Wednesday, June 10, 2015

'Jurassic World' Movie Review

Jurassic World is big and dumb and lacks most of the sense of wonder and awe of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original, but it’s also a lot of fun. Some elements, like character and story and motivation, don’t work so well, but on the level of sheer adventure and spectacle, this is a solid, special effects-heavy summer popcorn movie.

Set 22-years after the events of the first movie, the park of the title, now under the control of an eccentric billionaire (Irrfan Khan), is open for business and handles 20,000 people a day. Try not ask why all of these people would go to a park where the first attempt killed many people—this is a fact that appears to be common knowledge—just dive in, accept that they do, and move on. Not only is there the inherent risk of dinosaurs roaming about, the design of the park just seems negligently dangerous. In one ride you’re out there, alone, not on a track, stuck in a hamster ball that only you can control and that we learn are shockingly easy to get out of.

The awkward attempt at plot revolves around two brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins). Their parents are divorcing and send them on a trip by themselves for some reason, to see their aunt, Clare (Bryce Dallas Howard), who runs the park, hasn’t seen the kids in seven years, and is so busy that she immediately hands them off to her incompetent assistant. But ignore all of this because none of it matters.

What really counts is that in order to attract more business the park commissioned a new hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, a hodgepodge of DNA that, as the individual pieces are revealed throughout the film, each one is worse than the last. Not only is park horribly unsafe, they created a dangerous new addition that is a perfect killing machine, can camouflage itself, and is both evil and insane. Again, all you need to know is a killer dinosaur escapes and wreaks havoc. That’s the pertinent information. Everything else is window dressing.

More concerned with public image than actual public safety, Clare enlists the help of Owen (Chris Pratt), an animal behaviorist working with a pack of Velociraptors—it helps to think of him as the Raptor Whisperer, because that’s what he is. He is, of course, a hunky man of action and his role is to look sexy, crack wise, say ominous things—he has the unique ability to see the obvious flaws that no one else notices—and stare ominously into the middle distance. There’s also a subplot with a military contractor (Vincent D’Onofrio), that is...unnecessary is the best description.

For as good as the cast is on paper, aside from Pratt, there is no life to be found. He essentially plays Han Solo. For Christ’s sake, he even wears a Solo-style vest. The script from director Colin Trevorrow, his writing partner Derek Connolly, and the team of Rick Silver and Amanda Jaffa, tries to set up a Han-Leia type of banter between Owen and Clare, and while it works on occasion, it is solely because of Pratt, as Howard is super flat and bland. I’ve come to the realization that in Pratt’s two biggest roles, this and his turn in Guardians of the Galaxy, he plays versions of Harrison Ford characters, either Indiana Jones or Han Solo. Owen is a cocky dick, but he’s an entertaining, charismatic dick, and that makes him fun to watch, like both Han and Indy.

Robinson is fantastic in Kings of Summer, and Simpkins holds his own opposite Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3, so we know they can act, they just don’t have anything to work with. Zach is Sullen Teen, while Gray is Kid Who Is Way Too Smart For His Age, and there’s nothing else. As far as D’Onofrio goes, he’s so good in Daredevil, but in Jurassic World he’s such a one note villain he may as well be twirling his mustache, laughing manically, and tenting his fingers. Jake Johnson shows up in a small role to provide some sarcastic comic relief, but that barely moves the radar.

Why am I even talking about this? None of this matters because there are dinosaurs. Big ones, lots of them, running amok, and that’s awesome. For all of the tedious missteps in the plot, and the flat, lifeless characters, Jurassic World shouldn’t be this much fun, but it is. Sure, they over use the CGI, but they also employ some nice CGI-assisted mechanical effects as well. Jurassic World comes alive when Indominus Rex is in the midst of her kill-crazy ramp, when flock of airborne dinos ravages the unsuspecting tourists, or Chris Pratt leads a gang of Velociraptors into battle. Then it’s gleeful, exciting, and full of big, wild action.

Jurassic World is also wholly self-aware, which alternates between being a benefit and a detriment. The film itself is essentially the Indominus Rex. This is a world where dinosaurs are so commonplace that no one really pays attention. They need something bigger, scarier, with more teeth to capture people’s attention again. Blockbuster movies are in the same boat. Your film needs to be grander and more spectacular than the last one or no gives a damn. Both are the result of corporate mandates—go big, spend more, go further over the top. Sometimes that works, but sometimes you create a monster that is completely out of your control not matter how strong a grip you think you have.

In this sense, there’s an anti-corporate undercurrent running through the picture, and it is full of obvious, overt jabs at sponsorship. At the same time, however, Jurassic World is the biggest shill of a movie you’ve ever seen. They may joke that Verizon is going to sponsor a new exhibit, but they’re also hocking Verizon. Every surface is plastered with logos, from Starbucks to Margaritaville, and while Trevorrow and company try their best to subvert this, the fact remains that Jurassic World is one walking, talking, tourist-eating billboard. It’s hard to have it both ways, and they don’t.

Jurassic World has so many factors working against it that, even individually, almost always derail a movie. It’s clumsy, full of flat, dead-eyed characters, and is an obvious cash grab. But somehow none of that matters, and what you get is the very definition of big, loud, dumb fun. Visually, Trevorrow borrows liberally from the Spielberg playbook, doing his best to keep you from dwelling on the issue, and somehow, the combination of Pratt and prehistoric spectacle is enough to keep this purely entertaining. [Grade: B-]

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