Jurassic World

Film Review – Jurassic World

***

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D’Onofrio, B. D. Wong, Irrfan Khan & the original T-Rex.

***

Same shit, different park. OK, maybe that’s not completely fair, but Jurassic World is basically Jurassic Park for a new generation, and that doesn’t always work in its favour. Yes, there are clever nods back to the original film (but thankfully no major ones back to either of the sequels), and you’ll find a lot to enjoy in its 130 minute running time, but there are also some serious flaws that are far too glaringly obvious once you notice them and it feels like you’ve seen everything Jurassic World has to offer done better somewhere else. It’s impossible not to be entertained by Jurassic World, and very difficult not to enjoy it, but it’s unfortunately also impossible to fall in love with it.

Brothers
If you visit Jurassic World there’s a good chance you’ll be eaten. Unless you’re a main cast member in which case your survival is pretty much guaranteed. Unless you’re a jerk. Dinosaurs really hate jerks.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of Jurassic Park (because, like a dinosaur, you are also a fossil), then let me explain it to you. Genetic splicing has helped mankind bring dinosaurs back from extinction, and that means only one thing: you can make a lot of money by putting them on display for unsuspecting park victims… er, sorry… visitors to see. The original attraction, Jurassic Park, didn’t work out so well, so 22 years and two films (that we don’t like to talk about) later someone has decided to open a new park called Jurassic World. Clearly enough time has passed that people have forgotten the horrors of the original Jurassic Park and the chaos caused by a T-Rex loose in the city, and so Jurassic World is up and running and making lots of money whilst steadily depleting the world’s shark population. Still, dinosaurs are creatures of habit, so inevitably the proverbial hits the fan and the nasty InGen (who you might remember opened Jurassic Park, but then became the baddies in The Lost World) do their absolute best to make things a little bit worse, stopping just short of wearing t-shirts with their “We aim to be as evil as humanly possible” corporate slogan on them. The main difference between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is just the fact that this time around 22,000 lives hang in the balance instead of eight or nine. Though to be fair you’ll only really care about four or five people in Jurassic World anyway.

Despite all of this negativity, I did actually enjoy Jurassic World. It’s not the best film ever made, not by a long shot, but it is good fun despite some frustrating problems. The references to the original film throughout are really enjoyable, and it’s nice to see this fan-service taking place, whilst the new dinosaurs are simply, jaw-droppingly, cool. In particular, the water-based Mosasaurus shows just how far the technology behind the franchise’s dinosaurs has come in the past 20 or so years, whilst the Indominus Rex proves to be the super-intelligent killing machine we all thought the laughably bad Spinosauraus was going to be. Although to be fair to the phone-swallowing Spinosauraus from Jurassic Park III, the Indominus Rex does have several years worth of genetic modifications on its side. This new hybrid dinosaur is brilliantly realised and teased in the early portion of Jurassic World in a way that should give kids today the same sort of nightmares I had about the T-Rex in the 1990s. When you do finally see the Indominus Rex in full, it’s an awesome and visually-arresting moment, or at least it should be. Unfortunately trailers for Jurassic World have already shown the Indominus Rex in full, well before the film came out. This is a major problem for Jurassic World, and many other big blockbuster films these days, as a lot of their key scenes and secrets are spoiled well in advance of their release dates. Still if you’ve managed to avoid seeing the Indominus Rex before it’s revealed within the film itself, you are in for a treat. The return of the fan-favourite T-Rex at the end of the film is also a brilliant, crowd-pleasing moment, and it really is nice to see the old girl again.

The Raptor Man
Chris Pratt is The Raptor Man.

The acting in Jurassic World is also solid. The chemistry between brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) works really well with their relationship blossoming in the face of adversity. It worked so well because these siblings initially really annoy each other and have different interests at the theme park, but yet rally together when everything starts going wrong. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard also played off each other brilliantly, with a tangible chemistry between them. Both Pratt’s Owen and Howard’s Claire show equal levels of braun, bravery, brains and balls, just often at different times. There’s been a lot of talk about the portrayal of both male and female stereotypes in Jurassic World, and whilst this may have been played on in the early portions of the film, when it really counts these melt away as both Owen and Claire display an equal amount of heroism. The supporting cast, such as Irrfan Khan’s Mr. Masrani (the CEO and owner of Jurassic World) and Jake Johnson’s Lowery Cruthers (one of Jurassic World’s leading nerdy technicians) provide suitable comic relief, with only Vincent D’Onofrio’s baddy Vic Hoskins letting the side down. D’Onofrio isn’t bad in himself, but unfortunately his villain role (which means he of course works for InGen) is part of a stupid sub-plot that just didn’t need to be, and shouldn’t have been, included in Jurassic World.

What causes Jurassic World problems is just how many missteps it takes. For example, when things go wrong at the park the only person able to fly a helicopter to go and hunt the Indominus Rex turns out to be Mr. Masrani, the company CEO. He literally flies out with men from military backgrounds such as Afghanistan, apparently all of whom have zero flying experience and can’t hit a 50 foot dinosaur on an open field from 30 feet away with a helicopter mounted mini-gun. Predictably, this doesn’t end well. The notion of Owen as the ‘Lion Man’ of the Velociraptor world is actually a really good idea that worked well within the plot, but unfortunately this was ruined by a ridiculous InGen sub-plot focusing on militarizing the Raptors. That’s literally like asking a Zoo to train its lions and tigers to fight Somalian pirates. What makes this sub-plot so bad though is how it feels completely shoe-horned in, ruining a good idea in order to set up a worryingly inevitable sequel based presumably on this crazy and awful dinosaur-army concept. It’s also really annoying how the only returning character, Dr. Henry Wu (B. D. Wong), is somehow involved in this sub-plot, not that his motives are ever made at all clear, and that he keeps the genetic makeup of the Indominus Rex a secret even when thousands of lives are at risk. All we’re supposed to know is that the Indominus is a mix of T-Rex, frogs, lizards, fish and some other unknown dinosaur. It hardly takes a PhD in Paleontology to work out that there’s Velociraptor DNA thrown into the Indominus mix too, and you’ll be screaming at Pratt’s Raptor expert for being such a plonker when this big reveal falls flat because you’ve already worked this out ahead of seeing the film thanks to a 3 minute reveal-all trailer on YouTube.

The Expendables
Pratt, Arnie, and Stallone are The Velociraptables.

The first half of Jurassic World is a slower, more grounded and intense affair, focusing on the suspense and horror that made the original Jurassic Park so good. As the Indominus Rex edges its way closer to the unknowing punters though, the action follows suit eventually giving way to a scene that feels like it belongs more in a Godzilla or Pacific Rim movie than the Jurassic franchise. It’s not a bad finish, full of visual spectacle and snappy action (biting-related pun intended!), but the original Jurassic Park film did it first, and Jurassic Park III did it as well, and because there’s such a focus on the dinosaurs having personalities in Jurassic World it just feels a bit forced and, at the very predictable end, I even cringed a little. Jurassic World is unashamedly blockbuster in its nature, but this works to its detriment as often as it does to its credit. All the main characters feel too safe, and the fear factor in Jurassic World is reliant on you thinking not about the main cast and picturing yourself in their shoes, but on you thinking about the scale of the destruction and loss of life if and when the park’s 22,000 visitors get caught up in the drama; Jurassic World might be suffering from Man of Steel syndrome in this respect, with a classic case of failing to realise that bigger isn’t always better. Ultimately Jurassic World doesn’t really have many original ideas, borrowing heavily from the other films in the franchise and in particular the first film, whilst also taking some cues from other monster movies. When original ideas do surface in Jurassic World, they mostly stink like “one big pile of shit” (as Dr. Malcolm would say).

To Jurassic Park’s credit, though, the visual effects work on the dinosaurs is awesome and the new scale for these prehistoric beasts, from sea to sky, means there’s plenty for dinosaur lovers to get excited about. It’s also important to mention that Michael Giacchino’s score is very good, incorporating aspects of John Williams’ original compositions to enhance all of the onscreen drama.

Claire
Bryce does her best Dr. Malcolm impression, but 22 years later the T-Rex still isn’t impressed.

Jurassic World makes for a good popcorn-munching summer blockbuster with plenty of thrills, but also a fair helping of spills. For a part-sequel, part-reboot it does an adequate job of entertaining existing fans and enticing new ones, with big, loud and exciting dinosaur action. Worryingly, however, Jurassic World has a hefty helping of plot holes, and the weakest element of the film appears to be the part setting up an inevitable sequel. If it’s made, and we get Rambo Raptors, then I predict that sequel will do to Jurassic World what The Lost World and Jurassic Park III did to Jurassic Park; make it extinct for another 20 or so years.

To sum up then: Jurassic World is a big, loud, entertaining summer blockbuster, that rarely does anything original, has a stupid sub-plot, but is ultimately saved by  good performances, great visuals, and an enjoyable first half of tension, and a slightly more predictable but still enjoyable second half of action. Jurassic World is easily the second best film in the franchise, although I have a nagging feeling that in a few years time, after the inevitable sequel ‘Jurassic Army’, I’ll be wishing this is one franchise that had stayed extinct.

***

Featured image from https://www.facebook.com/visitjurassicworld. All other images from http://www.imdb.com.

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