A remote tropical island, you say? The crumbling remains of a notorious theme park? A jungle teeming with pissed-off lizards?
Yes, we've been here before. In this fifth installment of the Jurassic franchise, which was launched by Steven Spielberg 25 years ago, not a lot has changed. Enormous and generally unfriendly dinosaurs are still clomping and snarling and hurling each other around. They stalk, stomp and nibble at whatever humans may happen along, and desperately attempt to distract us from the fact that digital dinos haven't actually been that big a deal for many years.
Not to deride the computer artistry expended on the creatures we see here—they all have the real-life reach-out-and-touch believability that is by now standard in this genre. The most interesting among them by far, however, is the hungry Mosasaurus we encounter at the very beginning, who is actually given something new to do—rising up out of a rainswept sea to snack on a luckless human dangling off a helicopter. (This is the movie's only really striking sequence.)
So the dinos are fine; they're doing their job. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the script, written by Colin Trevorrow (who directed the previous Jurassic movie) and Derek Connolly. Their screenplay has no wit, and therefore no good lines (unless you count the scene in which one character calls another a "nasty woman"—which is just weak feminist gesturing, and not the only instance of it). Director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) has a gift for gothic atmosphere, but that's of no use in punching up the humorless material he has to deal with here.
The story is set three years after the events of the last movie. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), once the Jurassic World park manager, has become a sort of dinosaur-rights activist, much concerned about the fate of the dinos still roaming Isla Nublar, where a volcano is about to erupt and dispatch the hapless creatures back into extinction. Meanwhile, Claire's onetime squeeze, dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), has exiled himself to a sylvan hilltop where he's earnestly building a house when Claire shows up one day to recruit him for a return trip to dinosaur island. She has been employed to do this by billionaire dinosaur enthusiast Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a partner in the original Jurassic Park project, who now wants the endangered Isla Nublar creatures transported to another island he owns for preservation.
Let me reiterate here how useless the script is for actors in search of snappy lines. This is not a pressing concern for Howard, who is as always a neutral presence; but snappy lines are the very air that Pratt must breathe—without them, he's left to quietly gasp through the movie's familiar running-and-shouting green-screen action. He's effectively sidelined.
Other characters on hand to fill out the story are Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), Lockwood's silky aide, who really seems like a nice guy; and grubby Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), who I believe is a dinosaur trafficker; and a globe-trotting sleazebucket named Eversol (Toby Jones), who flies in to orchestrate the movie's overlong climax. Claire also has two assistants, each a lazy gender-war stereotype: There's tattooed dinosaur veterinarian Daniella Pineda (Zia Rodriguez), who's tough and resourceful, and there's jittery computer tech Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), who's a hysterical coward. Naturally there's also a bright, perky little girl in the mix—Lockwood's granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon)—whose backstory actually suggests an interesting direction the next movie might take, if anyone still cares by then.
May I offer a personal observation? My own childhood was not rich in dinosaur consciousness: I never had any dinosaur books or dinosaur toys or any of the other dinosaur merch that I know attends the dinosaur phenomenon. I think it's sweet that Steven Spielberg (an executive producer now—note the brief glimpse of a shooting star in one scene) still feels a connection to this stuff—may he rock on with it for many years to come. But I have to say that I find these movies—the ones that followed the original Jurassic Park, anyway—blindingly repetitious and tremendously boring. Can I be alone in this? Lemme check something…
Okay, the last Jurassic World movie made more than $1.6-billion worldwide. I'll shut up now.