Bailed out by a few good jolts, Jurassic World gets by, barely, as a marauding-dinosaurs narrative designed for a more jaded audience than the one Jurassic Park conquered back in 1993.
Why was director Steven Spielberg’s film version of the Michael Crichton novel a hit? In an industry built on high-concept pitches, the first film pitched the highest. Dinos brought back to life; trouble ensues. Digital effects, smoothly integrated with animatronics, made a quantum leap forward in that picture. Twenty-two years later the rattled, happily freaked-out crowd reaction to the shot of the sniveling lawyer getting chomped by the T. rex in an apparent unbroken take remains a vivid memory. For just a second I thought: Wow, they got that dinosaur to do that in one take! A new level of dino-realism, if not memorable characterization, had come to the screen, and Spielberg—the master populist-sadist— was happy to deliver Crichton’s cinematically preordained goods.
Then came a couple of sequels of so-so reputation, though I do love that overhead shot of the creatures winding their way through the tall grass in the second picture. Now, it’s do-over time. The carnage and rampant customer dissatisfaction experienced by so many in Jurassic Park is but a memory. In Jurassic World, directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow (who did the low-budget charmer Safety Not Guaranteed), business at the retooled dinosaur theme park off the coast of Costa Rica has hit a plateau. Scientists led by B.D. Wong and his cryptic smile have responded to requests for a new star attraction, something “bigger, louder … more teeth.”
Behold the genetically engineered hybrid known as Indominus rex. He’s like the T. rex, only bigger, rexier and, soon enough for story purposes, ready to bust out of his walled confines to see what’s up on the rest of the island, snackwise.
Regarding the humans: Chris Pratt is the hunky yet sensitive raptor trainer and man of action, on or off his motorcycle. Though the Guardians of the Galaxy star seems to be playing an actor playing an action hero, as opposed to simply being one, he’s solid company. Bryce Dallas Howard is more like liquid company, slipping around in a dumb, retrograde, watery role of the uptight operations manager whose nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) travel from Madison, Wisconsin, to visit. And to get lost, and then chased, and re-chased.
I mean, of course. Of course you know what you’re getting in Jurassic World. When the second Vincent D’Onofrio appears as the InGen security honcho, out to weaponize the park’s dinosaurs for military purposes, you know he’ll make some predator a nice lunch. Still, the romantic banter between Pratt and Howard needn’t have been quite this lame. It was probably too much to ask for more wit, or a serious mean streak, even though the script (credited to four writers) makes a tentative stab or two at rampant product placement early on, before getting down to the business of delivering rampant product placement.
On a more basic level Jurassic World futzes a couple of key attacks. When the flying residents of the aviary bust out, the threat level is initially unclear. Then, in a chaotically staged sequence, park visitors run screaming and the bodies start falling and the whole thing is a bit of a blur. The movie recovers with a satisfying series of comeuppances in the climax, involving the park’s largest (and presumably angriest) attractions. These will likely be enough for those who aren’t going into Jurassic World expecting the world.
I wasn’t expecting the world, but I wouldn’t have minded sharper jokes and grander action scenes. I would’ve liked a less patronized female lead. I wonder why they couldn’t have developed a stronger supporting role for Omar Sy, the most sympathetic character (he’s the colleague of the Pratt character). At one point we learn that Indominus rex has camouflage capabilities. Universal Pictures clearly is hoping that its intermittently exciting summer tentpole has the same, and that because it looks, feels and acts like a big deal, it’ll become one.
Jurassic World (PG-13): ★★✩✩✩