Last weekend, while $150 million worth of viewers were flocking to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I happened across a Jaws marathon on TV. The original, 1975 Jaws is, of course, an incredible piece of filmmaking. Steven Spielberg's eye for a shot is so great it looks accidental. His sense of timing, both comic and horror, is impeccable. He's great with actors and understands how to construct a sympathetic character in as few beats as possible. Most importantly, he can literally make you feel any way he wants you to feel on command. Jaws is still thrilling as ever after 43 years.
Jaws 2, released in 1978, was directed by Jeannot Szwarc. He has the dubious distinction of being the first in a long line of filmmakers who have tried and failed to reproduce the Spielbergian magic. All the parts are there — the shark, the John Williams music, the doomed beachgoers — but they somehow fail to work together in quite the same way. At least it's not incompetently bad, like Jaws 3-D, or cynical and insulting, like the infamous Jaws: The Revenge.
If one were a cynical web critic in 2018, one could sum up Spielberg's 1993 film Jurassic Park with "What if Jaws, but dinosaurs?" But if there's one thing Spielberg is not, it's cynical. His sense of curiosity and fun are infectious. You wanna see a T-rex eat a guy sitting on a toilet? Sure you do. And your uncle Steven can make it happen. The film, credited with ushering in the age of CGI, and its sequel The Lost World, work mostly because Spielberg really likes dinosaurs.
2015’s Jurassic World worked, to the extent it did, because director Colin Trevorrow really liked Jurassic Park. He, along with Jurassic Park III and Captain America: The First Avenger director Joe Johnston are among the few who have actually managed to pull off a convincing Spielberg imitation, and was rewarded with a whopping $1.6 billion at the box office. Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona, on the other hand, falls into the Jaws 2 trap. The opening sequence features two rubes in a submersible retrieving a tooth from the submerged skeleton of Indominous Rex, the genetically engineered super dino that ate so many theme park goers in the last go round. Their consumption by a mammoth mosasaurus is handled in tasteful suspense, but by the time the scene’s over, Bayona goes full Sharknado. It’s the first of many fabulously expensive sequences that play like groaner dad joke versions of classic Jurassic Park gags. The script, by Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly, never met a cliche it didn’t like. You like the part where the T-rex saves the day with a mighty roar? Uncle Bayona gives you two of those, unearned. A hacker says “I’m in!” A suited money guy yells at a scientist to explain a technical matter “In English!”
What keeps Fallen Kingdom from scoring a Revenge on the Jaws Scale are the leads. Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing is now the head of the Dinosaur Protection Group. She's gravely concerned, because Isla Nublar, the island overrun with thunder lizards after the Jurassic World theme park suffered a massive insurance liability event, is about to be destroyed by a convenient volcano. She is enlisted by Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his majordomo Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) to rescue as many dinos as possible. She finds velociraptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) building a cabin in the Canadian Rockies, as all guys who were "the best" do when they retire because of the horrible consequences of their actions. Pratt and Howard work well together, despite looking mildly bored at times. At least they're better than their newcomer sidekicks, paleo-veterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), an IT specialist who at one point tries to use his l33t haxor skillz to fix the air conditioning. They often disappear without explanation, reappearing only to bicker unconvincingly.
Fallen Kingdom suffers from a distinct, and fatal, lack of Jeff Goldblum. He never even stands up during his cameo as Dr. Ian Malcom, the franchise's voice of reason. Perhaps more Goldblum would have helped the 128-minute running time go down a little smoother. As it is, I'm with the little girl in the row in front of me who kept asking her mom, "Is it going to be over soon?"