It’s amazing how a few decades can change standards in moviegoing. In 1993, simply seeing Steven Spielberg throw credible dinosaurs up on the big screen qualified as an unprecedented success of cinematic spectacle. These days, Colin Trevorrow spends the last 20 minutes of his movie staging a massive multi-species dino battle royale that transforms an entire theme park into smoldering rubble, and it only inspires mild smiles of satisfaction.
Granted, the ‘Jurassic Park’ fourquel comments on that with a handful of in-jokes, but acknowledging such nagging problems doesn’t erase them. If anything, it just highlights the annoyance.
The film takes place 22-years after John Hammond’s grand theme park folly. Despite that tragedy, a T-Rex rampage through San Diego and a variety of paragliding related dino-disasters (or whatever the hell ‘JP III’ was about), somehow a full-on dinosaur theme park was eventually built on that cursed island and it proved to be a massive success. In fact, it’s become such an institution that tourists are getting bored with all those living dinosaur enclosures and demand more. For Jurassic World’s leader/manager/spokesperson/whatever Bryce Dallas Howard, that means constantly finding bigger, better, bitey-er dinosaurs to bring in the crowds. For some reason, that led to gene-splicing a super-dino that can camouflage itself to its surroundings and kill everything in sight. That seems like an unnecessary risk, but whatever.
It also means that Chris Pratt (his job title is equally unclear… maybe Official Park Badass?) has started training raptors to be his buddies under the watchful eye of Vincent D’Onofrio (who must be up to no good, because he’s Vincent D’Onofrio). The film takes place over a weekend when Howard must both supervise the launch of her super-dino and look after her two young nephews (Ty Simpkns and Nick Robinson), so nothing can possibly be allowed to go wrong. It’s got to be the safest and most productive weekend at Jurassic World ever! Surely, that’s exactly what will happen. The movie will be the uneventful tale of a dinosaur theme park that’s run and managed to perfection!
Well, actually no, not so much.
‘Jurassic World’ is a sequel about as thoroughly unnecessary as humanly possible, that exists for no reason other than the mighty power of brand loyalty. Thankfully, the only actual disasters involved with the project are the on-screen dino shenanigans. Other than that, it’s actually kind of fun if you can turn your brain off, lower your expectations, and let all the silliness wash over you like a massively expensive CGI shower. Things even start off rather well. Although many of the narrative setups can feel tedious as you watch a house of cards slowly get built just to get violently torn down, at least the process is kind of fun.
The fact that the ‘Safety Not Guaranteed‘ director/writer team of Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly were put in charge of this ship helps quite a bit in the early going. With only a single quirky indie to their names, the duo seemed like an odd choice for a massive sequel, but their playful and self-conscious sense of humor serves as the film’s greatest strength.
Plenty of laughs are made at the expense of Jurassic World attendees (both fictional theme park visitors and contemporary viewers in the movie theater) no longer being impressed by the mere sight of dinosaurs. Early dino reveals are dismissively ignored by characters in some clever visual gags, and oodles of nostalgic callbacks to the original film are worked into the plot as characters recall those fictional events fondly. A pair of hilarious technical supervisors for the park played by Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus also pop up frequently as a peanut gallery acknowledging the absurdity and repetitiveness of the movie to give the audience and out for falling for the same stupid plot devices yet again. Trevorrow and Connolly’s sense of flippant appreciation for the franchise is enough to keep the film’s sense of dumb sequelitis at bay for good chunks of the running time, but sadly not all of it.
Unfortunately, those self-consciously humorous touches only scrape along the sidelines, while the main storylines feel like a compilation of a variety of scripts slammed together with little concern for logic, reason or consistency. Chris Pratt proves that he is indeed a legit action star by managing to come off as charming and likable despite essentially having no character to play, other than being the guy who knows exactly what to do at all times. His plot involving training velociraptors is completely preposterous, even for a movie in which the audience already accepts that dinosaurs have returned through dumb science.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s weaponizing-dinosaurs-for-the-government plot is even more idiotic and almost impossible to understand – but thankfully the filmmakers make that a bit of a joke when his speech finally explaining the plan is cut mercifully short. Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is hard to ever fully warm up to; she seems to have been set up to be a villain in an early draft of the script, but was then changed into a hero without anyone bothering to give her an arc explaining how that happened. As for the kids, they too are established as protagonists early on, only to essentially become sidekicks at a certain point once Pratt takes over as the star. To be honest, it’s hard to take any of the characters or plot threads seriously, but luckily it’s not really necessary.
The reason all the storylines and character beats are so rushed and confused is clearly so that Trevorrow and his effects team can cram in as much dino carnage as possible. Sure, the idea of heroic raptors trained by Chris Pratt is stupid, but at least that concept doesn’t come to fruition until deep into the second half of the movie, which is essentially a series of massive dinosaur set-pieces with the bare minimum of connective tissue. There are probably more dino attacks here than in the entire first three films combined, and when they crescendo into a beautifully stupid and absolutely massive series of climaxes, it’s hard not to smile at the dino mayhem on display.
Sadly, none of the astounding dino puppets return, and that’s a damn shame. The monsters in ‘Jurassic World’ are all CGI except for a couple of stationary puppets, and even they’re obviously CG-enhanced. That might rob the big scenes of the sense of practical, physical scale that makes the first film hold up so well, but Trevorrow and company help make up for that through a collection of delightfully absurd (and often tongue-in-cheek) dino images that have to be seen to be believed.
It might all feel like overkill, and the movie lacks all the emotional weight, wonder, comprehensible pseudoscience, cynicism and dynamic characters that made the original movie so special and endearing, but at least ‘Jurassic World’ never takes itself seriously and delivers plenty of money shots. That’s not enough to make it a great summer movie, but it’s enough to make it a fun one, and that’s all that counts. If nothing else, this is at least a hell of a lot better than ‘Jurassic Park III’ and functions as adequate braindead summer entertainment with a handful of genuinely memorable highlights. That’ll do. ‘Jurassic World’ might not be great, but it could have turned out much worse.