Three years after the events of 'Jurassic World', Isla Nublar and its inhabitants - the dinosaurs of the park - are about to be destroyed by a volcano eruption. When the US government refuses to step in to save them, former park operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) lead an expedition to the park to rescue them with the help of one of the creators of the park (James Cromwell) and his right-hand man (Rafe Spall) - who has other designs for the dinosaurs.
Depending on who you ask, 'Jurassic World' was either a soulless cash-in on a well-loved property that didn't move it forward in any kind of meaningful way, or it was a joyous nostalgia romp that riffed on the same beats as the original, with a knowing acknowledgement of its own facile nature. Even the lead creature, the Indominus Rex, was designed because audiences at the park were bored by the attractions thus far. Therefore, if 'Jurassic World' was the reunion tour, what then is 'Fallen Kingdom' and what's it for?
Right off the bat, 'Fallen Kingdom' lets the audience know just how violent and more horror-influenced it's going to be, and J.A. Bayona's credentials in the genre lend weight to this. A pacey first-half of the film, set entirely on the rapidly deteriorating island, gives way to what's essentially a haunted house horror along the lines of 'Alien', complete with a singular beast stalking its prey and even has a slippery corporate suit trying to capitalise on it. What carries this film, undoubtedly, are the action setpieces which Bayona peppers throughout the film. The mad dash off the island is done with expertise and finesse, whilst some of the moments involving the Indo-raptor are truly terrifying in a way not seen in this franchise for some time.
And while Bayona can craft these scenes together, imbuing them with a real atmosphere of dread and horror, there just isn't enough emotional connectivity to make it seem worthwhile. Neither Bryce Dallas Howard or Chris Pratt add anything substantial to their characters and it's hard to be concerned about them. We know they're going to survive, but the characters just aren't developed enough to make us care. Likewise, an annoyingly obvious subplot involving Isabella Sermon's character, a young pre-teen who's the granddaughter of James Cromwell's ultimately pointless character, just gets in the way of the action rather than contextualising it as it should. Bill Levine's unscrupulous mercenary has a few laughs here and there and Jeff Goldblum's appearance amounts to nothing more than a cameo.
What's more, while 'Jurassic World' at least tried to engage somewhat with its existence in a general sort of way, there's only one scene really where the motives or repercussions of what's transpired and what's happening on screen are examined by the characters. The fact that the second act sees the dinosaurs being auctioned off to a room full of top-tier capitalists - when it was these exact same people who created the dinosaurs in the first place - seems lost on the script, and doesn't even acknowledge that irony in the first place. Instead, it's just brushed off to make way for some admittedly well-executed mayhem and action.
'Fallen Kingdom' is frustrating, in that there could have been something really interesting made out of this sequel. It could have gone in so many directions, but instead it simply opted for a horror-heavy sequel without any kind of acknowledgement of where it came from. It's enjoyable, sure, but it could have been so much more.