Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom valiantly tries to flip the script on its predecessors formula of sprawling, jungle survival infused sci-fi adventure by condensing the traditional monster-infested horror show down into what is almost a gothic horror bottle movie. The tagline of the movie is "the park is gone," and that's literally true -- the park featured in 2015's Jurassic World is legitimately out of the picture and, in its place, we're left with a dinosaur catastrophe unfolding within the walls of an old money mansion with nary a palm tree or a waterfall in sight.
In theory, it's a noble attempt at breathing fresh life into the franchise as it nears its third decade -- but in practice? It's clumsy, confusing flop of an idea in which the dinosaurs themselves feel like an afterthought.
The park itself does make an appearance. We learn immediately that the island the park used to be on is volcanic and due to erupt at any minute -- a problem for the surviving dinosaurs who have become a hot-button animals rights issue. Do we save animals we created from an extinction event? Or do we leave them to die? Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is very much in the former camp, despite her horrific experiences in the first film, and is now running a political lobby to get funding to save the creatures she used to manage before time runs out. This is how Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) comes into the picture -- he's in charge of the estate of Sir Benjamin Lockwood, ex-partner of Jurassic Park legend John Hammond, and wants to hire Claire alongside raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to return to the island to save what species they can.
Predictably, that's not exactly how things go. After no short amount of double crossing, nefarious plan revealing and near-death experiences on a volcanic dinosaur-infested island, we're launched right back into what amounts to a total rehash of the 2015 movie's plot. Someone wants to weaponize the dinosaurs, someone else wants to make money off of genetic engineering, and the questions of ethics and animal rights that were poked at in the start of the story are all but tossed by the wayside in favor of more of the same. The Jurassic World franchise is apparently populated by more mustache-twirling megalomaniacs looking to cash in on genetically engineered dinos than it is dinosaurs themselves.
As things get more and more claustrophobic while the setting shifts from island to mansion, the dinosaurs themselves become less and less considered as anything more than background noise in favor of the movie's main monster: a new iteration on Jurassic World's "Indominus rex," a weaponized raptor-hybrid called the "Indoraptor." The Indoraptor comes with a laundry list of lethal traits -- heightened sense of smell, killer instinct, tracking, you name it -- though none of these particular breed-in skills are all that evident as it terrorizes the mansion. By the second and third acts, Fallen Kingdom feels more like a landlocked Aliens entry populated by one very clumsy Xenomorph alien than it does a movie about miraculous dinosaurs living among us.
It's obvious that director J.A. Bayona wanted to evoke horror classics like Nosferatu when crafting the major moments of tension but, unfortunately, those stabs at homage and reference continually fall flat in the face of the larger-than-life proportions the Jurassic Park franchise innately aspires to. Charming new characters like Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), a nerdy systems analyst caught in the middle of everything, and Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a tough paleo-veterinarian, are almost immediately sidelined as things try harder and harder to achieve the looming gothic horror it wants but never actually reaches.
The end results are unsatisfying to say the least, muddled at best and egregious at worst, especially as it tries to circle back around to the ethics and animal rights questions at the end. By the time the credits roll, it feels like Fallen Kingdom has really no idea what it wanted to say or what it wanted to prove -- it just wanted to terrorize some action heroes with a monster in a mansion for an hour or so, which winds up being a lot more boring than it sounds.
Directed by J.A. Bayona, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is scheduled for release on June 22.