Twice during Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character enters a scene with the camera focused on her shoes. Maybe this is the director’s foot fetish, but more likely it’s a comment on one of the criticisms of 2015’s huge-grossing predecessor Jurassic World: that Howard’s character, theme-park corporate lackey Claire Dearing, was so retrograde she spent an entire film wearing high heels while being chased by dinosaurs. That criticism was actually slightly unfair—Claire wore heels because her stupid job forced her to—but rest assured that in Fallen Kingdom, Claire is kitted out with a set of badass military-grade boots. And they’re ready for their close-up.
Fallen Kingdom reunites Claire and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) when a volcano threatens to destroy the remaining dinosaur population on Isla Nublar. The two are hired for a rescue mission by an ailing billionaire (James Cromwell) and his assistant (Rafe Spall). And since the latter is only slightly more warm-blooded than the average T-rex, we suspect things are not entirely what they seem. Claire and Owen trek back to the island and help liberate the scaly inhabitants, arriving approximately five minutes before the whole place explodes in a shower of molten lava.
Director J.A. Bayona (whose work includes the excellent The Orphanage and the tepid A Monster Calls) deserves credit for juicing up the volcano sequence—it’s hair-raising. Bayona has a harder time sorting out the unlikely plot strands, such as arms dealers plotting to weaponize dinosaurs (it sounds ominous until you start asking how exactly that could possibly work). The movie also contains a rare example of an auction sequence that becomes an action sequence, as auctioneer Toby Jones (in an excellent floofy toupee) takes bids for the biggest and baddest of Isla Nublar’s refugees. Some of the film’s oddball notions are enjoyable, including a moment when the humans take cover in a natural-history diorama, and a dinosaur looks through the glass at them for a change.
Speaking of humans, this film continues the franchise’s tradition of casting interesting actors (Jeff Goldblum and BD Wong return, while Ted Levine and the great Geraldine Chaplin join the fray), then shuffling them around like mannequins. Pratt’s humor usually brightens his work, but here he’s basically a meathead with an ability to wrangle large creatures; the movie’s thumbnail of his character might as well read “guy who drinks beer from longneck bottles, thus establishing his realness.” Howard has more to do than in the previous film, hinting that somebody involved with Fallen Kingdom noticed the success of Wonder Woman and Mad Max: Fury Road and decided to let the female characters execute some rad dino-butt-kicking.
If it all sounds calculated, that’s how it plays, although the film is peppier than the first Jurassic World. The only surprise, except for a pretty good twist toward the end, is the generally bleak atmosphere. Fallen Kingdom depicts a cynical world in which greed is ascendant and leaders do nothing, despite evidence of an impending catastrophe. Given this film’s stupendous box-office haul last week in China, a sequel is guaranteed, and we assume there’ll be some kind of happy ending in which our species survives. Of course, that’s probably what the dinosaurs thought 65 million years ago.