Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt
Running Time: 130 minutes
“No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore”, says operations manager Clare (Bryce Dallas Howard) as she struts along the shiny new corridors of the Jurassic World research facility. John Hammond’s vision of a prehistoric theme park has been realised at last, but already its patrons are demanding a new cash cow-o-saurus that is “bigger”, “cooler” and “scarier” than those previously resurrected. And Colin Trevorrow clearly feels the same commercial imperative as director. Since Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park in ‘93, CGI monsters have become reduced to mere cliché. Trevorrow too must deliver more, more, more. His blockbuster sequel is an oddly conscious metaphor for itself.
Clare certainly has a point, then: good ol’ Tyrannosaurus rex just doesn’t cut it for the jaded cinema-goer of today who yawns at Godzilla. The former is consigned to storage as 2015’s mad scientists cook up a more dangerous killer reptile for us to feast our overfed eyes on. Their new creation is dubbed “Indominus rex”, a genetic hybrid of T-rex and velociraptor with some tree frog and cuttlefish thrown in. The laws of Hollywood science dictate that the 40-foot creature can therefore camouflage, evade infrared sensors, and coordinate her dino attacks with enhanced problem-solving skills. She’s a big, cool, scary antagonist indeed.
But Trevorrow insists that the angry lizard represents more than this. I-rex is more often referred to as “the asset” by the park’s corporate bigwigs. Dinosaurs are nothing but numbers on a spreadsheet for them. In step with the morals of previous Jurassic instalments (although disregarding the events of 2 and 3), their greedy overreaching won’t end well. The film goes on to labour the point of punishing the fat cats when the asset escapes its paddock and starts smashing everything to bits.
Trevorrow’s anti-capitalist critique is then again undermined by brazen product placement: cue cameos from Coca-Cola, Mercedes, Samsung, et al. It’s all meant to be meta-ironic, but you wonder why one character would recite to us the entire spec of a Jeep Wrangler (“1992, sandy beige”) for no apparent reason.
As Indominus rampages its way through the complex, it soon becomes evident that everyone’s useless in a crisis except Chris Pratt, the true prince of the postmodern blockbuster. As Owen the raptor tamer, Pratt offers a masterclass in alpha-maleness as he forms his own special (if deeply silly) bond with the animals. He’s the natural heir to Harrison Ford in his rugged charms, and even does barrel rolls through sliding doors like Indiana Jones.
A genuine sense of peril pervades Clare and Owen’s search for her missing teenage nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins), who drop by for a family visit. Predator meets The Hunger Games as their chase across the island’s jungle gives way to vicious action sequences flecked with blood spatters and bone-crunching sound effects. With its dips into the emotional warmth of Trevorrow’s quirky indie debut Safety Not Guaranteed the brotherly subplot is easily the most rewarding of the film.
The excellent Howard could meanwhile be better used than in the role of stern foil for Owen’s quips, even despite her prowess in dispatching pterodactyls. But she does achieve a degree of depth in her redemptive transformation from corporatised drone to a real, loving human, which is more than might be said for other cast members. A case in point is Hammond’s proxy in the charismatic businessman Masrani (Irrfan Khan), who does little more than drive his helicopter and grin a lot.
The holes and writing flaws then again come as little surprise given that the film is older than the director’s own Hollywood career – after a decade of rewrites and delays, it was perhaps inevitable that the script would turn out uneven. The third act suffers in particular from unconvincing plot resolutions involving OTT anthropomorphism and a gate-crashing whale-alligator.
Which all points to the biggest weakness of the movie: like its DNA salad of a main monster, it suffers from a lack of clear identity. No matter how often John Williams’ soaring original score is replayed, it struggles to capture that sense of wonder and mystery found in Spielberg’s classic.
It would help if Trevorrow ditched the smirking self-references and gave his audience some proper credit (flying pixels can only be so entertaining), but it’s a fun and often hilarious ride besides. Where justified Hollywood sequels can be rare as raptors these days, Jurassic World is worth a visit.