After a fourteen-year suspension due to unremarkable behavior, the world’s greatest CG-animated dinosaurs are back! All your favorite monsters and toys have returned in Jurassic World with a few new friends and plenty of merchandise for everyone. For viewers who also like actors, they’ve invited a very special guest: this year’s It Guy, Chris Pratt from Parks & Rec, Guardians of the Galaxy, and nifty supporting parts in lots of other, smaller movies that all led up to his second, even bigger opportunity to headline a CG-heavy big-budget summer action blockbuster. Those of us who first knew him as Ann Perkins’ freeloading boyfriend Andy Dwyer can all agree we never, ever dreamed of the places he would go.
Short version for the unfamiliar: When last we left our dinosaurs, they were vexing assorted humans on Isla Sorna in both The Lost World and Jurassic Park III. Meanwhile on the original site of Isla Nublar, InGen’s corporate overlords never gave up on the late John Hammond’s dream of dinosaur de-extinction. The mess left from Steven Spielberg’s original tour de force was more or less paved over and around, construction continued, and twenty years later Jurassic World stands tall as a fully functional theme park that just so happens to have brought ancient reptiles back into our 21st-century ecosystem. There’re dinosaur science exhibits, a dinosaur petting zoo, a mosasaurus show that makes Sea World killer whales look like cheap goldfish, rides, games, learning, restaurants, T-shirts, long lines, and cell blocks containing scaly oversize killer rage-lizards. Fun for the whole family!
Well, assuming you have a whole family. Jurassic World manager Bryce Dallas Howard (Spider-Man 3‘s Gwen Stacy) is a Type-A professional with no such plans on her schedule. She barely has time for her overloaded to-do list, what with having to find ways to keep park funding in the black, court deep-pocketed sponsors, check in on the JW control room, negotiate with one of InGen’s surly military honchos (Vincent D’Onofrio, a lot more loosey-goosey than he was as the Kingpin), keep an eye on their pet mad scientists, and now she has the added burden of keeping tabs on her two visiting nephews, Melissa & Joey‘s Nick Robinson and the annoying kid from Iron Man 3. Lucky for her she has a paid assistant (Katie McGrath from Merlin) who can play proxy-aunt for her.
Also, a new killer dinosaur: the Indominus rex, a genetic concoction of T-Rex and other animal species, some of which we’re told are “classified” throughout most of the movie, even though the worst possible donor is obvious to any dino-loving viewer over age six. His very existence is a blatantly terrible idea, but the guys who hold the Jurassic World purse strings want bigger returns on their investments, and some people like to interpret “bigger” in all the wrong ways. Hubris leads to human error, which leads to chaos, which leads to suffering, pretty much like the first three films that taught us nothing.
And only one man can save the day: STAR-LORD, STALKER FROM BEYOND THE STARS!
…Would you believe BERT MACKLIN, FBI BIG-GAME HUNTER!
…would you believe a friendly action-hero hunk who gets to crack jokes in, like, three scenes but otherwise keeps his mind on serious hero business. Which, uh, y’know, I guess that’s cool? Kinda?
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: The nephews’ busy parents are Judy Greer, who was fantastic in The Descendants, and David Wallace from The Office. Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi) lives it up as the mixed-motive billionaire inheritor striving to straddle that fine line between philosophy and profit. Omar Sy (Bishop from X-Men: Days of Future Past) is a good-guy zookeeper. New Girl‘s Jake Johnson steals the most scenes as the mandatory comic-relief geek. There’s a bit part for a famous TV comedian playing himself, acting as prerecorded host for one of the Jurassic World rides. And if you remember Mariko’s treacherous suitor Noburo from The Wolverine, he’s here for about three minutes as a prominent security guy.
For old-school Jurassic Park fans anxious to count the homages and callbacks to the original film, rest assured they’re everywhere and they start with the return of B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu, the scientist who made all these dinosaurs and deaths possible. He may have more diplomas than I do, but he learned nothing.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? This fourth foray into the late Michael Crichton’s wondrous world of weaponized wildlife doesn’t aim for much in the way of new plot devices or Morals of the Story. We see once again the cruel consequences of arrogant men tampering in God’s domain. Through Howard and the nephews we learn that family is important, that you should pay attention to it, and nothing cures divorce like intense situations.
On the other hand, the first act tinkers with a promising meta-theme about the problems with catering to a fickle audience’s base desires for bigger, badder, bolder entertainment choices, even when it means recycling over-and-done ideas for the sake of short-term cash flow at the expense of integrity. On one level it’s InGen’s refusal to let the unsafe Jurassic attraction idea go. On a higher level it’s Universal and other movie studios refusing to let their mothballed movie properties go. Luckily for us, when Jurassic World abandons complex notions and goes all out for BIG DINOSAUR KILLS, at least Universal’s conscious decision for commerce over art doesn’t murder the audience in the theater. The worst it does is push smaller films off the docket, which is lamentable for different reasons.
Nitpicking? A few early scenes try to replicate that sense of awe we remember from our first sightings of realistic CG dinosaurs roaming the majestic tropical plains, but it’s hard to evoke a new response to what’s now a simple baseline expectation. The wow factor for herds running across grassy fields is kind of gone by this point, no matter how much Michael Giacchino’s faithful score tries to inspire us.
Once we’re past the prehistoric pastoral, most of the movie is the main cast easily outrunning creatures that should’ve had no trouble catching up to them and reducing the movie to a tragic, hour-long Dawn of the Planet of the Lizards. Remember the T-Rex that nearly caught up to the speeding jeep in the first one? The raptors that this very movie tells us can run 40-50 MPH? The spinosaurus and other behemoths with strides dozens of feet long who could overtake us puny humans in a single stride? Compared to them, every major character is an Olympian super-soldier.
One scene from the trailer that looked promising is a pterosaur invasion remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds, fraught with frightened tourists screaming and fleeing in broad, sunny daylight, surrounded by shattering glass and flapping and screeching and pecking and whatnot. The surviving soldiers come in and skeet-shoot a handful of them, but the scene ends abruptly once Our Heroes meet up and compare notes. The film basically decides it’s bored, cuts away without any real resolution, and suddenly it’s nighttime from there till the climax, even though literally nothing happened during those yadda-yadda’d hours.
Parents of younger kids should know the violence is on par with the original trilogy, and I’d argue there’s at least one scene where an innocent’s death is harshly drawn out in a way that feels more in step with the black-humored Piranha movies than with a franchise that wants to sell LEGO sets.
So did I like it or not? So far it feels better to me than The Lost World, though the latter didn’t start disappointing me till I watched it a second time. The jury’s still out on whether or not Jurassic World will stick around in my mind longer than the short, disposable third one did.
As a popcorn film it does its job in a determinedly old-fashioned way, with the expensive effects, the jump-scares, the noble hero, the occasional explosion, the familiar actors enjoying themselves to varying degrees, the women and children who aren’t completely helpless, except when it’s time for our noble hero to do noble hero stuff. I’m usually cool with straightforward noble hero stuff, but it seems weird and unfair to see Chris Pratt branching into a different kind of role for him, one that curtails the lighthearted improv that’s always the best part of everything he does. Maybe he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as that guy all career long, but I’ve grown rather accustomed to his strengths and wish we’d had more of him unleashed here.
While the human interactions grow increasingly awkward and superfluous in the final hour, I’d have to be a humorless, eightysomething stick-in-the-mud to rebuke the film’s grandest spectacle, the great big Godzillatastic dino-bashing showdown that so blatantly aims for the kid’s heart in all of us. I have to wonder if it was the first scene they wrote, and then the rest of the screenplay was reverse-engineered purely to make it happen by any plot device necessary. I wish life had found a way for the rest of Jurassic World to match that same giddy zeal, or the heartwarming cleverness of too-brief scenes like the baby triceratops petting zoo or the one touching moment where The Land Before Time meets Where the Red Fern Grows. And it’s a shame the wink-wink self-parody gags are short-lived. On average, though, this stockholder-pleasing sequel is thankfully a bit more fun than flipping through a museum gift shop catalog.
How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after the Jurassic World end credits, as the ushers helpfully told us early on in a meek effort to chase us out so they could sweep our row, even though we neither bought nor brought any food or drinks. It’s nice of them to think that they’re saving us time, but they’re actually wasting their own. Watching the end credits is just this thing we do, even if we already pretty sure what’s not coming. You never know when something else will interest one of us more than it would the average viewer.
Prime example: I like to see the names of the storyboard artists because a lot of those guys got their start in comics. In the case of Jurassic World, for example, among the seven or eight names I recognized Dan Sweetman (Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children) and Tim Burgard (Eternity Smith, Malibu’s The Strangers). That’s my kind of end-credit trivia. There’s a whole world of potential curios to be had in those crawls — list of filming locations, product-placement kudos, random filmmaker messages, buried jokes, accent coaches, and even the Special Thanks section, which for Jurassic World included luminaries such as Brad Bird, Kathleen Kennedy, and The Lost World screenwriter David Koepp.
The way we figure it, we paid to see one (1) complete movie. The credits are part of the movie. If we want to stay for the whole meal rather than leave the unused portion behind, we’re within our consumer privileges to hang out for just a few more minutes. It’s not like we’re loitering half an hour after the end and forcing them to delay the next showing. So take your broom and dustpan and maybe go pick up a few tossed cups from your perpetually trashed parking lot, and we’ll be out of your way momentarily so you can inspect the row that we’re leaving in mint condition just for you. You’re welcome, and thanks for the movie!