The premise of Jurassic World is a good one: what if a dinosaur theme park existed, and we were already bored of it? In the film, the park’s creators are driven to ever-more outlandish ideas for attractions, an intriguing commentary on our society’s fetishisation of the new. It also serves as a mostly-accidental piece of meta-commentary, for of course the film’s creators have assumed the same as their fictional counterparts. Simple dinosaurs will surely no longer be enough for a 2015 cinema audience: the wow-factor must be upped. Thus we have genetically-modified hybrid monsters and human-trained velociraptors and bucket-loads of computer-generated imagery hurled at the screen.
The quality of the resulting film is as wildly variable as its CGI. It’s a huge relief that it clears two major bars: the one set by its immediate predecessor, the flat Jurassic Park 3, and the one set by its own mediocre trailers. It’s a lot better than both. In retrospect, it almost seems as if the advertising was bad on purpose. The appalling, migraine-level dialogue from the trailers was almost all cut out of context and thus – instead of focussing on the fact that it’s still pretty bad – I’m mostly just thrilled that it’s not as awful as expected.
Still, although none of it sounds terribly out of place in a summer blockbuster, the script is still easily the film’s biggest crutch. It’s classic tell-not-show as reams of exposition and personality indicators spill from the mouths of our mostly personality-free characters. The two kids are boring as written, but saved by decent acting. The usually charismatic Chris Pratt is stripped down to a solemn action stereotype, while Bryce Dallas Howard is lumbered with a role that would have seemed sexist in the 90s, but is especially jarring in the wake of films like Mad Max. She tried to have a career, but look how she’s terrible at it and actually just wants a family!
Empathising with the protagonists is made all the more difficult by their repeatedly terrible decision-making, in which they consistently wander into danger with high heels and no strategy, and get numerous people killed by doing either nothing or worse. All of them suffer from a weird kind of danger blindness, in which they stop worrying (and moving) the second they can’t see a dinosaur any more. Meanwhile, the bad guys have terrible plans that make no sense and are almost completely irrelevant to the plot. (Why do we even need human villains in a film about rampaging dinosaurs?)
The tone of the film is as muddled as a T-Rex attempting a Rubik’s Cube. At times, it’s brutal, scary, even shocking, as reams of humans are gruesomely dispatched in kill scenes that rival and surpass anything the franchise has shown before. One secondary character’s death is almost disturbingly over-the-top, but almost immediately forgotten. Indeed, none of the dying carries any weight, because no-one ever cares or dwells on it. In this way, the film scuppers itself by undercutting so many of its potentially iconic moments. It begins as a slow-burner, like Jurassic Park, but lacks the patience to sustain this atmosphere. One can see where it seeks to capture the brilliant claustrophobia of the original film, but it’s in too much of a hurry to reach the next action scene or another morsel of light, cheesy humour.
Despite all of this, much of Jurassic World works. The hybrid dinosaur and semi-domesticated raptors aren’t nearly as goofy as expected, and the raptor story arc is arguably the highlight of the film. The story has a sincerity about it that sells its more outlandish elements – at least until the barmy climax, that will polarise audiences into good-natured cheering and cynical laughter. Talking of laughter, some of the film’s comedy sticks, including one hilarious control room scene that neatly subverts the office romance cliche.
In only his second feature film, director Colin Treverrow displays a steady and creative hand to ensure he passes his first Hollywood test. If he can’t quite capture the adrenalin rush he aims for, he does at least nail moments of pure nostalgic joy. The film should be lauded for its attempt at a coherent thematic premise, and it has an interesting take on the age-old parables of science-gone-wrong and man-playing-god. In particular, it suggests that there’s no clear line between good and bad science, and the logical conclusion of one may often be the other. This moral ambiguity saves the narrative from feeling too preachy.
Finally, it’s fantastic to be able to report that the most important part of the franchise has survived fully intact. The first time the iconic score kicks in is a genuine thrill, and while the new music is also effective, it’s mostly because it has the sense to build itself around the original theme.
I have a soft spot for The Lost World, but this is probably the second best movie in the franchise. In keeping with its theme park roots, it’s a solid roller coaster of a film, pacy and entertaining, with some good set pieces and very little to slow it down. It doesn’t labour its ending, and in fact finds a surprising amount of nuance after two hours of on-the-nose thematic dialogue. If you’re a fan of its predecessors – or even just dinosaurs – it’s hard to imagine you would leave the theatre dissatisfied with the toothy smorgasbord on show.