Welcome to Jurassic World, a dark, violent, action spectacle of a film set 22 years after the first groundbreaking big screen adventure based on Michael Crichton’s best selling novel. Boy how things have changed since our first visit to the remote Costa Rican isle of Isla Nublar when dinosaurs were looked upon as creatures of cautious awe, and not merely pieces of cloned scientific property fit for hunting.
The movie is the takes the worst case scenario version of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s line from Jurassic Park “If The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” Unlike any other of the entries in the series, the finally fully functional park does break down, and yes the dinosaurs do eat the tourists.
While there is no denying this fourth Jurassic adventure has all the right tent pole moves and rightfully stakes its claim as a critic proof FX-heavy summer popcorn crowd pleaser of monstrous proportions, there is also no ignoring the recycled Jurassic series plot points, rather disappointing cast of cookie cutter characters and the surprising amount of visceral violence that easily puts the film at the tippy top of its PG-13 rating.
Ignoring the events of The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 (for better or worse depending on your loyalist position or how deep you want to nitpick continuity), we at long last get to see the fully operational Jurassic Park filled with over 22,000 enthusiastic tourists, making the grand, if not ultimately doomed, dream of the late John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) a reality. When we jump in, the dinosaur themed resort has been in business for years and boasts all sorts of family friendly attractions like its own Sea World-esque tank home to the beyond massive Mosasaurus, a dinosaur petting zoo with cute young dinosaurs teeny enough for children to ride, and self-guided tours via fortified transparent spheres to visit the animals in their “natural” habitats throughout the island.
The park itself and all its protocols, sans the inevitable incoming Defcon 1 worthy dino-disaster, is completely worthy of a film of its own. Corporate sponsorship is rampant and necessary, questionable morals fuel the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ solutions to annual sagging attendance, and who is ultimately pulling the strings at the top of the ladder when it comes to the real reasons for continuing to resurrect a species extinct for millions of years? The script delivers a familiar repeat of the man versus dinosaur playbook, this time on a grander scale this time with thousands of innocent lives at risk from bigger badder jurassic threats.
Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire Dearing, the park’s uptight corporate suit and operations manager who admits early on “No one is impressed by a dinosaur anymore.” Wink wink to the audience. This allows the mad InGen scientists to up the ante and keep everyone on their toes by splicing genes to create the next level of Frankenstein monsters that will insure crowds keep coming the park. It makes you wonder if John Hammond decreed before he died that every day had to be coupon day since the park isn’t covering its unimaginable daily operating costs.
The script makes no bones about nearly breaking the fourth wall when it needs to warrant to us the plot points that are actually also crucial to the screen story. Yes, like the park attendees, moviegoers too are no longer impressed by the mere sight of a T. Rex or Brontosaurus in all their fully realized CGI glory on the big screen since the 1993 original. So what’s on deck twenty two years later to get us going?
Meet Indominus Rex, the park’s latest genetic unholy hybrid. By genetic design, Indominus is the deadliest of dinosaurs. She kills for sport and easily towers over the former Queen of the park, Tyrannosaurs Rex. When all hell breaks loose, Indominus is merely acting accordingly to her carefully assigned DNA coding. Once again mankind is victim to his own monstrous creation. Even the park’s resident hunk and animal trainer ex-marine Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), so skilled in his craft he managed to make buddy buddy with a pack of Velociraptors, is hard pressed to not take a step back in fear when he learns Indominus is on the loose and out to kill everything in her way.
Though in its own way of giving Indominus a sympathetic backstory to explain all the bloodshed to come, the script makes a point to mention that as an animal caged and isolated all her life (OK, well she actually ate her parter), and allowed zero social interaction of any kind, her moody behavior is the result of a terrible blend of nature and nurture. Plus let’s not leave out that mix of top secret (!!!) DNA.
The rest of the film focuses on hunting down the monster before she reaches the part of the park where all the tourists are enjoying their stay. Though the obvious question is who is hunting who, and it’s the dinosaurs who have the high ground. Indominus rampages through habitats, taking out dozens of her fellow dinosaurs as well as racking up an impressive human body count before all the plot twists and turns lead to a rather bloody violent showcase showdown.
Let’s not forget to mention Claire’s two nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and his younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) happen to be visiting the island at the time to service the tired obligatory “children in peril” subplot. It’s astounding we have to sit through this scenario again, even so far to have Claire play the detached relative role, but there are staples to a film with Steven Spielberg involved.
BD Wong returns as master geneticist Dr. Henry Wu in a small but pivotal setup role (the only cast member from Jurassic Park reprising a part), and steers InGen’s work with dino DNA into much larger territory as far as the world’s concerns may go. InGen’s ulterior motives struck me as the biggest stretch in the script (for a film starring cloned dinosaurs anyways) which will lead into Jurassic 5.
There is no denying that Jurassic World boasts a series of well executed enjoyable set pieces with top notch visuals that keep the film’s pace moving along briskly for its over two hour running time. Director and co-screenwriter Colin Trevorrow delivers solid work behind the camera for the new generation of fans. But I guess it goes without saying it lacks the full Spielberg experience in terms of building and maintaining tension during a set piece on par with the Velociraptor kitchen scene in Jurassic Park or the hanging van off a cliff sequence in The Lost World.
The film is infused with Spielberg’s DNA (he’s on board here as Executive Producer only), but Trevorrow likes to hit the first pitch and quickly round the bases without taking a few swings first or allowing a few outside balls pass by to build anticipation for the big play. The action typically comes and goes before you know it.
Jurassic World also feels no need to treat the dinosaurs with a sense of magnificence (except for Pratt’s Grady). Yes the point is made that seeing dinosaurs is nothing new to the people in the movie and watching the movie, but all the magic has been sucked out of their fictional existence. Indominus is a savage monster to be killed once she’s on the lam, the Velociraptors are reduced to trained pets, and the rest of them are violent lab rats, petting zoo property or used as a not-so-subtle metaphor for what’s going on at Sea World. This is where things go far off the beaten path from what both Hammond and Spielberg presented to us in 1993. Too often it seems these new dinosaurs go out and kill once set free, even a flock of pterodactyls that escape the bird dome promptly swoop down from the air to take out hundreds of terrified tourists in a horrific CGI-enhanced scene right out of Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Pratt has proved his worth in gold as a leading man in Guardians of the Galaxy. He continues his action streak effortlessly here in the weathered tough guy action hero who rides a motorcycle, and as the resident animal trainer to boot, is the only one on the island who understands what makes the dinos tick. Bryce Dallas Howard isn’t given much to do in the corporate stiff role who has no time for her nephews (until they nearly get eaten by dinosaurs of course), and as expected gets tough when the tough get going. Also joining the cast are Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani, the Indian billionaire who controls Isla Nublar after Hammond’s death and Vincent D’Onofrio as Hoskins, the insane head of InGen Security. Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus offer some funny aside banter as two techies working in the park’s massive control room.
One of my main questions going into Jurassic World was if it would be as dark and violent as every trailer and sneak peek promised, or would it actually turn out to go to the lighter side suited to its prime summer movie slot? As a dark alternate version of Jurassic Park, the island is host to a theme park of terrifying hybrid monsters instead of majestic cloned creatures. With park employees and security brutally minced into bloody messes, tourists picked off the ground by the airborne predators, and even the gentle dinosaurs found brutally slaughtered, let’s just agree the fourth entry easily trumps The Lost World as the darkest in the series.
Jurassic World does dazzle with lots of bang for your buck dinosaur action, lavish big budget eye candy (spared no expense!) and plenty of call backs to the original film (some more obvious than others). Hell it even pokes fun at its own corporate sponsorship (no getting around the product placement of Mercedes Benz, Coca Cola and even a Jimmy Buffet-owned Margartaville restaurant is included among the chain shops). But the story’s paint-by-numbers continuation approach, albeit the logical narrative progression for the series in this case, and the emphasis on elevating cold science over majestic wonder concerning the dinosaurs, capped with numerous straight-up scenes of violent cold blooded hunting by both Team Human and Team Dino may disappoint some fans expecting a more upbeat return trip to the park.
Is there room for future films? Of course. This is a billion dollar franchise with a soft reboot that sets it on a new course. Hopefully the writing staff will step it up creatively next time to take the series to places not explored in the previous installments, which cuts their work out for them narratively with no way to cover up the massive breakdown at the park in this age of cell phone videos. But I’m sure things have been mapped out for many more Jurassic sequels to come.
Jurassic World hits 2D, 3D and IMAX theaters on June 12th.
REVIEW RATING: ★★½★★★
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, BD Wong
Screenwriters: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Studio: Universal Pictures
Running Time: 130 minutes