Think of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” as a display of animal husbandry—a movie studio doing every damn thing it could think of to keep its most profitable menagerie from going extinct. After a quarter- century the franchise may be terminally long in the tooth, or teeth; a lot of this fifth iteration is flat-out absurd. Yet it’s also funny, intriguingly dark and visually sumptuous. The first word of dialogue is “relax,” which serves as good advice, since the special effects look special once again, and the bad guys get eaten eventually.
An imminent threat of extinction drives the narrative. It’s three years after the previous film, “Jurassic World,” and the collapse of the theme park on Isla Nublar. The dinosaurs have the island to themselves, but a volcanic eruption threatens to wipe them out. That renews a crucial question for dinosaur lovers, Owen Grady, the trainer played by Chris Pratt, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, the operations manager of the defunct park. These animals were cloned from ancient DNA—do they deserve the same protection as the rest of the planet’s species? The question has a certain emotional charge, because the movie manages to evoke plenty of empathy for the plus-size creatures. They’ve been brought to the screen this time around mainly through puppetry, with impressive results. When Owen and Claire return to the island, he reconnects with Blue, the supersmart raptor from the previous installment, and a convincingly deep relationship resumes on both sides of the species divide.
The director was the Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (“The Orphanage,” “The Impossible”). He is good with action—fireballs and lava flows send all creatures nasty and nice into headlong flight—and allows human moments to breathe and resonate. The first half—the much stronger half—starts with an evacuation on a scale slightly more modest than Dunkirk. The plan is to move the evacuees to a safe sanctuary somewhere else. But the lure of these fabulous beasts leads dubious characters to devious deeds (chief among the villains is Rafe Spall’s Eli Mills) and bends the plot back toward the goal of the previous film—weaponizing the dinos, or worse.
The second half falls into “Night at the Museum” chaos, with most of the island’s displaced population rampaging through a vast gothic mansion. The scattershot quality is crazy-making, but still entertaining if you keep your expectations in check. I laughed a lot, and enjoyed the scenery. Jeff Goldblum makes little more than a cameo appearance as the chaos theoretician Ian Malcolm; he hasn’t been seen in Jurassic precincts since “The Lost World” in 1997. But now Dr. Malcolm is a wise old man of modern science, and he gets to warn that we’ve entered a new era in which genetic power has been unleashed. Meaning watch out, this old franchise hasn’t gasped its last gasp.
I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.