Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.
Running time: 123 minutes.
Two stars out of four.
It’s silly of me, right? I have this notion that a big, splashy blockbuster should provide characters and story lines that matter, that engage us, so that there are actual stakes and not just a lot of noisy stomping. Theoretically, we should care whether or not someone is going to get eaten by a genetically engineered, 50-foot-tall dinosaur. We shouldn’t be distracted by flimsy subplots, or the unlikely (and ungainly) sight of a grown woman running for her life through the jungle in high heels.
And yet, this is what “Jurassic World” gives us, in between some admittedly spectacular visuals.
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s not meant to be an Oscar winner.” “It’s a popcorn movie.” “Why can’t you just shut off your brain and have a good time?” Also: “You suck.”
All of the above are probably true. And yet, I had a hard time connecting with “Jurassic World” and its cardboard characters making poor choices over and over again. It simultaneously tries to cram in too much without giving us enough in the way of substance.
I was a big fan of director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow’s first feature, 2012’s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” an indie, sci-fi dramedy in which the time travel element actually worked. (It also made Mark Duplass surprisingly sexy for the first time.) Trevorrow is doing his best Spielberg impression here, and he creates a couple of thrilling set pieces — his pterodactyl attack, for example, is at once exciting and horrifying and a lovely little Hitchcock homage. But I’m not sure he was ready for a behemoth of a film like this just yet.
Let’s get to the plot real quickly, and a few thoughts, then call it a day. “Jurassic World” made nearly $209 million in its first weekend for the biggest domestic opening of all time. Clearly, you saw it and you know what happens. Nevertheless, let us trudge on.
A bunch of people, who didn’t learn from the travesties that occurred during the original “Jurassic Park” from 1993 and its two sequels, have developed yet another family-friendly dino playland on an island off the coast of Costa Rica under the guidance (and considerable financial support) of billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan).
Among his chief employees is velociraptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt), who is ruggedly confident and wears leather vests with zero irony. The one truly astonishing element of “Jurassic World” is that it manages to make Pratt boring. He’s the hottest and most charismatic star on the planet right now, and he’s on a huge roll following last year’s “The Lego Movie” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Here, he certainly rises to the physical challenges but he’s strangely understated, stuck as he is in a one-note role. It is an enormous bummer.
Pratt is also stuck in a half-baked romantic subplot with Bryce Dallas Howard, who co-stars as Claire, an all-business operations executive. (Her sleek bob says it all.) They had one date, and now he keeps trying to flirt with her. The banter in the script — from Trevorrow, “Safety Not Guaranteed” writer Derek Connolly and the husband-and-wife team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver — isn’t exactly the snappiest. And — spoiler! — when Owen and Claire finally do kiss after a sequence of great panic, it feels forced and hollow.
But Claire has been too busy for him, or for anything outside of work. Like a cliched rom-com heroine, she’s married to her job (for which her sister, played by Judy Greer, shames her). Claire is also busy on this particular day tending to her visiting nephews, sullen teenager Zach (Nick Robinson) and his perky moppet of a younger brother, Gray (Ty Simpkins). A subplot about the kids’ parents divorcing is brought up and then dropped — as if placing them in massive peril repeatedly ostensibly weren’t enough to garner our sympathy.
Then there’s another whole subplot featuring Vincent D’Onofrio as a private military contractor who wants to take Owen’s well-trained velociraptors and turn them into a lucrative fighting force. As if the humans-are-so-arrogant theme running through the whole series weren’t completely obvious yet, this really hammers it home, and it turns the formidable, versatile D’Onofrio into a swaggering, Texas stereotype.
These people and thousands of others find themselves under attack when the park’s latest attraction, a five-story-high dino hybrid known as the Indominus Rex, escapes after being raised in isolation for years. (This is incredibly violent for a PG-13 movie, by the way — something to think about if you’re pondering bringing young kids.) But the park gets a spike in attendance every time something new is developed, and under the watch of mad scientist Henry Wu (BD Wong), this is the biggest creature yet. It’s got more teeth, a brilliant mind and the ability to camouflage itself — all to “up the ‘wow’ factor,” as Claire puts it, with catastrophic consequences.
So basically, “Jurassic World” is a big-budget indictment of corporate greed, jammed with product placement for Samsung and Mercedes-Benz and Beats by Dre and Coca-Cola. But given the record-shattering opening the movie had, I’d say everyone involved had their cake, ate it too and went back for seconds.