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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Movie Review: 'Jurassic World'

The return of dinosaur destruction satisfies but doesn't sustain.

Review by Matt Cummings

WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.

When Jurassic Park premiered in 1993, audiences were amazed at what eventually became the next great leap in CGI: believable prehistorics being chased by humans who effectively argued against man interfering with nature. Two disappointing sequels and two decades later, the sequel/retconned Jurassic World arrives, sparring no expense to return the franchise to respectability. And while it satisfies in the simplest way possible, its story gaps, good (not great) CGI, and decent performances keep it from wiping off the mud of its shunned brethren.

After the disastrous events of Isla Nubar in the first film, The Disneyland-like world of Isla Nubar is now replete with happy genetically-spliced dinosaurs of every kind, creating a safe (if homogeneous) experience, with children riding mini-Triceratops and a Sea World-inspired demonstration of a Mosasaurus. Among its visitors are brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), who worries that his parents are getting a divorce. The two are special guests of their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park's coldly-efficient director. She's too busy with meetings and VIP arrivals to spend time with them, causing the boys' mother (Judy Greer) to worry about their safety. Claire's lab has also been busy making a new hybrid called Indominus Rex, which promises to ramp up ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. But that doesn't sit well with former Navy man-turned-raptor-trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), who urges Claire to shut down the program. Unfortunately, the beast gets out, spreading terror across the park and forcing Owen and Claire to work together to rein it in.

Let's be clear: Jurassic's dinosaurs have always ranked middle to low on the destructive creature scale, with Godzilla at the top and Pacific Rim kaijus offering him stiff competition. Godzilla would have taken down Indominus Rex in a heartbeat, making the hybrid beast's actions seem more welterweight than big heavy. Sadly, that's the sense you get throughout World, that the dinosaurs are either posers or high-class Beverly Hills types that couldn't survive in America's more desperate towns. Director Collin Trevorrow proves he can move from the slow burn comedy of Safety Not Guaranteed to wild action without blinking a green-tinged dinosaur eye. The problem is that he and Writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Connelly don't bring those independent sensibilities of character development with them. Characterization essentially ends after Act 1, replaced with near-deafening dinosaur screaming, running, and bashing. There are guffaws in the story as well, such as the ill-conceived "I think our parents are getting a divorce" subplot that's never addressed after Act 2. Everyone re-gathers at the end to group hugs without ever knowing if the parents were seeking a divorce in the first place. Why even include it if there's never a resolution?

Pratt's Owen comes across as a dinosaur whisperer without really knowing how he got there, short of bonding with his boys at hatching. Baddie Vincent D'Onofrio is nothing more than a one-note military man obsessed with incorporating raptors into the military ranks (huh?), his performance foreshadowing his fate as a tasty treat for Owen's raptor posse. The relationship between Pratt and Howard feels as cold as the dead shark which Mosasaurus feeds on in the first act, their chemistry nearly non-existent. You could see this problem in the trailers, as neither seemed quite right for their roles. There is one funny scene between them, as we learn that the two went on a date once; it's the funniest exchange of the film.

But we're here to see dinosaurs destroying stuff, and Trevorrow's team is ready to do so. The first assumption they make is that The Lost World and JP II never existed. Will audiences care either way that those productions have been shunned? They throw plenty of tips to the original, along with the cautionary argument of playing God, performed well enough by mad scientist Henry Wu (BD Wong) and the charmingly stand-up billionaire owner Masrami (Irrfan Khan), as one tries to convince the other that the key to the park's diminishing profits is to make things bigger. All it apparently proves is that corporate responsibility still gets you dead. Fans might also dislike the way Trevorrow takes a page from Director Gareth Edwards' teasing of Godzilla last year. If you hated that, you'll despise the first 45 minutes of World. CGI is good but not spectacular, with Pratt's ride through the jungle looking horrible. The film does benefit from a spot-on score by Composer Michael Giacchino, who borrows many elements from John Williams with near perfect results.

Jurassic World never escapes the self-mockery of corporate sponsorships and white-washed theme parks, settling in on a big loud experience that is the very thing it initially despises. But it's also big fun, so long as you don't care about character development or the mistakes of man (once again) coming back to haunt them. It's just more of the same, and yet less of it. But if it's your plan to see it regardless, do so on the biggest screen available. At least you'll enjoy that part.

Jurassic World is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril and has a runtime of 124 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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