The franchise reboot Jurassic World is a bit of a sociological revelation of the elevated power of fan fiction in the movies recently. So many beats of this film rely on winks, nods and callbacks to every frame of the original movie that there's almost no reason to see this unless you've seen the first one, preferably not just once, but hundreds of times, as many people (especially of a certain millennial generation) have. When the movie sends two of its characters out into the jungles of Isla Nublar so that they can get lost, stumble upon the dusty relics of the old Visitors Center and start ogling props from the original set (hey, it's the night vision goggles! And the banner that fell over the T-Rex's triumph! And is that...oh yeah it's the 1992 tour guide jeeps that miraculously still run and are filled with gasoline after twenty years!)...we're in the Twilight Zone of fanboy nostalgia here.
Is there anything in this film that tries to be its own new adventure? Well, kind of. Director Colin Trevorrow seems to take a page out of Roland Emmerich's book on how to make a B-movie that knows it's a B-movie from start to finish. It's very easy to criticize every bit of the ludicrous plot and paper thin characters, but the movie's not taking it all that seriously either and in fact wants you to just have fun and turn your brain off so it can get you to the dino action in reasonably rapid response time. To that end, I do give it some credit for knowing exactly what it wants to be and doing it fairly slickly...although you may feel slightly dumber for having watched it. Twenty years after Jurassic Park failed to open (the park, not the movie), we are transported back to the island which has now officially realized John Hammond's lifelong dream- Isla Nublar has become Jurassic World, a fully functional theme park where dinosaurs roam the grounds and tourists crowd in by the thousands to see the attractions up close.
Like in the first movie, a pre-teen and a teenager are sent there to eventually endanger themselves, but this time it's two boys, the nephews of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the business woman who runs the day to day operations of the park and has no time for kids or family (ala Alan Grant in the first film). So the kids wander off on their own while Claire deals with the ramifications of the lab scientists having created a genetic hybrid of an animal called Indominus Rex, who was raised in isolation and is now more dangerous than any creature on the island. You'd think regular old dinosaurs would be impressive enough for tourists, right, but the movie tells us no, people are tired of normal and they want bigger, louder, and with ten times more teeth. This may seem a sly commentary on the expectations of today's audience versus what people were struck by in 1993, but the cynicism of the hypothesis is fully embraced by the movie as Indo Rex of course breaks out of her cage and wreaks havoc on the park and its vacationers.
In the middle of all this, Claire must learn to embrace her own maternal side, while flirting with the raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who unlike her, bonds with the animals and respects them while strutting around in his leather vest and shotgun, ready to protect the female and kids at all costs. Actually Chris Pratt is great in this movie, playing a straight action lead with gravitas and a dose of humor, carrying the screen in an effortlessly charismatic, everyguy turn reminiscent of the kinds of roles Harrison Ford embodied at the peak of his career. I think he proves himself a star capable of a lot more than Star Lord in this big dumb romp, and he may well be the best thing about it. The commentary on what people want from action and action movies nowadays is contradicted by the endless reverence toward the original film, the best scenes from which are not measured up to by any shot of this movie. Spielberg knew how to create suspense like few others, and the old style combination of pro-go animation, animatronic robots and CGI still combine to make the '93 dinosaurs look better than anything on the screen in this film, which are your typical, computer generated monsters (not even Indominus Rex is all that visually impressive- if they're constructing a brand new dinosaur, why would they make her look just like all the others?)
But if anything left me in awe (and not in a good way), it was the climactic battle scene of the movie, where the T-Rex (summoned by flare of course, because that was a famous scene from the first film) teams up with the raptors to take down the villainous hybrid, and not only does this defy logic on principle, but the two then share a "meaningful moment" as they walk away from each other having consciously decided not to fight. They've now evidently become blood brothers, an idea I'm positive a fan fiction writer on the Internet came up with ten years ago, as he replayed the climax of Jurassic Park over and over, pumping his fist in the air in childlike jubilation. At this point, the dinos may as well start talking to each other and nodding, Mr. Ed-style, because that's the cheese level to which we've ascended. Still, despite the ridiculousness of most of the movie, I didn't hate watching it. It moved at a good pace, it was entertaining for the most part, and despite an unnecessary and preposterous military scheme concocted by the hammy Vincent D'Onofrio to weaponize the dinosaurs for foreign invasion purposes (um, seriously?), the charisma and efforts of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard (who does her best even as she runs through the entire island in heels that never once come off) keep you with it, even as your brain resists. Is this the definition of dumb fun, a competent but slavish devotion to something we all liked as kids? Yeah, probably. But I'll tell you one thing- ask anyone who liked this movie whether it compares to the first by any measure. The answer will be a resounding no- and that should tell you something else important. Maybe it's time to come up with some new stuff for this generation to call its own, instead of clinging to the relics of the past, wanting them to live forever, so that we ourselves never have to feel any older.
* * 1/2