'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' Review: A Desperate Struggle To Capture That 'Jurassic' Magic

When the film he was reviewing would demand it, the late Roger Ebert would retell an old story he'd once heard. It was about a child prodigy, gifted at playing the piano, who was lucky enough to meet one of the old masters to perform. And so he did, skillfully getting every part of a famously tricky composition correct in his performance. When the child finished, the old master patted him on the head and said, "You know the notes. One day, maybe you will know the music."

That's a line that's hard to ignore when watching the chaotic Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the second new film in the franchise that knows the notes without getting any of the music correct. This movie is chock-full of references to Steven Spielberg's modern classic, all of which are simply reminders that this material has been done much better before.

Some cosmetic issues, thankfully, have improved since the 2015 film Jurassic World. This time around, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) doesn't wear high heels and the Fallen Kingdom script, once again by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, doesn't make any dumb jokes about her new footwear. And raptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is less aggressively bro-y now, even as Claire recruits him to go back to Isla Nublar to help rescue the remaining dinosaurs at Jurassic World before they're engulfed by the spewing lava of a very active volcano. Once Owen and Claire return to Isla Nublar, they learn that their mission is just one piece of a larger plot to bring dinosaurs (including a hybrid version of the Indominus Rex and the velociraptor) back to the mainland for — try not to be shocked — nefarious purposes.

There's a new director for Fallen Kingdom: J.A. Bayona, whose best film is still the haunting The Orphanage. When this film's action shifts back to a phenomenally large and cavernous mansion in Northern California, Bayona's able to flaunt his talent behind the camera, staging several action sequences with careful precision. Unquestionably, this is a better directed film than Jurassic World. And that, unfortunately, is where the good news ends, because the script is populated with characters who are irretrievably stupid, even those we're meant to root for.

The basic argument that the characters have is simple: should humans rescue the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar, or let them perish? Claire firmly believes they should be rescued; her reasoning, as explained to an off-screen Congresswoman, is that children shouldn't be forced to both live in a world where dinosaurs exist and one in which humans allow them to become extinct again. If the previous Jurassic Park films have taught us anything, it's that children can live in a world where dinosaurs exist, specifically one in which dinosaurs eat those children, because they're dinosaurs. For a film in which many humans debate whether it's right to let dinosaurs co-exist with the rest of us, this script spends a surprisingly small amount of time wondering what the consequences would be for just letting dinosaurs roam the planet.

Instead, there's plenty of metaphorical mustache-twirling from the various villains, including this entry's version of the big-game hunter, played by Ted Levine. (It's not the fault of Levine, a fine actor, that his character is monstrously idiotic, but by God, what a dunce.) Other new performers, such as Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, and James Cromwell, are saddled with portraying characters with different accents than their own native tongues, which is distracting in just about every scene. Pratt and Howard are enjoyable enough, as are Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith as two younger save-the-dinos types, but every choice made within Connolly and Trevorrow's script is impossible to sidestep. The poor decisions start in the opening scene, in which nameless technicians on the rainy Isla Nublar are attacked by dormant dinos; one technician looks over at a group of mercenaries frantically waving at him to run to them, and all he does is look confused and say, "What? I can't hear you!" And then...well, you can imagine what happens next.

There's a notable cameo in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom courtesy of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm. Among this film's many grievous mistakes, it's that Goldblum is in roughly two minutes, but he gets to pose an important, unanswered question: "How many times must the point be made?" Malcolm asks this in the context of arguing that mankind choosing to revive dinosaurs was, as he once said, the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas.

It is far from the worst idea to make more Jurassic Park movies, but no matter how many callbacks Fallen Kingdom makes to the 1993 original, no matter how many times the film lets a mix of CG and practical dinos attack each other or idiotic humans, it's a poor choice to keep making Jurassic Park movies that feel as soulless as this.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10