To say that 2015’s Jurassic World reboot was a surprisingly entertaining popcorn blockbuster would be a T-Rex sized understatement. Despite the majority of fans going in with guarded expectations, many – including myself – left the cinema fulfilled with Colin Trevorrow’s reconceptualisation of Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller source material. Its sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, on the other hand, is unfortunately a messy and profoundly uneven installment that feels as hastily cobbled together as the genetically spliced monstrosities at the heart of this bromidic action-adventure.

Many of the film’s overarching problems can be traced back to a weak screenplay which, frankly, doesn’t make a lick of sense. Penned by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly – who were both credited writers on this pic’s predecessor – it’s baffling watching the story unfurl in such a head-scratchingly nonsensical direction, especially given the fact that this narrative has been composed by two very capable and exceptionally talented craftsmen who understand the franchise incredibly well.

It’s a shame as hidden between the carnivorous action is a consistent glimmer of promise that tries very hard to capture your attention with jaw-dropping spectacle alone. Its opening action sequence, for example, is deftly delivered and sets the horror timbre well, as a crew of mercs return to the storm-battered Islar Nublar under the dead of night, in a bid to hunt down a fragment of the underwater carcass from the infamous hybrid beast: the Indominus Rex. This opener is one of the few set-pieces that is imbued with an authentic sense of tension.

Sadly, as the plot moves forward and the movie begins to morph from balls-to-the-wall action into an atypical gothic-style horror template in its latter half, it loses momentum, stymied by one-note, paper-thin villains and an uninteresting setting with trite, clichéd action. Though J. A. Boyena – director of nerve-racking horror movie The Orphanage – injects some dark and moody horror-lite overtones into the mix, the overarching storyline at the foundation of the pic is just too uneven to build up much in the way of meaningful velocity, tension or terror.

Here’s the thing: most of the characters are absolutely insufferable, and the ones who aren’t, are very hard to buy into. Let’s cast our gaze on Bryce Howard Dallas’ Claire, for example, who is, basically, kind of ridiculous. In Jurassic World, she was an ice-queen business woman who saw the dinosaurs as just numbers on a spreadsheet. This time around, she’s an earth-warrior who spearheads a Dinosaur Protection Group. Her character arc just feels forced; too neatly packaged and too on-the-nose. Because of this, it’s difficult to get on board with her. Don’t get me wrong, her actual performance is solid, but the setup for why and how she is sent back to the iconic shores of Isla Nublar is borderline ludicrous.

Onto Chris Pratt, then, and his return as Owen thankfully helps anchor the experience with some recognisable, down to earth charisma. Meanwhile, Isabella Sermon’s Maisie is also a hidden gem and her mysterious familial sub-plot is definitely one of the most legitimately intriguing aspects of Jurassic World’s sophomore effort. Jeff Goldblum’s inclusion as everyone’s favourite chaotician, Ian Malcolm, is a flash in the pan cameo, at best, so don’t – like me – get too excited. Rounding out the cast are a duo of terribly written side-characters who are unbearable to watch, and a couple of forgettable, cookie-cutter villains who are reduced to 2D caricatures motivated by money, money, money — what a damn shame.

One certain iconic brontosaurus scene is even directly homaged – or stolen, depending on how you look at it – but this newer take on the formula falls flat and lacks the emotional punch of the OG 1993 classic. Fundamentally, it takes a magical moment from the original filmic masterpiece and makes it, well, less magical. Instances like these undermine what makes Jurassic Park special. Where’s the meticulously designed awe and tension? Where are the well-written, compelling characters? Why do we have to keep going back to the well with this silly militarised dinosaur sub-plot? I’ll give you a clue: money, money, money.

Ultimately, Fallen Kingdom scrapes by the finish-line as a watchable, but distinctly derivative follow-up to its far superior predecessor. By no means is it a terrible film – it’s too well directed and capably made for that – but it feels far too much like a positional play than a deliberate and calculated follow-up. Its blatant setup for an inevitable sequel is jarringly insulting and demotes the experience to a perfunctory stepping stone headed for bolder and braver pastures. Though it’s somewhat clumsy in how it’s gotten there, and though I’ve got mixed feelings about where the series is heading to next, there’s still shimmering potential for a tyrannosaurus-shaped light at the end of this franchise’s tunnel. Life finds a way? I dearly hope so.

VERDICT: By no means is Fallen Kingdom a terrible film, but it’s sadly a disappointing one, and a distinctly derivative follow-up to its far superior predecessor.