Dir: Colin Trevorrow. US. 2015. 124mins

Jurassic World

The dinosaurs might be more advanced in Jurassic World, but the people around them certainly aren’t getting any smarter. Although the first Jurassic Park movie in 14 years features plenty of ravenous reptiles, they’re consistently undercut by unimaginative humans both in front of and behind the camera, resulting in a sequel that’s all overkill and very little genuine grandeur or awe.  

Lip service is paid to the theme of Spielberg’s original film and the Michael Crichton book that inspired it — tampering with nature is ill-advised — but it’s delivered with all the subtlety and grace of a lumbering brontosaurus

Releasing in most territories by June 12, Jurassic World hopes to build on the hefty $1.97bn that the first three instalments grossed worldwide. Although the film features rising star Chris Pratt (fresh from last year’s gigantic Guardians Of The Galaxy) and Bryce Dallas Howard, the dinosaurs will be the main attraction, their carnage able to translate into any language. Ho-hum reviews could temper box-office prospects a little, but even then this sequel’s theatrical riches seem assured. Still, Jurassic World could prove too intense for younger viewers, chipping away at the film’s bottom line.

The new film continues the storyline begun with Steven Spielberg’s original film from 1993, establishing that the park created on an island off the coast of Coast Rica is now a popular Sea World-like theme park known as Jurassic World. Visiting the island are brothers Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), who are being looked after by their workaholic aunt Claire (Howard), an operations manager too busy running Jurassic World to pay them much attention.

The brothers soon run into trouble when the park’s scientists (led by a snidely smug BD Wong) develop a hybrid dinosaur they’ve dubbed Indominus rex that is set to be Jurassic World’s super-sized new attraction — until, that is, it gets loose and begins terrorizing everyone. Desperate to stop this rampaging, frighteningly intelligent menace, Claire turns to Owen (Pratt), a strapping dinosaur trainer who had one unsuccessful date with Claire long ago.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow, who previously helmed the charming romantic comedy-drama Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World represents an ambitious leap from the world of indies to the far more treacherous terrain of studio blockbusters. Unable to land on a successful tone — or a collection of integrated tones — Trevorrow shifts awkwardly from gleeful, Indiana Jones-style swashbuckling (accompanied by heavy flirting with the stuffy Claire) to darker and scarier action sequences after Indominus rex starts to devour the park’s pitiful security guards. It would be a difficult task for any up-and-coming director to match the visual panache and crack suspense of Spielberg, but Trevorrow doesn’t display much affinity for action filmmaking, largely failing to capture the power or wonder of these rampaging lizards and the havoc they unleash.

But what’s particularly crippling about Jurassic World is that Trevorrow and his three fellow co-writers populate the film with stock human characters who barely have more personality than their cunning dinosaur foe. Pratt demonstrated a winningly self-deprecating sense of humour in Her, The Lego Movie and on the TV series Parks And Recreation, and his ascension to movie star with Guardians Of The Galaxy was especially cheering, suggesting that he could become an A-lister without losing the modest humanity and sweet common touch that were his trademarks. Sadly, his Owen is a somewhat sensitive dullard: Whether he’s establishing a personal connection with one of the dinosaurs or bickering with the uptight Claire, the character isn’t much fun — nor is he compelling or swaggering enough to come across as a magnetic dramatic presence. Jurassic World is the first time in Pratt’s recent career where he seems to be playing it safe, leaning heavily on his good looks and chiselled physique to carry a bland role and bolster his blockbuster status.

Howard does no better as cinema’s umpteenth career-driven woman who eventually learns how to shoot a gun, run around in impossibly high heels, and lighten up. As for Simpkins and Robinson, they too are types: Younger brother Gray conveys nothing other than wide-eyed excitement, while Zach is self-consciously cool to the nth degree. To be fair, the Jurassic series has often given us annoying kids whose main function is to stumble blindly into danger and then get scared, but Gray and Zach are exceptionally irksome because they’re so generic and dim-witted. (A major Jurassic World plot point requires them inexplicably, twice, to ignore obvious warning signs and plunge straight ahead into certain dino doom.)

But Trevorrow doesn’t stop there, making everyone from the park’s bizarre proprietor (Irrfan Khan) to a fiendish corporate goon (Vincent D’Onofrio) laughably one-dimensional, their idiotic behaviour mostly an excuse to push the narrative along. The cardboard characters would lead one to think that Jurassic World is geared more to younger viewers, who don’t require sophisticated protagonists when the dinosaurs are the real stars. But the film is oddly gruesome and scary, especially in its final reels. (The death of one minor, likeable supporting player is drawn out in an almost cruel fashion.) To be sure, the original Jurassic Park was also intense, but in Spielberg’s hands the terror at least had a real pizzazz. While Jurassic World boasts a few efficient sequences — a familiar face from earlier in the series makes a triumphant return in the big finale — mostly it’s a grim affair that’s not leavened by adequate humour or a palpable romantic spark between Pratt and Howard.

In 1993, Jurassic Park’s groundbreaking CG dinosaurs were a major component of the film’s appeal. Twenty-two years later, the dinosaurs still look pretty magnificent, but now that we live in a movie universe over-run with digital effects, these hulking beasts can no longer astound the way they once did. (The sense of déjà vu is only intensified by the fact that, yet again, we have a Jurassic Park movie that doesn’t satisfactorily explain why anyone would voluntarily get up close to these fearsome beasts.) In Jurassic World there’s lip service paid to a foundational theme of Spielberg’s original film and the Michael Crichton book that inspired it — tampering with nature is ill-advised — but it’s delivered with all the subtlety and grace of a lumbering brontosaurus. Equally toothless, the filmmakers try to mock the corporatisation of so much of modern life — and then we sit back and watch the cynical product placement for Verizon, Samsung and Mercedes-Benz.    

Production companies: Amblin Entertainment, Legendary Pictures

Worldwide distribution: Universal Pictures, www.universalpictures.com

Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley

Executive producers: Steven Spielberg, Thomas Tull

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow, story by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, based on characters created by Michael Crichton

Cinematography: John Schwartzman 

Production design: Edward Verreaux

Editor: Kevin Stitt

Music: Michael Giacchino

Website: www.jurassicworldmovie.com

Main Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Irrfan Khan