PARK OF ROAR CREATION
It takes a special kind of director to take the charisma out of Chris Pratt, the fun out of Spielberg and the magic out of dinosaurs, yet Colin Trevorrow of Safety Not Guaranteed semi-fame manages to achieve at least two of these things in Jurassic World, his film-by-committee reboot of the rapidly ageing Amblin franchise. Universal, a studio who – until the last 5 years – had seemingly no continuously successful blockbuster franchises, have put all their eggs in Trevorrow’s noisy basket, with an appalling amount of product placement and tie-in appearances from some of the company’s other popular brands (Jimmy Fallon cameos as himself, the first 3D commercial The Tonight Show has surely ever had). There is a sense throughout, as this undeniably fun but painfully formulaic excuse for a work of cinema plods along before us, that Trevorrow is fighting a losing battle with Universal for creative control, both off and on the screen. Any small spark of wit or quirk is immediately washed away with a cliché or stereotype, leaving one longing for a better Jurassic World that could, under very different circumstances, have been. Safety Not Guaranteed‘s raw charm is nowhere to be seen, and the casting of the utterly charmless Bryce Dallas Howard in what is arguably the film’s leading role doesn’t help. Howard is a terrific actress when cast in the right role (see The Help and The Village), but Blockbuster Heroine isn’t that role, and she falls behind the upbeat script’s pace very fast. Chris Pratt, so utterly delightful in Parks and Recreation and Guardians of the Galaxy is disgracefully miscast as a character who rarely makes quips, has a questionable attitude towards the role of women and children in stressful situations, and is defined solely by his physique. Chris Pratt shouldn’t even have auditioned for this character…. it’s Garrett Hedlund-in-Tron Legacy bad!
The remainder of the human cast consists of reliable character actor Vincent D’Onofrio (coming off a terrific turn in Netflix’s Daredevil) in another wooden role as Token Human Villain. The screenwriters have used D’Onofrio’s character to try and explore some “topical moral issues” involving drones and other controversial military techniques. The film’s heart is seemingly in the right place, but a Jurassic Park sequel is neither the time nor place for political arguments to be made. Iron Man 3‘s Ty Simpkins and The Kings of Summer‘s Nick Robinson fill the Relatable Child Protagonist roles, neither as irritating as San Andreas‘ token kids, but their “brotherly bonding” subplot the cause of several cheesy dialogue exchanges. When even your children and your villains are boring, you know as a filmmaker that it’s time to throw some human madness into the mix, yet Trevorrow never does this. There is no Jeff Goldblum. No actor is horrible, but none is at all memorable, and its left to the mostly CGI; partially animatronic dinos to run the show.
The film’s opening act features a recurring meta gag about the “constant need to make the park/the film franchise bigger, louder and more exciting to keep the business growing”. This functions as somewhat of an apology from Trevorrow for the storm of nonsense he is about to dump on the audience’s laps. The film’s primary dino adversary, the genetically-spliced Indominous Rex, is- to anyone without a detailed knowledge of dinosaurs- physically and psychologically identical to the original Park‘s T-Rex. Yet he is taller, louder and has more teeth. So that’s okay then. Thankfully, Trevorrow uses this beast sparingly: its few big chase sequences made more enjoyable as a result. The friendlier breeds of dinos are given more screentime, and they- in particular the raptors trained by Pratt’s character- are far more charming than any of the employed actors. Trevorrow makes a good effort in the last act to give World some uniqueness; the “everything but the kitchen sink” finale, which clearly had the potential to be abominably poor, had a kind of beautiful absurdity to it which was lacking from Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. Everything wraps up nicely within five minutes of the ending, leaving the audience largely content but unmoved by what they have just experienced. The film is like its lead characters: purposeful but poorly defined. Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, another recent big-budget, theme park-themed adventure, was overambitious and, eventually, an ugly and nonsensical mess. Jurassic World survives through its complete lack of ambition, and there’s nothing noticeably offensive about it. At least when you offend people, they remember you.