Remember when dinosaurs ruled the Earth? It wasn't so very long ago, actually. 22 years, to be precise, since Steven Spielberg's revolutionary blockbuster Jurassic Park left audiences gaping in adrenaline-juiced awe at the ironic parting shot of T-Rex reigning supreme over her new kingdom.
You'd think humans, being such a highly evolved species, would learn to steer clear of the planet's new/old top predators. But that didn't stop similarly ill-fated expeditions from returning to the Costa Rican isles in Spielberg's somewhat mean-spirited sequel The Lost World and Joe Johnston's Jurassic Park III (which is better than you remember).
And now we arrive at part four, directed by little-known Colin Trevorrow, which adopts the premise that park management has finally gotten their act together and built Isla Nubar into a thriving tourist trap, renamed Jurassic World. The name isn't the only upgrade they've made. The theme resort now has new buildings, new rides, and even new creatures.
Attempting to draw in more spectators, those God-playing geneticists have cooked up a new monstrosity called Indominus-Rex; Part tyrannosaurus, part who-knows-what, all bad news. In an early scene, the park's high-strung coordinator played by Bryce Dallas Howard (not Jessica Chastain) explains to investors the need for new dinosaurs, callously referred to as 'assets': The modern consumer wants attractions that are, “Bigger. Louder. More teeth.”
Nifty marketing pitch. But it's also an all too on-the-nose meta assessment of today's mass movie culture, and of the philosophy to which Jurassic World so obsequiously panders. Can you blame it? The rapidity with which the film has ascended the box office charts to become the foregone champ of 2015 – only barely eclipsed in its fourth week (finally) by the far superior Inside Out – indicates that 'bigger, louder, more teeth' is exactly what audiences want.
Highly evolved species, indeed.
Highly evolved species, indeed.
But what this movie boasts in gratuitous spectacle it lacks in creativity, essentially reiterating the series' first installment beat-for-beat. It follows that the park's high-tech infrastructure cannot contain the maladjusted Indominus, which eagerly chomps everything in its path and unleashes all sorts of mayhem as it rampages towards the crowded tourist hub on the island's southern shore.
Perhaps the biggest difference between this and the original is that the characters in Spielberg's offering were mostly intelligent people who had to use their wits and resources to survive an increasingly disastrous situation. Whereas Jurassic World is overrun by people who we're meant to assume are smart, yet who make exclusively idiotic decisions.
The idealistic owner (Irrfan Khan) who fancies himself a capable helicopter pilot; The gung-ho army man (Vincent D'Onofrio) who'd love to militarize the park's deadly velociraptors... he's clearly not a 'clever girl'; The pair of bickering brothers (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) who wander off-road in their gyro-spheric safari pod, and who Trevorrow doesn't mind holding in peril for the duration. Does he not realize we've long since figured out that nobody under the drinking age ever gets munched in these movies?
You don't need an advance copy of the script – co-written by Trevorrow & Derek Connolly from an original draft by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver – to anticipate exactly which characters will and won't be dino fodder by the end. But hey, why bother with compelling characters when moviegoers are only shelling out to see the gigantic, carnivorous 'asset'?
Truthfully, the only asset this movie has going for it – beyond ILM's virtuoso effects and Skwalker Sound's dynamic audio mix – is star Chris Pratt as the hard-edged yet inescapably likable raptor wrangler. His effortless action-hero charisma never buckles, even under the weight of the dumbest dialogue or most laughable scenarios. He's probably the closest thing Hollywood's had to a young Harrison Ford since... well young Harrison Ford. Might his phone be ringing with offers for the recently announced Han Solo spin-off?
Still, it's not like Pratt can rescue every scene. He generates more chemistry with his CG and animatronic animal costars than he does in his under-cooked romance with Bryce Dallas Howard, whose line readings are as stilted as the stiletto shoes that she ridiculously wears for the entire film. I'm usually pretty good at suspending my disbelief, but even I refuse to buy that she didn't break one of those heels while spending the whole day running for her life.
(While we're on the topic of far-fetchedness, what kind of kid in the 21st century plays with a ViewMaster? This movie lost me in the first two minutes!)
Mind you, the 1993 Michael Crichton adaptation wasn't much more substantial than this. And yet it remains a modern classic because the storytelling talent in the director's chair – Mr. Spielberg in his prime – knew how to wring every drop of suspense, awe, terror, excitement, and even poignancy out of a thin screenplay.
Trevorrow, on the other hand, though competent enough to keep the effects-driven action from descending into utter confusion, wastes almost every opportunity for genuine payoffs. They either aren't built up enough or the foreshadowing is so blunt as to elicit groans, from both viewers and empty dino stomachs.
bigger does not equal better. The movie itself seems cutely self-aware of this [MINI-SPOILER: as implied by the climactic showdown?], but that's still a poor excuse for this uninspired, engineered-in-a-lab attraction.
** out of ****