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Front Page - Friday, June 29, 2018

Critic's Corner: Fresh ideas seem to have gone extinct in ‘Jurassic World’

Near the beginning of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” a vehicle carrying a handful of people across Isla Nublar stops so the occupants step out to take in what is intended to be an awe-inspiring sight: a Brachiosaurus lumbering across the landscape.

The team, which is there to save the dinosaurs before a volcano erupts and destroys the island, looks up in awe as the soundtrack swells. Director J.A. Bayona is aping the classic sequence in the original “Jurassic Park” in which Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm and the rest of the cast first lay their eyes on live dinosaurs.

But instead of hearing Michael Giacchino’s generic score, my head was filled with the bluesy tones of B.B. King singing “The Thrill is Gone.”

The scene is technically impressive. It’s been 25 years since director Steven Spielberg unleashed the first film in the series, so it had better look good. But the moment lacks the freshness and magic of its progenitor.

Similarly, “Fallen Kingdom” as a whole is visually striking and packed with action, but like the lumbering Brachiosaurus, its bones look tired and it just seems to be going through the motions.

I’m surprised I felt this way while watching the film because the story is precisely the one the series should be telling at this point: how the dinosaurs get off the island and make their way to civilization.

Picking up three years after the collapse of Jurassic World, “Fallen Kingdom” follows a team of experts and mercenaries as they try to retrieve as many dinosaur species as possible before Isla Nublar goes kaboom.

The team includes Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, a former dinosaur trainer, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, both of whom appeared in “Jurassic World.” Dropping them onto this powder keg is Benjamin Lockwood, the former partner of John Hammond, creator of Jurassic Park.

It appears to be a mission of benevolence. But there’s no animal as terrifying, destructive or persistent as human greed, so this endeavor is doomed from the start.

That’s good news for audiences who are there for the dinosaurs. Not only are there more species in “Fallen Kingdom” than in any other installment, the computer animated effects and live action animatronics are extraordinary.

Given how cheap the special effects in the Marvel films look (a fact that seems to be lost on millions of people), it was a pleasure to see the results of the talent and hard work that must have been poured into “Fallen Kingdom.”

The dinosaurs look and move as realistically as I imagine one would, with their skin and muscles rippling, stretching and sagging in response to their actions. They might not be scarier or more breathtaking than Spielberg’s dinos, but it’s hard to not be at least awestruck by the eye candy.

I wish I could say the same thing about the action, which makes up the bulk of the film. It’s fairly well thought out, with many scenes putting Grady, Dearing and others through a series of escalating predicaments. It’s kind of fun watching things go from bad to worse, even when there’s no way any human would survive what they’re put through.

But there are no defining set pieces in “Fallen Kingdom” – nothing that’s on par with the appearance of the T-Rex in the original film or the trailer dangling over the edge of a cliff in “The Lost World.” Rather, the sense of the filmmakers going through the motions pervades these scenes as well.

Since the script took the series in a logical direction, something along the production line must have been amiss. I believe it was Bayona’s direction and the lack of compelling characters.

As Bayona proved with the 2007 horror film “The Orphanage” and the 2012 drama “The Impossible,” he’s a skilled helmsman.

He knows how to establish a tangible sense of atmosphere, and he’s good at defining characters and bringing them to life.

But I think Bayona tried too hard to make a Jurassic Park film and not hard enough to make a J.A. Bayona film. These films come with certain expectations in terms of visuals and action, but they don’t give a good character-based director like Bayona much to chew on.

As great as Pratt and Howard look running from dinosaurs, Grady and Dearing are not memorable characters.

Not even the brief appearances by Goldblum that bookend “Fallen Kingdom” can save the film from being a rote exercise in blockbuster movie-making.

Oh well. The dinosaurs look amazing, and that’s something.