It doesn’t matter what I think, the studio already has your money.
*spoiler free (plot)*
When it comes to Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, I am at a crossroads. On the one hand, people got what they apparently wanted, a new Jurassic Park film, and so far they’ve shown their appreciation by opening their wallets to the tune of five fucking hundred million dollars during opening weekend. One cannot argue with the box office – movies are a business after all. And the masses seem satisfied, or at least intrigued, which is fair enough. Although comment resembling positivity is set to be few and far between during this review, I will say what I’ve said time and again, which is that if an average sequel or unnecessary resurrection of a franchise years on does well enough to encourage those yet to see the original to go back and check it out, then it could just about be considered worth it (to an extremely limited extent). That, at the very least, will likely be a potential upside here.
On the other hand, did we really need yet another JP flick? Of course not. In fact, there shouldn’t have been any follow-ups in the first place. If a blockbuster sequel is to be made, it either needs to pull out all the stops or resign itself to the straight-to-video bin without trying to be too serious (the Jaws franchise, for example). The ‘problem’ with JP is that the material never really leant itself to being expanded upon in a manner befitting the multi-layered excitement of the original. Michael Crichton was pushed into writing the literary continuation in the form of The Lost World, primarily so that a second film could be made, resulting in everything feeling distinctly shallow in comparison. Put simply, the original is a standalone classic and, like E.T. – another Spielberg legacy – should have been left well alone.
Indeed, apart from a few bedroom-dwelling forum fanboys, it’s hard to believe anyone was really clamouring for, or even thinking of a new JP sequel prior to it being announced. I mean, let’s be honest, TLW and III were generally complete toss, devoid of tension or charm with special effects that are not, I repeat, NOT as good as you remember. Fourteen years on, little has changed on Isla Nublar. The allure and subsequent success of JW stems from Universal (and everyone else involved) dangling what amounts to little more than the well-worn carrot that is nostalgia. And, as per usual, it worked a treat. The target audience, myself included, ate it (and paid) up, regardless of whether or not they had reservations regarding such an obvious marketing ploy.
Ironically, it’s these forced, in-your-face trips down memory lane that are the undoing of the picture from the get-go. The limited nature of the subject matter in terms of applicable drama and suspense means we’re pretty much immediately thrust into full CGI-epic-establishing-shot mode, complete with John Williams’ theme to tug at the ol’ heartstrings and produce a mandatory emotional connection based on absolutely nothing going on in the film itself. Worse still is the pointless littering of blatant nods, winks and throwbacks to the original, with Trevorrow and Co. going full Crystal Skull on us by proceeding to shoehorn in as many references as possible, despite the fact that some of them make no sense whatsoever. I won’t lie, it raises a knowing smile at times, but it’s essentially reaction-bait, a feature length trailer if you will. When so many scenes and shots are included for what is effectively audience participation, rather than such instances occurring organically, you run the risk of taking your viewers out of the movie.
Elsewhere the writing and performances do little to establish the film in its own right, with both likely being torn apart by my numerous fellow nerds even as I type. Needless to say, it’s all rather shocking. I have time for Chris Pratt, he’s got a natural style and does the best he can with the desperate wannabe Goldblum-esque lines he’s fed, but he’s just one element wasted by the truly awful script. For the most part the two-dimensional characters and their respective arcs are so clichéd and bordering on embarrassingly out-dated, that they don’t even fall into the so-bad-it’s-good-ROFL realm of fondly remembered crappy sci-fi/action films of yore (you know, the 80s and 90s). It’s a wonder how anyone with authority signed off on the dialogue. Bryce Dallas Howard and the rest of the cast proceed to stumble through their one-liners in consistently unconvincing fashion, resulting in markedly poor delivery throughout.
Equally underwhelming is the central Jurassic presence, including the primary plot focus that is the Indominus Rex. Once again having the dinosaurs as the main antagonist in place of a tired human element (although this of course plays a part) was definitely the right way to go considering the island setting. Ultimately however, the I-Rex doesn’t provide much of a payoff. It quickly abandons the vaguely interesting setup and early use of hyper-intelligence in favour of a generic monster-mash approach – rampaging and destroying everything in its path, before meeting a predictable demise – causing any hint of tension to evaporate. Not once do you fear for any of the main characters, neither emotionally nor literally, due to both the sloppy writing and conveyance of the action. It’s the complete opposite of the expertly executed, gradual dino-development that made the original so memorable, backed of course by a tight script and strong performances all round.
There are some bright spots. In terms of editing and pacing things race along fast enough to get you to the end in good time, before thoughts of giving up become too serious. Some nice shots occasionally break up the tad-too-shiny large scale CGI (the T-Rex shadow emerging from Paddock 9 is worth keeping an eye out for), particularly the close up animatronics; a staple of the series that thankfully continues. In amongst the mostly cringe worthy ‘comedy’ are a few moments of packed cinema-themed amusement, and to be honest just being there with a full house of fans does help to spit shine the whole experience. A few attempts to use the I-Rex and its Jurassic World playground as playful, self-depreciating metaphors to poke fun at both the film and the Hollywood system in general are a welcome, surprisingly thoughtful touch. It’s just a shame that the overwhelming weakness of the film only ends up enhancing such parody still further, creating what feels like an admittance of defeat in place of any genuine attempt to rectify such misgivings.
Taken for what it is, a mindless summer blockbuster dripping in childhood memories, Jurassic World is entertaining enough in a throwaway sense – certainly a decent way to kill a couple of hours if literally all other options have been exhausted and you switch your brain firmly to the off position. In the context of its legacy however, no-one should expect it to be, or try to claim that it’s good, because it’s not. Take the kids, they’ll likely enjoy it, then show them the original if they’re yet to watch it. Enter with low expectations and at times you’ll wear a mellow smile with a bonus feeling of nostalgic pleasantness, in spite of the high levels of cringe. Anything higher, don’t waste your time. Between an obvious unresolved embryo-laden ‘escape’ and Chris Pratt all but giving away that he’s signed on to reprise his role, a no doubt hapless sequel and pointless further continuation of the franchise appears inevitable. After all…
…studios, uh, find a way.