A remote tropical island, you say? The crumbled remains of a once-celebrated tourist park? A surrounding 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 clomp and snarl and knock each other around; they stalk, stomp and nibble at whatever humans may happen along; and they generally endeavor to hold our attention as the novelty of digital dinos continues to wane (or so I think, at least among those who've sat through more than one of these movies).
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, this can't be said of the script, written by Colin Trevorrow (who directed the previous "Jurassic" movie) and Derek Connolly. The 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 basically weak feminist gesturing, and not the only instance of it). Director J.A. Bayona ("The Orphanage") does what he can with this humorless material, but he seems powerless to punch things up.
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 drown the creatures in lava. Meanwhile, her onetime sorta-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 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.
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 there to fill out the story are Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), Lockwood's aide, who seems like a nice guy; grubby Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), who I believe is a dinosaur trafficker; and an international sleaze named Eversol (Toby Jones), who flies in to orchestrate the movie's climax. Claire also has two assistants, each an up-to-the-minute stereotype: There's tattooed dinosaur veterinarian Daniella (Zia Rodriguez), who's tough and resourceful, and computer tech Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), who's a hysterical coward. Naturally, there's also a bright and perky little girl on hand — Lockwood's granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), whose backstory actually suggests an interesting direction the next movie might take — one that's not entirely reliant on dinosaurs.
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 (still an executive producer here — note the brief glimpse of a shooting star in one scene) still feels a connection to it. I wish I were a part of this tribe. But I find these movies (at least the ones that followed the first picture) excruciatingly repetitive and tremendously boring. Can I be alone in this? Lemme check something...
OK, the last "Jurassic World" movie made more than $1.6 billion worldwide. I'll shut up now.