This year is the fortieth anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a film that defined the modern monster movie. And it’s a little over twenty years since he redefined it and set a milestone in special effects with Jurassic Park. Now we have the third sequel, although it feels more like a reboot, in Jurassic World. The most enduring thing you’ll take away from this one is a reassurance of just how brilliant and ambitious the first film was. Like Jaws, Jurassic Park still feels fresh. In some ways, Jurassic World is already a dinosaur.
You see what I did there? Oh never mind…
Actually the new film is really good! It only really suffers from its association with the original film and otherwise Colin Trevorrow has fashioned a satisfying b-movie with ideas above its station, typical of the monster genre. It’s great fun and proper family entertainment. Avengers: Age of Ultron was a better film, but comes with Marvel Universe baggage and Mad Max: Fury Road is only for grown-ups, as it should be. Monster movies boil down to big snarly thing chasing little things (us) and when it gets on with it, Jurassic World does that brilliantly. It takes a while to get there and the human characters range from insufferable to essential while navigating a confused plot. The original Park had better boundaries, narratively and literally, than the new improved theme World.
It does try and largely succeeds in playing up to the cynicism it was always going to attract, almost in a 22 Jump Street ‘I-know-I’m-a-sequel’ sort of way. We get remixed versions of scenes and characters, including fan-friendly moments like finding the original Visitor’s Centre, while the predictable bigger and nastier angle is tackled head-on by creating a bigger and nastier creature that half the cast question as much as might. They thankfully stop short of winking at the screen while their characters debate how necessary this beast really is, but this self-aware aspect helps with accepting the sillier aspects. For instance the name of the Big Bad is “Indominus Rex”, which causes Grady (Chris Pratt) to laugh out loud when he hears it and sets up a funny scene with him and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) as he argues how stupid the name is. Just imagine how much better Avatar would have been if it had the balls to laugh at its own “Unobtainium”. Same thing. Jurassic World knows how absurd it is and it embraces it. The only recurring Jurassic Park character, Dr. Wu (B. D. Wong), even addresses how these dinosaurs might not look like their real ancestors, which is basically a disingenuous “up yours” to the Palaeontologists.
In truth what really lets this one down is a lack of human characters you give a damn about. It also misses the discipline and ambition from the first film, or even the eccentricity of Lost World, but especially the discipline. Take the kids… Like Joseph Mazzello’s Tim in Jurassic Park, Gray (Ty Simpkins) clearly knows his stuff about dinosaurs, but this is never used (well, once). Nor is the fact that his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) likes looking at girls; I really expected him to hook up with someone and for her to add context or at least another potential dino-snack, but no. He just, looks at girls a lot. Oh and apparently he’s a mechanic, but only when the plot really needs him to get twenty-year-old jeeps running.
That pair really weaken the film; they’re detached from the rest of the cast for far too long and their anguish over their parent’s potential divorce is just drivel slowing down the plot. The adults are generally much better, such as Bryce Dallas Howard making the most of an under-written role (Joss Whedon might have a point) and especially Chris Pratt who anchors the whole thing in a Harrison Ford manner. Those two work really well together, even lifting a scene from Romancing The Stone. Pratt pretty much is ‘Indiana Jones And The Dinosaur Theme Park’ and that’s no bad thing. He gets great support from Omar Sy as his colleague and Vincent D’Onofrio as a military advisor that wants to exploit Owen’s Raptor skills. Irrfan Khan plays the owner of Jurassic World and he is a strong character; a playboy billionaire with a conscience and morals.
But the film belongs to the lizards and the Raptors almost steal the show again, right from under the over-large nose of the Indominus. The dinosaur battles are amazing and the film really cuts loose with an airborne attack on a crowd (and the poor Petting Zoo!) by Pteranodons or in the earth-shattering monster-mash final battle, yet we never get the awe that Jurassic Park still causes like the glorious ending, nor the cheeky splashes of gore that Spielberg could handle so well even in a kid’s movie. As well as hiding some jungle action in Aliens style video-feeds, there’s a lot of cutting away instead of lingering on victims as the earlier films occasionally did. There is barely anything here to rival lawyers on toilets or limbs popping up at inopportune moments.
Take Jurassic World as a straight-forward monster movie and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Very much the sequel Jurassic Park deserves. And if there is another one on the horizon, maybe smaller rather than bigger wouldn’t be a bad thing. Just needs more teeth.