A Fossil Goulash of Terrible Lizards

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Victorian naturalist Sir Richard Owen, back in 1841, coined one of Stephen Spielberg's favorite words, "dinosaur," which is derived from the Greek for "terrible lizard."  Jump ahead 84 years to when Willis O'Brien directed what many consider to be the first film featuring these reptiles on steroids, The Lost World . Brontosauruses have never been allowed to be reclusive creatures again.

Not long after came Michael Crichton with his 1990 blockbuster novel, Jurassic Park, which has now spawned five films of varying quality, the current Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom being possibly one of the more forgettable.

Fallen Kingdom is a sequel to record-breaking Jurassic World and a prequel to whatever's down the pike. The plot: Three years have passed when a soon-to-erupt volcano threatens the existence of Isla Nubar and all the DNA-engineered dinosaurs that roam upon its terrain. Should humans try to save these creatures or let God decide their fate?  At a congressional panel, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) slumberously addresses the issue, noting man has proven unable to contro this technology. Our government sides with God and Ian, but not our heroine Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who runs a dino-rights organization in sensible heels.* But what can she do with her group's lack of funds and political connections?

Enter Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who's employed by the bedridden Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who was the wealthy co-partner in the creation of Jurassic Park. Mills tells Claire he will supply the cash and manpower to rescue the raptors, pterodactyls, and tyrannosauruses and then transfer the whole gaggle onto a deserted island his company owns with her help. Sounds good, and even Owen (Chris Pratt), who's living a solitary man's life in the woods, is convinced to join the venture so he can reunite with Blue, his favorite raptor. The chance to snuggle with Claire now and then is also a draw.

Don't be fooled, heroes. One should never trust a poorly acted, one-dimension villain making believe he's a good guy. Yes, Eli Mills has other plans up sleeve. He's going to utilize the dinos for  . . . . My lips are sealed or maybe I just don't remember.

What follows is the standard "good humans vs. bad humans" trope with a healthy dash of 'unrestrained capitalism is evil" for seasoning. Sadly, director J.A. Bayona, who proved his worth with The Orphanage (2007) and The Impossible (2012), telegraphs many of his thrill moments here. You're going to jump now and then because you've been trained to jump at these moments. Clearly, screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who together also scribed the prequel, suffer from a momentary lack of febrile imagination here, a fear possibly of pushing the envelope.

However, if you hunger for umpteen dinosaurs, you get that. If you need an adorable little girl (an engaging Isabella Sermon) to identify with, check. And if you desire an arm of a nasty being bitten off, check again. There are the thrills, but a lack of real surprise. Also, a bit more of that Pratt charm would have been appreciated. Still, I know I'll be queuing up for the follow-up. How many of us can resist the chance to watch the past pummel the present in order to control the future? It's the odd deliciousness of rooting for one's own demise. - Brandon Judell

*Claire wore Melania pumps in the prequel, which is not the best footwear choice when trying to escape from an allosaurus or its ilk.

Mr. Judell is a lecturer at The City College of New York and has written for The Village Voice, indieWire, Soho Style, Flair, New York Daily News, and The Advocate.

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