Jurassic World Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
When Jurassic Park debuted in 1993, it was a marvel of both special effects and storytelling. Now, 22 years later, the fourth movie in the series, Jurassic World, arrives as just another overstuffed, CGI-filled blockbuster about people running and yelling. It’s mostly empty calories, easy to swallow but without any lasting value.
It’s also not really any worse than the previous two Jurassic Park sequels, and it does improve on them in one significant way: While those movies took place on the so-called “Site B” island, where genetically engineered dinosaurs roamed free, World returns to the idea of a theme park filled with real dinosaurs. It even does the original movie one better by having the park open and fully functional, filled with thousands of visitors who are prime chum for the deadly creatures. The early scenes that showcase the various attractions at the park are clever and fun, and the filmmakers creatively envision how modern theme-park aesthetics (shops everywhere, corporate branding) might integrate with scientifically revived dinosaurs.
But the movie doesn’t really engage with any serious ideas, at least not as directly as the original did. The big human villain is Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), head of the security division of the park’s parent company, but his plan to develop weaponized dinosaurs is a poorly realized subplot that seems to exist mainly to leave storylines open for possible sequels. Instead of questions of ethics, World is mostly about what happens when the newly created hybrid dinosaur Indominus rex escapes and begins wreaking havoc on the park, to everyone’s inexplicable surprise.
Pragmatic park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and brooding velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) work to contain the damage while engaging in weak, clichéd romantic banter. Fulfilling the series requirement for annoying kids who make bad decisions, Claire’s nephews Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) get lost in the park just as the Indominus starts its rampage. Pretty much everyone in World makes bad decisions, and the body count is much higher than in the previous installments, but the stakes somehow seem lower. Maybe it’s because the main antagonist isn’t even a facsimile of a real dinosaur; it’s a mish-mash monster on the same level as a sharktopus, only depicted with better effects.
The effects that were groundbreaking in 1993 are now commonplace, and there’s no longer much of a wow factor to seeing a realistic-looking dinosaur depicted onscreen (also, the effects don’t look any better than they did two decades ago). Director Colin Trevorrow’s only previous feature was the low-key indie dramedy Safety Not Guaranteed, but he handles the extensive effects and big action set pieces with confidence. Which is to say that Jurassic World looks and feels like a generic Hollywood production, from its sweeping helicopter shots to its on-the-nose dialogue to its Michael Bay levels of product placement. What was once an astonishing breakthrough is now disappointingly average.