Plenty of CGI. Plot? Not so much.

I still remember—and probably always will—the first time I saw the original Jurassic Park, as directed by Steven Spielberg in 1993. Few other experiences have matched the visceral thrill of first seeing a realistic-looking dinosaur (a brachiosaurus, incidentally) on the big screen. Better yet, cinematic showman Spielberg tantalized the viewer by withholding that first view until nearly 15 minutes into the movie.

Of course, that was 25 years ago, and clever filmmakers have used always-improving CGI technology to create all manner of fantastic beasts and unearthly vistas in our films. To keep the crowds coming, they continue to up the ante: bigger dinos, more dinos, more fearsome hybrid dinos. Sad to say that the storytelling in this Jurassic Park franchise has not kept pace with the computerized effects. In fact, it has been left in the dino dust. Although Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth entry in the saurian saga, is admittedly visually extraordinary, its paint-by-the-numbers plot painfully disappoints.

Three years after Jurassic World, with its theme park now shuttered, a newly active volcano threatens to wipe out the dinosaurs still living on Isla Nublar, the isolated island off the Costa Rican coast. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), once the nonchalant park administrator, has become an activist in an attempt to rescue the creatures from a second extinction. When her political efforts fail, she turns to a mysterious philanthropist (James Cromwell) and her old pal Owen (Chris Pratt), the raptor whisperer. They sneak onto the island…and adventures ensue.

Anyone who has seen any of the previous films can list the elements that we will now see: winsome child prone to screaming, check; an inconvenient deluge of rain, check; greedy, unthinking villains, check; unlikely escapes from certain death, check; an even bigger, fiercer species of dinosaur (which eventually gives out an ear-shattering bellow of world domination), check. It’s just so unrelentingly formulaic.

The CGI work is indeed exceptionally realistic; we actually forget that dinosaurs no longer walk the earth. But there are so many of them—in all shapes and sizes—crowded onto the screen that they actually lose their impact. More is not always, maybe even ever, better. By contrast, in the original Jurassic Park, dinosaurs only appear on screen for 14 of the movie’s 127 minutes.

There’s no point in talking about the performances. The humans, predictably attractive and appealing, are little more than breathing props. Director J.A. Bayona, who demonstrated his skill with cinematic storytelling in The Impossible and A Monster Calls, keeps the pace breathless and relentless. On the other hand, Michael Giacchino’s score is ridiculously bombastic, another unnecessary effort on the part of the filmmakers to amp up the adrenaline.

Don’t get me wrong. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom delivers the thrills, and will likely meet the expectations of the throngs that will see it this summer. It’s just sad to me that the talented people behind this feature seemingly settled on repeating their past successes, very nearly step by step. They couldn’t manage to use their formidable skills to make something with the same level of wonder and delight as the original Jurassic Park. Perhaps that’s an impossible expectation to load onto a movie, but it doesn’t feel to me like they even tried.

Coming to multiplexes in July: Ant-Man and The Wasp, the third Marvel superhero movie in 2018, July 6; stand-up comic Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, Eighth Grade, July 13; Blindspotting, a timely and pointed dramedy about gentrification, July 20; and Tom Cruise is back as the unstoppable Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, July 27.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.