Review: Jurassic World Has Monstrous Goods

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Apparently, genetically mutated dinosaurs couldn’t give a fossil less about the MPAA’s standards. Undoubtedly hoping to attract today’s prehistoric-monster-loving kids the same way Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park did to 2015’s thirtysomethings—back when they were young and snot-nosed in 1993—Jurassic World’s team somehow landed their long-awaited sequel a PG-13 rating. Don’t let Chris Pratt’s good-guy demeanor, little Ty “Insidious kid” Simpkins’ presence, or the film’s Toys R Us takeover fool you—Jurassic World is about as cuddly as Q, the Winged Serpent.

In Jurassic Park, Spielberg defused the kills with pitch-black humor, most infamously in douchebag Donald Gennero’s final moments when he became T-Rex food while sitting on the crapper. Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow doesn’t go for humorous sight gags. One of this fourth Jurassic franchise installment’s death scenes is more vicious than anything seen in any major Hollywood horror so far this year: after an atrium’s worth of bloodthirsty pterodactyls flee towards the movie’s titular theme park, one of them grabs a woman, carries her into the air and drops her, allowing other pterodactyls to catch her in mid-air and repeat their game’s pattern as if the screaming victim is a bouncy and chewable doll. Just as the last flying dino’s about to finally end her misery, a behemoth monosaur springs out of the ocean and chomps down on her.

There’s no toilet in sight, nor is there any comic relief whatsoever. It’s the kind of dark-hearted violence you rarely see in a Steven Spielberg film, a striking and memorable casualty in an action-heavy sequel whose overall body count rivals any modern-day slasher. Those mean-spirited pterodactyls definitely don’t behave like PG-13 creatures ready for December stocking stuffer status.

Moments of that kind feel like Trevorrow’s way of differentiating his efforts from what boss-man Spielberg, who’s an executive producer on Jurassic World, did back in ’93. The pterodactyl kill sequence sticks out in particular though, mainly because so much else in Jurassic World adheres unsubtly close to the Park playbook. And when it’s not pushing its reverence dangerously toward outright mimicry, Jurassic World unfolds with characters that’ll make The Lost World’s apologists feel even better about Ian Malcolm’s wire-hopping gymnast sidekick. By this sequel’s end, Trevorrow and writing partner Derek Connolly leave their quirky and charming 2012 indie Safety Not Guaranteed’s script feeling like a fluke.

The plot here is equal parts Jurassic Park love letter and Aliens retread. Twenty-two years after John Hammond’s dream attraction went haywire, the O.G. Park has evolved into the fully operational Jurassic World, an elaborate and massive tourist trap complete with a Starbucks and Verizon advertisements alongside its multiple dinosaurs and baby-dino petting zoos for children. In order to drum up new business, the park’s operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her cronies have spearheaded the creation of a brand-new dinosaur, a hybrid known as the Indominus Rex. Indominus is comparable in size to a Tyrannosaurus Rex but is capable of so much more and moves with raptor-like speed and agility. While the park’s exceptionally busy, the Indominus Rex gets out of its compound and turns Jurassic World into a corporate Rampage, leaving Claire’s two nephews (played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) to fend for themselves and the park’s action-figure-with-a-pulse velociraptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to save the day, all while making pit stops in now-abandoned but still familiar Jurassic Park locations, namedropping John Hammond at will and calling out the park’s head techie (played by Jake Johnson) for wearing a ratty Jurassic Park T-shirt that he bought on Ebay.

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By endlessly calling back to Spielberg’s film, Trevorrow and Connolly sacrifice having anything resembling Jurassic Park’s well-rounded and investable characters in their own script. Everyone in Jurassic World is either a one-note cipher or a narrative convenience. Simpkins’ pre-teen character randomly discusses his parents’ imminent divorce without any previous context and suddenly knows how to fix a dead car battery minutes before dinosaurs show up; Vincent D’Onofrio, playing the closest thing Jurassic World has to a flesh-and-blood villain, only speaks in plot-building language and might as well be named Eddy Exposition; and Pratt’s Owen Grady isn’t so much a human being as he is an artificially heroic badass pulled from the assembly line at the Indiana Jones factory. Hours after Jurassic World ends, let alone days, viewers will be hard-pressed to remember any single character’s name, except for, well, John Hammond’s.

Despite the film’s character-specific flaws, Jurassic World is tough to hate. The smartest thing Trevorrow and his collaborators did while constructing its story is waste zero time showing the monstrous goods. Jurassic Park worked so well because it followed Spielberg’s Jaws template, withholding clear-cut looks at its beasts until audiences were feverishly ready to see actual dinosaurs, brought to life by Stan Winston’s incredible animatronic work. That was 1993—Trevorrow’s working in 2015, a time where CGI has been essentially been rendered powerless. Audiences have seen it all by now, so why act like the Indominus Rex, raptors or the aforementioned monosaur will drop anyone’s jaws on first sight? They’re on screen so generously that they’re basically the film’s main characters, or at least its most lasting ones. And, unlike how you’ll inevitably call Pratt’s hero “Owen Brady” by mistake after the fact, chances are you’ll never forget the name Indominus Rex. Trevorrow treats his VFX dinosaurs with the same non-existent wow factor as the film’s characters do. When one Jurassic World character flat-out says, “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” Trevorrow might as well have done a Hitchockian cameo and delivered the line himself.

To Jurassic World’s advantage, though, that character is dead wrong. The awe-inspiring magic of Jurassic Park is unquestionably gone, but that doesn’t mean CGI dinosaurs still can’t kick serious ass if handled correctly. Fortunately, Trevorrow does his colossal beasties plenty of justice through one knockout set-piece after another. A one-Indominus-versus-dozens-of-soldiers slaughter in a forest, complete with camouflage war tactics and night-vision camerawork, is terrifically brutal; the previously mentioned pterodactyl kill is part of an extended ‘dactyl siege in the middle of the park that plays like The Wizard of Oz’s flying monkey attack sequence injected with cinematic HGH; and the climactic three-dino fight, bringing back an old favorite to go claw-to-claw with the Indominus, is everything people were hoping to see in 2014’s Godzilla but didn’t quite get.

As the dinosaurs battle it out, Pratt, Howard, Robinson and Simpkins run towards safety but are really just interrupting the movie’s goods. Part of you will hope that the Indominus’ foot inadvertently crushes Owen Brady…er, Grady and the rest of his forgettable fellow survivors. Which, of course, definitely would’ve forced the MPAA to brandish Jurassic World with an R.

Matt Barone is a film-obsessed writer and editor of TribecaFilm.com. When he’s not contributing to outlets like The Dissolve and Birth.Movies.Death, he endlessly weighs in on all things horror on Twitter.