FILM REVIEW: ‘Jurassic World’ bites and roars but doesn’t deliver anything of value

Jurassic World is pitted at a disadvantage just based on conception. The original is the kind of film that elicits awe, transports the viewer to shades of a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth and questions how humans would ever be able to coexist with such creatures. With the new sequel/reboot, too much stock is put into crafting this worldview that people are tired of that bygone era and crave the next biggest thing while too little thought is put into developing characters who advocate for the dreamers that could create such a world. To quote one of the most famous lines from the original Jurassic Park: The lack of humility before nature on display here staggers me.

If CGI creature fighting, close-call moments upended by heroic feats and spurts of nostalgia callbacks are your bag, then you might enjoy this scaleless attempt at carrying on a brand name instead of a unique film series.

Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson) are two brothers sent to Jurassic World on Christmas after their parents decide it’s best that the boys don’t witness their pending divorce. They go to visit their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s park manager/coordinator, who ends up being a busybody that is pulled away to work when the testing of a new attraction goes terribly wrong. That attraction: the unveiling of a new and dangerous dinosaur, Indominus Rex. After this new creation breaks out of confinement, the whole island (yes, Isla Nubar is where this takes place) is sent into a frenzy. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is the velociraptor trainer with the skills to save the day. Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is the private contractor who wants to use the trained velociraptors as weapons. On marches the plot through a myriad of action scenes complete with evil revelations and bright ideas.

In the rushed prologue of Gray leaving home to Jurassic World, we see everything through his eyes. As he peers into a view-master filled with images of dinosaurs, we get a glimpse at his excitement to see the park. His arrival is hurried through the opening to the park, resulting in the opening of his hotel room’s blinds to expose a wide-angle shot of the location. No shot is centered on his ecstatic face before we are swept off to something else. More of the running time is spent focusing in on his teenage brother’s male gaze pointed at the nearest pretty girl. That’s the biggest problem with Jurassic World: There’s no single character that is as invested in what the park elicits in its attendees as John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) was in the original film. That isn’t to say that it’s terribly fair of me to judge a sequel based upon the merits of its predecessors, but this entry is so jet set on nostalgia isn’t it fair to make that comparison?

Chris Pratt, coming hot off the heels of the massively successful Guardians Of The Galaxy plays Owen Grady, the literal manic pixie dream guy counterpart to the hard-as-nails Claire. He’s got the grit of a car mechanic who enjoys a beer after a long day’s work, but also possesses the soft and understanding side Claire looks for. Oh, and he’s got charm for the scant moments where he’s relied upon to crack a one-liner. Pratt isn’t necessarily bad in the role, Grady just isn’t nearly dynamic or original enough to remember after the credits roll. The same goes for Claire. Her businesswoman attire has to be rolled up when the going gets tough, her transformation used for comedic levity. Okay, we get it, she’s the unsuspecting hero that we’ll see does something cool later. Thanks a lot, blatant foreshadowing. Howard and Pratt seem lost in the script, waiting for their characters to settle down and lay their thoughts on how the park inspires them out on the table. Of course, that doesn’t happen before or after they smooch during a climactic sequence.

The visuals employed here aren’t anything new, either. The use of CGI is at full force here. For a film that was shot on 35mm and 65mm celluloid with the purpose of carrying on the aesthetic instilled in its predecessors, everything looks like a smooth-motion TV commercial laced in a bright sheen.

When the plot isn’t chasing the new dinosaur threat through the brightly lit forest by way of Mercedes-Benz trucks (product placement!), it briefly settles in on a couple of tangents revolving around corporate espionage and the need to make the next profitable attraction to drive up attendance. Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), one of the scientists from the original, ends up getting used as a plot device for Hoskins’ nefarious plot instead of being the aspiring and open-eyed scientist he previously was. All of the motivations behind the characters boil down to saving the day for the park’s occupants or making a nice chunk of change off of devastation. What about the dinosaurs? Who is there to care about the dinosaurs? Certainly not the characters, and the narrative is relatively sure that you’ll forget about them after the last battle.

The off-handed balance between corporate inspiration and originality within Jurassic World posits a potentially cool way to bring depth to the plot. There are moments that recognize the sponsorship by Samsung or other conglomerations. There are others that try to convince us that it’s a necessary evil to keep the park running—all told in passing conversations, though, because some people need to get eaten first. If violence is what draws you to the nearest multiplex, then this film has it in spades. Where the original upended terror with tongue-in-cheek humor, this one inundates you with a body count.

Jurassic World is the kind of film that has many cards to play, but can’t read the audience’s bluff. Will they like this subplot about how the park is being diluted by those who don’t care for the creatures and animals? Or will they be more interested in a T. rex battle that functions as a day-saving moment more than visiting an old and deadly friend? Hold onto your butts everyone, because this one is bumpy ride.