Life finds a way, and so does the Jurassic Parks franchise, as 2015’s Jurassic World managed to become one of the highest-grossing movies of all time despite the series’ diminishing creative returns and more than a decade having passed since Jurassic Park 3. It is the type of movie that succeeded because its surface spectacles were so viscerally thrilling that enough audiences were able to either ignore or not even notice its more questionable aspects. But for those who did notice, they were more than a little bit infuriating. A lead female character running around in high heels was annoyingly sexist to some, while personally I thought it was just stupid. Even more fundamentally, how does an island with gigantic carnivores continue to exist as a tourist destination? Jurassic World acknowledged that question but did not offer anything resembling a satisfying answer.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom actually does grapple with that conundrum, at least enough to establish that it is self-aware. It is not as insulting as its predecessors, but it makes its own peculiar decisions that render it more inexplicable. An impending volcanic eruption threatens to wipe out all the dinosaurs, to which plenty of folks quite reasonably say, good riddance. But there are certain interested parties who want to keep them alive, whether because of some combination of scientific idealism and emotional attachment or a mercenary sense of exploitation. Our heroes from the previous chapter, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), represent the former motivation, and they get roped into a rescue mission at the hands of Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who might see himself as an idealist but is too financially motivated to be anything other than exploitative.

If you are coming to Fallen Kingdom to see the good ol’ dino-on-dino action and dinos-chomping-the-bad-guy exclamation points, you will get those moments, but that is all window dressing to an unexpected story of hubris and inheritance. Mills is working for Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), former partner of Jurassic Park founder John Hammond. It turns out that his interest in cloning technology is especially personal but also unpredictably dangerous. His obsession with legacy is a privilege for the rich, but when it is as all-consuming as it is in Lockwood’s case, it can also unleash untold consequences on all people. That is a potentially fascinating angle to tackle the hubris inherent in this franchise, but Fallen Kingdom never quite makes that connection explicit enough to make the point really click.

JW: FK is at its best when it features return appearances from original Jurassic Park cast members. B.D. Wong lends the whole affair an edgy, weirdly respectable verve as Dr. Henry Wu, reminding everyone that resurrecting dinosaurs must be treated as unprecedented as it is. Chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is there for just a cameo, but his presence is essential, as he hits upon the thesis statement, which is essentially: now that the dinosaurs are back, they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do, so we might as well craft some new stories around them instead of the same-old, same-old. In this case, that inexplicably means a searing examination of familial legacy.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Isabella Sermon, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, B.D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum

Director: J.A. Bayona

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Volcano-Related Peril and the Usual Dino Chomping

Release Date: June 22, 2018

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