The appeal of dinosaurs is their enormity, which the "Jurassic Park" film franchise understands. Watching these prehistoric beasts crush cars underfoot like Coke cans has been a summertime thrill since Steven Spielberg's first installment in 1993.
But by the fifth entry into the franchise, they can't get any bigger. The 2015 revival "Jurassic World" already achieved that goal, by introducing the fictional cross-species hybrid Indominus rex. Instead, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" finds another way to grow: by making its plot much, much bulkier. In doing so, it commits the worst possible sin: It makes dinosaurs boring.
The movie takes place three years after the violent escape of dinosaurs on the island home of the Jurassic World theme park, which humans quickly abandoned. Although the creatures have earned their freedom, they now face a new terror: a volcano on the verge of eruption. On the urging of Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, in a short cameo), Congress chooses not to intervene.
This leaves former park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) – who runs a kind of PETA-for-dinosaurs – brokenhearted. That is, until she receives a call from the office of millionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a creator of dinosaur cloning technology. Lockwood and his aide (Rafe Spall) want Claire to help sneak the dinosaurs off the island.
The plan seems fraught. The dinosaurs are almost guaranteed to escape, and nobody wants raptors running around Times Square. But Claire excitedly agrees anyway. She convinces her ex-boyfriend and velociraptor-trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to help out by reminding him that he loves a specific raptor named Blue, whose life is in danger. With the help of two of Claire's employees, they head to the island to do battle with less-friendly dinosaurs, lava and – as it turns out – the most dangerous predator of all. (It ain't a dinosaur.)
All this proves to be an extremely long, extremely rehashed prologue to the real (yet only slightly more interesting) movie, a take on "The Island of Dr. Moreau," set on a California estate, only with dinos. As it turns out, the aide has ulterior motives, a secret accidentally discovered by Lockwood's 10-year-old granddaughter in an if-not-for-those-meddling-kids subplot.
From here on, the screenplay (by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who directed the first "Jurassic World") piles layer upon layer of twists and turns, each more ridiculous than the last, leaving director J.A. Bayona ("A Monster Calls") desperately trying to cram everything in without forsaking what everyone's here to see: rampaging beasts.
The film devotes so much energy to the breakneck plot that it forgets to build its characters. Money is the only motivator for every evil character, while a soft spot for dinos drives the bleeding hearts. The dialogue, meanwhile, boasts all the subtlety of a T. rex battle roar. Case in point: In the opening scene, a man piloting a submarine to retrieve a fossil off the ocean floor turns to his co-pilot and says, "Relax, anything in here would be dead by now."
All this exposition wastes the charms of Pratt, whose role in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" films proves he can balance comedy, empathy and action with ease. Here, he's too busy running, jumping and expertly disarming trained soldiers to deploy a personality. It's a problem when the movie's most charming character is a nameless Pachycephalosaurus, who head-butts his way through walls like one of the Three Stooges on cocaine.
Devoid of any real characters, the whole thing ends up feeling like one of Stefon's nightclub descriptions on "Saturday Night Live": "Jurassic World" has everything – dinosaurs, exploding volcanoes, clones, poachers, blood transfusions, intrigue, nerds, bioethical hand-wringing, a creepy mansion, murder, senators, animal rights and Chris Pratt's muscles.
The only thing missing? Character motivation, emotional heft and any reason for existing.
One and one-half stars. Rated PG-13. Contains intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. 128 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.