons), to help track down Blue the Velociraptor in an effort to transport her and other dinosaurs to a new island habitat. Claire knows she can't do it alone, so she reunites with Owen (Chris Pratt), appealing to his paternal relationship with the raptor even as he has reservations about allowing the dinos to live because… reasons.
If you've seen Fallen Kingdom's trailers, you probably noticed that there are at least two different plots being sold here, with the volcano only acting as the first, and there's at least one more half-baked story idea floating around in the middle of this for a total of what could very well have been three entirely different films if they had been given the room to breathe and develop. This narrative chaos is presented entirely straight, with Act One representing a survivalist wilderness adventure with the volcano acting as a ticking clock, Act Two shifting into a screed against animal poaching and weaponization, and Act Three turning full monster-in-the-house horror movie with the new genetic cocktail of the Indoraptor, which gets out for… reasons. This causes the film's tone to bounce all over the place, at times expecting us to fear the dinosaurs and their horrific majesty, while at other times treating them as a tortured allegory for animal rights and environmentalism that falls apart under the barest scrutiny. Any of these premises might not have made for a smart film, but they would have at least made for a more consistent one if explored for an entire feature runtime; instead Fallen Kingdom feels like a highlight reel of films that might have been, trading on minutiae of Jurassic Park iconography that has been milked so severely at this point that there's no nostalgia left in the udder.
These contrived and jarring shifts in plot and tone also completely trample any semblance of dimension in our main cast. Howard and Pratt might as well be playing completely different characters for how much their personalities resemble the already-thin personas they embodied in the previous film, and new additions Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda exist as alternate comic relief and plot utility, but they slip in and out of the plot whenever is convenient and never really land those joke lines in a satisfying way. Rafe Spall chews scenery as Lockwood's right-hand man purely because the plot necessitates someone acting the part of the greedy industrialist in a Jurassic film, and Isabella Sermon plays Lockwood's granddaughter only to serve a pointless plot twist that adds nothing to the narrative because… plot twist. In fact, the only character that appears to have a complete and not entirely contrived arc is, hilariously enough, Blue the Raptor, who learns to trust Owen again because… you get the idea.
All this idiocy is a real shame, too, because J.A. Bayona demonstrates himself to be a totally solid director of dino action. Even when the beats are silly and don't make much sense in terms of scale or causality, he has a mastery of the visceral thrill of watching massive predators duke it out, or the creepy presence of a monster stalking a kid through the dark, or the silly cuteness of a little bone-headed dinosaur unwittingly helping our heroes fight back against the villains. It's these moments that might almost trick one into thinking they're watching a good movie, but then the action ends and another long stretch of dull contrivances pad out the runtime until the next all-too-brief setpiece.
Those moments might be enough for some people, as might the moments of unintentional comedy that occasionally spring up when the film reaches the heights of its preachiness. But those moments of joy are too few and far between to justify the mess of a screenplay that holds them together, acting as neither dumb spectacular fun or as a film so bafflingly bad that it loops back around into schlocky greatness. I would love to turn off the part of my brain that notices tedium and cynicism in filmmaking, but Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom just doesn't give me enough… well, reasons.