Monday, June 15, 2015

[Review] Jurassic World


With all the anticipation surrounding Jurassic World, there isn't much preface needed. It'd be a Captain Obvious statement to say that this sequel doesn't capture the magic of the first Jurassic Park. So the question is: Does Jurassic World roar as an entertaining summer Blockbuster? The answer is yes.

Jurassic World is now a thriving theme park, complete with trains & hi-tech gyro balls perusing the dino-occupied island, safari adventures, virtual museums, and SeaWorld-like displays... Oh and there's even a petting zoo (herbivores only, of course). A pair of brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) & Gray (Ty Simpkins) are on their way to vacationing Jurassic World and visit their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who's the uptight manager of the park. There's foreshadowing galore, to the point where the characters are practically winking through the screen. And the script pulls a 22 Jump Street with its numerous subtextual nods to the tall task of living up to sequel expectations. One of its "Bigger & Better" attractions is a genetically modified T-Rex that has superbeast characteristics.

We also meet Owen (Chris Pratt), a tough & dedicated Raptor trainer who is a "one with the creatures" type. A power hungry prick played by Vincent D'Onofrio sort of takes on the role of Dennis (Wayne Knight) from Jurassic Park. His beady eyes are set on the Raptors. Since the Raptors can be trained ("trained" is a very relative term in this situation), D'Onofrio's character thinks they can replace drones for battle purposes (yes, you read that right). The film kicks into gear when the Super T-Rex escapes from its quarters, and the entire island breaks into a frenzy.

Any semblance of a tight or meaningful story is pretty much tossed into the cages like a sacrificial piece of meat ready to be devoured. There's a lot of screaming and running for lives as the Super T-Rex is out tearing shit up for the hell of it. The body count is high here, and humans get mauled like it's nothin'. The film contains some well-designed actions sequences and it likes to bring about plenty of nerve-wracking close calls for the group of protagonists. But there's such a brevity to the tone that no matter how dangerous and violent things get, it's actually a blast.

It's interesting how director Colin Trevorrow, whose only previous credit includes Safety Not Guaranteed--a sweet indie dramedy (practically on the mumblecore scale) with just a slight element of sci-fi to it--makes the leap to gigantic franchise Blockbuster territory. You don't really get any distinctions here on the big screen (as opposed to Gareth Edwards' recent Godzilla), but he's having a lot of fun with it, and he brings along Jake Johnson (who also was in Safety Not Guaranteed) for the ride, and he actually might be the real MVP in the cast. Trevorrow makes sure to insert a few nostalgic odes to Jurassic Park, as well.

Now for the gripes. While the CGI dinosaurs look pretty good here, they still don't look as captivatingly real as the ones in Spielberg's 1993 classic. And Jurassic World isn't even quite on the same level as other contemporary Blockbusters of the same ilk. It doesn't pack the epic punch of Pacific Rim. It isn't as heavy and brooding as last year's Godzilla. And it doesn't have the heartfelt resonation of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Sure, Jurassic World isn't necessarily trying to accomplish the latter two aspects, but that doesn't mean those elements still can't take things up a notch. I can't go without mentioning how irksomely flat Zach's character is. No, I was not expecting some richly in-depth role at all, but he's basically a piece of cardboard here--like he's half asleep the whole time. The actor was really good in the coming-of-age indie Kings of Summer from a couple summers ago, so he's capable of more. Detractors will be quick to point out the use of deus ex machina in the plot, but I was actually fine with it. I'd go into further reasoning, but I don't want to get too spoilerish.

Jurassic World is still an entertaining romp and it's a great theater experience. Things could have been a lot worse. That doesn't sound like much of a compliment, but with all the pressure the film faces, it successfully delivers the goods.

7.5/10

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