"JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM" — 3 stars — Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Jeff Goldblum; PG-13 (intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril); in general release
If a movie's big finale leaves you excited to see what happens next, that's usually a pretty good sign. Such is the case with J.A. Bayona's "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the fifth "Jurassic Park" movie and second installment in the current trilogy.
"Fallen Kingdom" opens with the same dark apprehension that kicked off Steven Spielberg's original 1993 film, as a shadowy crew approaches the island of Isla Nublar under cover of night to snatch an Indominus rex bone from the remains of the Jurassic World theme park.
It's been three years since dinosaurs ran amok among the tourists, and in the time since, the inhabitants of the now-abandoned island have become the subject of an intense animal rights controversy. With a major volcano on Isla Nublar threatening to erupt, the question of what to do with the island's Jurassic residents has become even more pressing.
It's under these circumstances that Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) — who has become one of the dinosaurs' leading advocates — is approached with an offer she can't refuse. One of Dr. Hammond's old partners, the wealthy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), has secured a special island sanctuary, and with Claire's help, he'd like to relocate enough specimens to let the creatures flourish away from the hand of man. The only catch is that the expedition also needs the expertise of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) — whose affection for his old trained raptor, Blue, is persuasion enough to join.
Just getting the dinosaurs off the island before it erupts would be a pretty exciting setup on its own, but things get even more complicated when Claire and Owen find out that Lockwood's manager Eli (Rafe Spall) and a hunter named Wheatley (Ted Levine) have alternate plans for the prehistoric beasts.
It's enough plot to keep the audience invested, even if when you take a step back, it's still more or less the same concept we've gotten used to with the earlier films: Humans are isolated on a dangerous island with savage dinosaurs, there's a brand new man-modified dinosaur that is even worse than the regular ones and ultimately, mankind proves to be the true monster all along. There's even an obligatory child in distress — Lockwood's granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) — whose subplot provides one of the more unexpected twists of the film.
But even if much of "Fallen Kingdom" is predictable, it's still a lot of fun. There are some fantastic action sequences — the eruption on the island is a real thriller — and Bayona uses some of the "Jurassic" films' trademark suspense to scoot the audience out to the edge of their seats. (Speaking of which, like the other "Jurassic" films, "Fallen Kingdom" frequently lands on the more violent end of the PG-13 spectrum.)
Altogether, it should make for a satisfying sequel to 2015's "Jurassic World" and a worthwhile entry to a series that has admittedly struggled to match the quality of that first '93 film. And based on how this one ends, audiences will be excited to see what happens next.
"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril; running time: 128 minutes.