It's been 22 years since Jurassic Park roared into multiplexes and filled our hearts and minds with irrepressible love for T-Rexes, raptors and the like. Two fine, if lacklustre sequels were released to sate our appetites for dinosaurs but there's been a 14 year interim between the last dino-foray (Jurassic Park III) and Jurassic World, the newest installment in the franchise.
Jurassic World Review
Jurassic World finds us revisiting Isla Nublar, the island from the original film, now a successful long-running theme park (it's never explained how they got over the initial PR hump that myriad instances of death and destruction caused in the past would lead to. The investors probably just said "But dinosaurs!" and threw wads of cash around, chomping JP-branded cigars). In fact, Jurassic World has become such a fixture that footfall has plateaued, and the corporation now running it (led by Irrfan Khan's Simon Masrani) insists upon innovation to draw in the crowds, leading to the creation of a genetically modified creature named the Indominus Rex. Needless to say, the corporation knows not what they have created, and the situation escalates quickly (or in the words of Ian Malcolm, "Oh 'ooh aah', that's how it all starts. Then there's running, and then screaming...").
Jurassic World is co-written and directed by Colin Trevorrow, who has previously only helmed the indie Safety Not Guaranteed. Despite this seeming lack of experience, he handles the copious action sequences with deftness and clarity, and there are some genuinely thrilling set pieces.
Unfortunately the film falls down on almost every other aspect, most notably the shallow depiction of the characters involved. Chris Pratt, as velociraptor trainer and nominal hero Owen Grady, seems notably constrained by the buff and manly humourlessness of his character and lacks his usual effortless charm. Bryce Dallas Howard tries her best with park operations manager Claire, but is hampered by a characterisation that seems a few decades out of date – she starts the film as an uptight career woman (we know she's a stickler because her hair is straightened to hell and she's wearing a spotless white outfit! She loves itineraries!), but is gradually loosened up by the rakish charms of her leading man. She is given a big action moment that is basically signposted “THIS IS THE RIPLEY SCENE” but it's somewhat undermined by the fact that she's ridiculously forced to wear high heels throughout. Other characters in the film are mostly one-note or under-served (Omar Sy), and the scant other female characters exist seemingly just to cry or be involved in horribly protracted death scenes.
Perhaps it's unsurprising that the humans are given short shrift, when the main attractions are, as ever, the dinosaurs. However, although all the old familiar creatures are given facetime, the new creation is where the film's interest lies. “No-one's impressed by a dinosaur anymore” a character states, before our introduction to the Indominus Rex, the all-new genetically modified super dino, a mash-up of all your old favourites.
This is what the film self-referentially claims the audience wants – everything to be bigger and better and more, a sly commentary on the nature of Hollywood blockbusters these days. However, the film fully indulges in the behaviour they critique by having scene after scene of dinosaur action where they do everything they can to escalate the stakes to the point of ridiculousness. These action scenes look great but don't quite feel organic. Similarly, the CG effects used to create the dinosaurs are smoothly done but barely look any more advanced then the original in 1993. Although it's still a thrill to see a triceratops or a brontosaurus realised on screen, there's something soulless about them this time around.
The main problem with the film is its lack of wonder and emotion. There is no particular love of scientific enquiry or the creatures involved. This is illustrated in one of the early scenes of the film; a character arrives at Jurassic World all excited, enters his room and goes straight to the window where the score swells with the familiar theme and he opens the curtains to marvel at... basically a cod-Disneyland main street with Ben & Jerry's, Starbucks and the Samsung sponsored visitor centre. Not exactly a brachiosaurus.
Overall, this is a perfectly serviceable summer blockbuster with intermittent chuckles, solid action, attractive actors and dinosaurs. As a much heralded addition to a film franchise that many hold beloved, it's just another uninspired sequel, without the included verve of beloved characters like Ian Malcolm, Alan Grant or Ellie Sattler to get you through. The inevitable sequels have already been planned, but if the outcome is another forgettable entry, perhaps the filmmakers should stop trying to revive an old franchise by splicing in all the frog and cuttlefish DNA they can find and just let the old girl rest.