NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
It used to be that Hollywood would entrust its franchise-rebooting summer tentpole no-brainers to capable journeymen like Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) or arrant hacks like Len Wiseman (Die Hard 4.0). Following the high-jump career arc of Gareth Edwards (Monsters to Godzilla), Colin Trevarrow here vaults from the spiky indie Safety Not Guaranteed to the fourth instalment of the Michael Crichton-Steven Spielberg Westworld-with-dinsoaurs effects showcase monster saga. Jake Johnson, the lead of Safety Not Guaranteed, comes along and has a quirky little indie sub-plot as the dino-nerd techie in the control room whose crush on a co-worker (Lauren Lapkus, who’s like the Barbie version of SNG co-star Mary Lynn Rajskub) sets up the film’s best scenes-we’d-like-to-see punchline (though it’d have been funnier played by the film’s stars). Otherwise, it’s hard to discern any directorial personality here at all – this is a studio patchwork film, as opposed to the fiercely auteurist Mad Max Fury Road, the movie which has set the 2015 gold standard for getting old series going again. It’s worth remembering that even Spielberg turned in a xerox with added monsters when he made a Jurassic Park sequel, so it may be that the well is poisoned.
This is the first of the Jurassics to be set in a functioning, crowded dino theme park where things go wrong – making it even closer to Westworld. The multi-authored screenplay (Trevarrow, Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa, Derek Connolly and who knows how many uncredited other hands) sets up several unwise corporate ventures which cause the inevitable tsuris. In one corner of Isla Nublar, the private security division on InGen – repped by militarist good ole boy Hoskins (snack-sized Vincent d’Onofrio) – is muscling in on a velociraptor breeding-and-training program run by Owen (Chris Pratt), an unreconstructed macho alpha with an unspecified science/animal training background. The idea is to strap cameras to the monsters’ heads and send them into combat, which might do for an Asylym SyFy channel movie but would seem fairly ridiculous in a shooting war – they might have deadly claw-feet but those little flappy arms couldn’t aim a rifle for shit, and raptors can be blown up or gunned down like any other grunt. Meanwhile, in the theme park, tycoon Masrani (Irfan Khan) – who promised seen-as-a-statue Richard Attenborough to keep breeding dinosaurs ‘for the kids’ – has had steely mad scientist Henry Wu (BD Wong) crossbreed several species to create Indominus Rex, a newmade, ultra-dangerous dino as a new attraction to bump up attendance figures. Naturally, the big beast – whose genetic makeup allows for some decent surprises – gets loose, and things go to hell …
… but between well-staged 3D dino attacks, Jurassic World is stuck with Pratt, coasting on the charm he showed in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Bryce Dallas Howard, tottering in ‘ridiculous shoes’, as feuding but destined to get together romantic leads. In a scenario that would have been embarrassing in the era of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Claire (Howard) is a brittle, domineering career woman – though her precise job at JW is also unspecified – who neglects her visiting nephews Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) because she has important stuff to do. She feels so guilty when they (through their own fool actions) get into danger that she devotes the rest of the film to trying to save them, while barely giving lip-service to preserving the 20,000 other tourist lives on the island. As in San Andreas, the family values angle is mutated to justify what seems like colossal selfishness – Claire’s comedy stereotype assistant (Katie McGrath) is horribly killed while trying to look after the unruly brats and Claire never even asks what happened to her. Howard deserves better, and so does the excellent Judy Greer – cast in another nothing role as the boys’ Mom, who might be getting a divorce because she’s decided to have a career in boardroom meetings. Remember Laura Dern, Julianne Moore and even Tea Leoni in the earlier films? Playing scientists and adventurers. Notice that it’s now two boys in peril, with no equivalent to the dino-buff girl from Jurassic Park.
Still, this is a blockbuster summer picture – and few remember the dodgy sexual politics of, say, The Valley of Gwangi – and dedicated to delivering dinosaurs looming out and biting in IMAX RealD. Which it manages. The new star villain isn’t quite Godzilla, but does bring a kaiju feel to the game, and there are star turns for holdovers like the raptors (now I come to think of it, they’re female – which explains why Pratt can dominate the pack), a flock of pterodactyls and the big stomping T-Rex. An aquatic Mosasaurus is heavily featured, and gets to fulfil the function the T-Rex did in the first film – not yet sentimentalised about and fearsome enough to deliver plot shock attacks. Set-pieces feature dinos attacking the kids in a giant gyro-vehicle that looks like a hamster bowl), that ill-advised raptors-into-battle charge, the Indominus’s initial escape (though that has a plot hole as big as a bleeding hunk of flesh with an embedded tracking device) and a Birds-like swarm of pteras swooping down on fleeing tourist extras.