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‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ can’t get up

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As the Hollywood landscape has evolved and shifted in recent years, moving toward a model built on a foundation of franchise, of sequels and prequels and cinematic universes, one finds oneself asking: when is enough enough? Where is the line that, when crossed, leaves a franchise bereft of quantity even as quantity marches on? When does the downward spiral begin in earnest?

It’s usually pretty tough to spot, but in the case of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” it’s pretty clear. This is one franchise that has officially jumped the shark. Or dinosaur. Whatever.

This second offering in the new sequence and the fifth in the series overall, “Fallen Kingdom” succumbs to every stumbling block inherent to franchise development. The story is thinner, the characters are less engaging and the action is so-so. Sure, it’s cool to see dinosaurs doing dinosaur stuff – I’m not made of stone – but we’ve been getting these movies for a quarter-century now. Just showing me a T-Rex doesn’t cut it anymore.

“Fallen Kingdom” picks up approximately three years after the events of “Jurassic World.” The dinosaur population on the island of Isla Nubar is in danger; the long-dormant volcano at the center of the island has become active. It’s going to erupt and kill every last remaining dinosaur on Earth.

But there are people who want to save them. Wealthy people like Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell, “Marshall”), who played a major role in the original Jurassic Park cloning. He wants to move the dinosaurs to a sanctuary island, but he can’t do it alone. He tasks the head of his foundation Eli Mills (Rafe Spall, “The Ritual”) to put together a team.

Said team includes people who know the island well – namely Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, “Gold”) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, “Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet”), who have been taken in very different directions by what happened to them previously; Clair runs a non-profit aimed at dinosaur rescue, while Owen has removed himself to the wilderness.

Along with Claire’s IT guy Franklin (Justice Smith, TV’s “The Get Down”) and a paleoveterinarian named Zia (Daniella Pineda, TV’s “The Detour”), Claire and Owen make their way to Isla Nubar to help with the relocation. Claire still has access to the island’s tracking systems, while Owen has been recruited so that they might have a chance at capturing Blue, the velociraptor that Owen trained.

It isn’t long before Claire and Owen discover that the mission isn’t at all what they were led to believe. There are sinister machinations afoot, involving unexpectedly untrustworthy supposed friends and an oily underworld type named Eversol (Toby Jones, “The Snowman”) whose clientele would be VERY interested in purchasing dinosaurs for various nefarious purposes.

Claire and Owen and the rest are left to try and save the dinosaurs while also saving those who might get hurt – including Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon in her feature debut), whose knowledge of what’s actually happening has put her in grave danger.

(You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned Jeff Goldblum yet. “Hey Allen, I heard that Jeff Goldblum is in this one, reprising his role as smolderingly sexy chaos theorist Ian Malcolm. Why haven’t you talked about that?” I’ll tell you why – because it’s a filthy Goldblum bait-and-switch. He’s in the movie, sure – testifying in some sort of Congressional hearing about why dinosaurs are going to kick our asses or whatever at the very beginning and very end of the movie. He’s a framing device and I feel tricked and angry.)

“Fallen Kingdom” is disappointing on a number of levels. I’ll be the first to admit that “Jurassic World” wasn’t a great movie, even though I enjoyed it. I had a great time, but there’s no doubt that I was going to need more from the sequel – and I did not get it. Didn’t get anything close.

Director J.A. Bayona is a weird choice for this movie, but he does a decent enough job. He’s competent. Unfortunately, the screenplay – co-written Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow – is not. It’s an artless jumble, sporting a threadbare narrative while lacking the charm necessary to let us forgive said thinness. There are multiple moments that are structured like jokes, delivered like jokes … but aren’t jokes. It’s weirdly jarring. Character arcs and motivations are nonsensical; I don’t need Chekhov, but people should at least behave like humans.

The effects work is meh; a movie like this one really has to hit a home run in the CGI arena. That’s what people are coming for; you have to get the dinosaurs just right … and this movie doesn’t. They’re fine, but false – spiritless and flat. You had one job, “Fallen Kingdom” – cool dinosaurs – and you failed.

I actually like both Howard and Pratt very much as performers, but they just aren’t that interesting here. Considering their considerable talent, it’s remarkable how little chemistry they manage to generate. Their performances feel listless and dull. Everyone else’s feel the same, really – Smith and Pineda try a little harder, but to no avail. The performances are as uninteresting as the rest of it.

“Fallen Kingdom” is the entry that drops the “Jurassic Park” franchise down into the “Transformers” cinematic slums. It’ll make a ton of money and earn more installments, but deep down, we’ll all know that it’s garbage. Garbage with dinosaurs and explosions, but garbage nonetheless.

This franchise has fallen … and it won’t get up.

[1.5 out of 5]

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