Jurassic World’s intention to be more like the original wasn’t just words thrown lightly in the heat of promotion. There are Spielbergian overtones all over this film, not to mention a pro-science agenda and certain contempt for corporations.
Indeed, Jurassic World easily stands above the third movie and gives The Lost World a run for its money, at least in subtext (a below-average Spielberg movie is still a Spielberg movie). But among the achievements there are a number of shortcomings that make the outcome somewhat uneven.
Built over the remains of John Hammond’s original vision, Jurassic World is very much like Disneyland, including insanely long lines, extreme merchandising and teens more interested in their smartphones than in dinosaurs walking the Earth for the first time in 65 million years.
With revenues dwindling and the wonder fading, InGen powers-to-be come up with an insanely short-sighted strategy: Create a new dinosaur with DNA of different species. The outcome –Indominus rex- is different all right: A creature capable of outsmarting its handlers and anxious to find its place in the pecking order. Spoiler alert: It’s pretty high.
It’s up to a handful of people to prevent massive carnage: Owen (Chris Pratt), a no-nonsense velociraptor handler; Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the workaholic operational manager; and Simon (Irrfan Khan), the company’s CEO. Against them, the morally bankrupt head of security (reliably evil Vincent D’Onofrio), the aforementioned Indominus rex and a flock of pterodactyls. The raptors are the wild card: They acknowledge Owen as their alpha, albeit reluctantly, and are not too fond of other humans.
The raptors angle is the most original element in Jurassic World: The whole notion of leader of the pack has not been explored until now, let alone the idea of weaponizing these creatures. Unfortunately, the film falls into patterns previously established by its predecessors: Moppets in constant peril, professionals taken out with surprising ease and a considerable amount of running.
Director Colin Trevorrow does a very good job for someone whose only previous feature was a low budget indie (Safety Not Guaranteed). The set pieces are serviceably intense and coherent. The filmmaker recognizes there is no need for wall-to-wall action and allots plenty of time for the audience to appreciate the park working normally (a highlight being the petting zoo).
The tie-ins to the original are not the most obvious ones (namely Sam Neill, Laura Dern or Jeff Goldblum), but are easily recognizable. By making the events in Jurassic Park a PR nightmare InGen is trying to sweep under the rug, anything related tends to stick out. Chief among them is Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), the ethically-challenged geneticist who brought the dinosaurs back to life in the first place and now is creating new ones. This guy’s god complex is off the charts.
Trevorrow’s approach to the material is noticeably Spielbergian, but there are downsides to this strategy. The entire family-in-turmoil subplot -haunted by divorce, not by dinos- is grating, and the most complex character of the bunch is Blue, one of the raptors (Blue gets a fantastic hero shot later in the movie). Stuck in a Harrison Ford-type role, Chris Pratt considerable comedic chops go woefully underused.
Perhaps the most stimulating aspect of Jurassic World is the ending. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you it explodes the franchise wide open. A necessary development, as the island setting was wearing out. Where does the saga go from here? I’m warily interested.
Three prairiesaurus. Jurassic World is now playing, everywhere.