Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Worldly Thoughts

Chances are that you, like me, saw Jurassic World on its massive opening weekend. How does your opinion compare with mine? Well, that's what I imagine you're here for.

By and large, Jurassic World does get the job done. There are fun action sequences and plenty of great dinosaur mayhem. Chris Pratt reaffirms his reputation as a likeable hero. Bryce Dallas Howard does well with a paper-pushing character that could have come off much more shrill. (And the script even gives her some heroic moments too!) Even the one-dimensional roles are enjoyable most of the time; Jake Johnson gets a few good gags as the tech-head comic relief, while Vincent D'Onofrio chews scenery as the villain of the piece.

Still, for all its CG fireworks, some of the alchemy is missing here. And it wouldn't be so noticeable if the film wasn't busy making so many shout-outs to Steven Spielberg's 1993 original. When a character lures a big dinosaur with a flare, it's an entertaining moment... but it lacks the visceral thrills of the big T-Rex sequence from the first film. When the characters actually come across the crumbling museum from the first film, your mind drifts to its more tense sequences. A sequel being worse than its predecessor is hardly a rarity (and it should be noted, this movie is at least considerably better than Jurassic Park III), but it's also a rarity for the sequel to so directly invite comparison. It even has one character commenting on how great the "original park" was, as though apologizing to the audience!

That's not the only thing the movie tries to apologize for. It's stuffed to bursting with product placements, noting its own crass capitalism with an early scene in which characters denounce the evils of corporate sponsorship. The characters also lament how audiences won't come to the theme park unless the dinosaurs keep getting bigger and meaner, as though blaming us for the fact that the movie feels compelled to top the franchise past with a bigger, meaner dinosaur.

Sadly, the movie didn't have to roll out a bigger dinosaur to give us something new. The great new conceit of this film doesn't get nearly enough screen time: the fact that Jurassic World is now a fully operational, open-to-the-public theme park. Aside from the T-Rex-in-the-city bonus act of The Lost World, this series has only ever put a small handful of people in harm's way. What was truly different here was that tens of thousands of people were in immediate jeopardy. But instead of trying to up the stakes by having characters truly care about that, the film uses the park guests as anonymous meat for the slaughter, mere backdrop for a "save a couple of kids" plot that very closely follows Jurassic Parks past.

But the fact is, not all of this occurs to you while you're watching the movie. After a bit of a slow start, it's remarkably well-paced throughout. The good guys are all pretty smart, and the set pieces are all fairly enjoyable. It's only after you've left the theater that the glow begins to recede, and you realize that this movie, though competent, was done much better 22 years ago.

I'd say Jurassic World lands somewhere around a B-. When the year is done, it will be neither the best nor the worst blockbuster Hollywood served up.

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