A franchise delay measured in decades is a rare beast in the movie world, and now we have two within a couple of months. Jurassic World is the bigger gamble, with the weight of one of history’s most iconic films on its shoulders, but it’s also the one that ought to be easier to translate into a lot of ticket sales. Dinosaurs sell, and while there is a lot of room for things to go wrong, you can always just throw another dinosaur at any problems.
That’s not only the theory of the new film, it’s the premise as well.
It’s 20 years since the dinosaur theme park opened to the public, and there are now a variety of species on display. The film opens with a two-fold entry to Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). On the one hand, she’s in charge of much of the operation of the park, including angling new attractions in front of potential sponsors. She’s insanely Type-A, organized to a fault (as witnessed by her date itinerary), and is more than a little concerned at the dip in park attendance. On the other, she’s Aunt Claire, and we watch as her nephews get ready for their journey to the most exciting place on Earth.
Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are fairly typical teens, perhaps too typical, and they are a little odd in the extent to which they are looking forward to seeing the aunt they haven’t seen in seven years as much as the dinosaurs. Zach spends much of the opening rolling his eyes, staring at other teens, and being irritated that his brother keeps existing at him. Gray is frequently called a genius, can recite facts about dinosaurs endlessly, and has (I presume) fantastically current hair.
Claire is naturally too busy to actually spend time with them, and the boys are passed off to Claire’s assistant to explore the park. This is largely put forward so that the film can let you know where you are in terms of plot originality.
We soon learn that Claire is especially busy because their gene-spliced dinosaur created by order of the memo, “Bigger. Faster. More Teeth.” is about ready to open to the public, but the park’s owner, Simon (Irrfan Khan) wants behavioral specialist, Owen (Chris Pratt), to make sure the containment structure is safe. Nothing could signal an imminent problem more than someone wanting the structural integrity of anything checked, but the problem doesn’t come to us in so simple a fashion as a giant dinosaur billed as “badder than a T-Rex” busting through a wall.
The Indominus Rex is soon on the loose, but the powers that be are pretty confident in their response protocols, which is film speak for a slaughter being on the way. Luckily, the dinosaur is far from any part of the park where there are people. Unluckily, it’s quick, and nothing is keeping it from progressing on its merry way. Adding to the mix of tension, Zach and Gray are missing, and now Owen and Claire have to shift their attention to finding them in the wilds of a jungle filled with all sorts of dinosaurs.
The film’s difficulty, which is relevant in varying degrees depending on the audience’s take on such things, is that it doesn’t pay attention to the lesson of its own super-villain dinosaur. The hype is repeatedly based on the bigger, faster, more teeth dinosaur, because that’s what people want to see. The film follows that blueprint perfectly, with bigger, more spectacular-looking visuals, and cooler interactions, such as Owen training velociraptors. What somehow eludes the film is the fact that nothing in this category leads to the Indominus’ danger. It gets out, and ultimately stays loose, because it’s smarter, as Owen continually notes, and Claire tries continually to deny.
The film is anything but smarter, building plot points through the simplest, most overused steps, and delivering things with the most cliche, undeveloped characters. It offers up emotional focal points with no regard for the extent to which they make any sense, almost like a scene-by-scene deus ex machina, and caps off the overall plot with another, largely unnecessary one. The film wants some moments of emotional build, but it plugs them in almost at random, and using devices that don’t make sense. That these kids are bothered by the rebuff of an aunt they haven’t seen in seven years is the writing of someone who has never met, much less had, a child either 16 or 12. At a certain point when the film lulls slightly, we wanted to have a kid cry, because the playbook says that makes audiences engage, so it turns out that Zach and Gray’s parents are divorcing. That’s a fact which never relates to anything again, and has no connection to the film beyond the fact that we want Gray to cry.
Still, the plethora of lazy, and borderline insulting, plot devices don’t necessarily kill the entertainment value your average movie-goer is after. It’s somewhat odd that much of the film’s opening seems to poke fun at the entertainment and corporate marketing worlds, since following the rest of the film turns it into self-mockery, but if Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is equal parts laughably stupid and corporate juggernaut, depending on what we want in any particular scene, it doesn’t change the fact that dinosaurs are awesome.
Those looking for summer popcorn are going to get a treat, but it’s one that you can’t think too hard about, which is just an odd turn for something so desperate to convince its audience that the “clever girl,” is very hard to beat.
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WritingRick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
CastChris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jake Johnson