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MOVIES: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - Review

2015's Jurassic World managed to revive the flagging dinosaur-themed franchise in a massive way, grossing more than $1.6 billion across the globe and ensuring that moviegoing audiences hadn't seen the last of these prehistoric creatures. Three years later, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom aims to continue that magic, but while the film is all but destined to terrorize the box office this weekend, audiences hoping for the same blend of nostalgia and innovation are likely in for some dino-sized disappointment.

After the events of the previous film, the park's former inhabitants have roamed free across the entire expanse of Isla Nublar. But the dormant volcano has recently awakened and a catastrophic eruption seems imminent, which with the potential to destroy all life on the island and once again resign the dinosaurs to the pages of history. This is a major event, one that sparks a Congressional hearing with testimony from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, delivering a pair of monologues for what I'm certain was a colossal paycheck) for reasons that are never explained.

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) are sent back to the island at the behest of a wealthy benefactor (James Cromwell), with designs on rescuing as many of the dinosaurs as possible and relocating them to a sanctuary where they'll continue to live in peace. On its face, this sounds like an interesting idea for a sequel, with a number of directions the narrative could be taken - but alas, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has much bigger (and much dumber) aspirations, and shortly after our heroes arrive on the island, flanked by paleo-veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda), socially awkward tech guru Franklin (Justice Smith) and square-jawed military man Wheatley (Ted Levine), things begin to fall apart.

The eruption of Isla Nublar's volcano and the subsequent escape from the island are the film's best action sequence, and director J.A Bayona deserves all the credit in the world for some thrilling visuals here, not to mention a heartbreaking final look at the shoreline from aboard a cargo ship. But this peak comes far too early in the film, and the remaining 90 minutes of Fallen Kingdom feels cramped and claustrophobic, partly because it takes place almost entirely inside the aforementioned billionaire's mansion, and partly because the script is overstuffed with half-baked ideas that crumble amid the slightest bit of scrutiny. There are also a number of "twists" or "surprises" that land with no discernible impact, including one major reveal in the third act that elicited guffaws of laughter from more than one member of my screening audience.

Despite a marked improvement in visuals over its predecessor - seriously, the dinosaurs look spectacular in nearly every shot - Fallen Kingdom offers nothing close to the same level of entertainment. It's an offensively stupid film packed with too many undeveloped ideas, too many genetically-enhanced dinosaurs (seriously, didn't we get enough of this in the last film?), and too many characters that behave in ways that defy logic or reason. Pratt and Howard are about as good as can be expected, but their combined talents are no match for this paper-thin, contradiction-laden narrative.

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