Anybody who has seen Jurassic Park or its follow-ups will know exactly what to expect with Jurassic World. There is nothing new in this latest incarnation of the dinosaur franchise that sets it apart from the original film/s. In fact, it really seems that this is a reboot designed entirely to attract an audience not overly familiar with the originals because there is no real narrative or character connections with the previous chapters other than the setting and the basic premise; a theme park established on an island near Costa Rica that is essentially a zoo for dinosaurs. The island is plunged into chaos when a genetically modified super-dinosaur escapes captivity. Nothing that happens in this film, nor who it happens to, comes as a surprise and given the record-breaking box office figures it has racked up, it seems that is just how audiences like it. All the requisite characters are in place; a couple of moppets in danger, a cocky hero and the girl who loves him but can’t bring herself to admit it, a mad scientist, the billionaire owner and the obligatory bad guy whose fate is a foregone conclusion the minute he appears on screen. In fact, several of the characters are so clichéd in their construction and their demise so inevitable that our only interest in them is the fun to be had in guessing when, and how, they will be despatched. This is formulaic filmmaking writ large in which digital effects and technical wizardry are privileged over characterisation, performance, logic and common sense.
Some 22 years after the first failed attempt to establish a dinosaur habitat on Isla Nublar, a fully-functioning theme park is now in operation. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) manages the facility and, desperate for a new attraction to lure tourists, has commissioned the creation of a new hybrid species. Needless to say, the man in charge of this creation (Dr Henry Wu, played by Law & Order’s BD Wong) goes a little overboard in his experimentation and the result is Indominous Rex, a creature bigger and more intelligent than anybody could have imagined. Rex escapes, chaos reigns, people die and the hero saves the day. Sound familiar? This is a far cry from the low-key yet delightful sci-fi comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, the previous film from director Colin Trevorrow.
The hero in this instance is Owen, played by Chris Pratt, a former Navy operative who is the Velociraptor equivalent of Steve Irwin or an old-school circus lion tamer. Pratt is playing the exact type of character that he did in Guardians of the Galaxy, only lumbered with a screenplay lacking the wit that made his adventures in space so enjoyable. With thousands of tourists in danger, including Claire’s two nephews who have, of course, disregarded instructions to exit the park, she teams with Owen to save the day, all the while being undermined by Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins, a military man who sees the potential of using the Raptors in combat situations. Despite traipsing through mud and thick jungle and finding herself in imminent danger on numerous occasions, Claire never removes her high heels and one can only think that perhaps she was planning to emerge on the Cannes red carpet. The relationship and interaction between Owen and Claire is a throwback to Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, which only serves to further emphasise the lack of originality here.
With the possible exception of Owen, almost all of the characters are so uninteresting and unlikeable that it is hard to care what happens. In fact, you want bad things to happen to them, particularly sullen teenager Zach (Nick Robinson) and is cry-baby younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins). Jake Johnson’s character is indistinguishable from his role on television sitcom The New Girl, while Irrfan Khan’s resort owner Masrani is a somewhat superfluous presence. Judy Greer’s inclusion is a plus, although she is criminally underutilised as Claire’s sister Karen, and Lauren Lapkus (Orange is the New Black) is also a welcome addition. Yes, you can just sit back and enjoy the carnage as the villains get their comeuppance, but the gore really is somewhat subdued here, reduced to a few blood splatters. Needless to say, anybody looking for insight into the morality or ethics of genetic engineering and species regeneration will be very disappointed. Yes, the visual effects are great – outstanding in fact – and there is no doubt that Jurassic World will be a great commercial success, but that doesn’t make it a great film.