Jurassic World' builds better dinosaurs, worse humans

The dino mayhem fortunately has enough roaring and screaming to drown out the terrible dialogue

“Bigger, scarier, cooler,” are the specs for a new dinosaur attraction in eponymous theme park of Jurassic World. The adjectives also could be studio notes for ramping up thrills in a blockbuster sequel, as Jurassic World is well aware.

Like Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park, Jurassic World overtly criticizes the corporate approach to mass entertainment while embracing that same mentality in virtually every aspect of its production and marketing. Its CGI dinosaurs are fine, but it reaches for ideas about humanity versus the natural world and can’t catch them with its little T. Rex arms.

The opening sequence unfolds like one of those Disneyworld commercials that traces the steps of a family vacation. We follow brothers Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins)) from their snowy Midwestern home to an airport, then a cruise ship, and finally to the lavish, reptile-themed resort on Isla Nublar off the coast of Central America. (For fans of fictional cartography, it’s the same island as the first film, whereas the previous two sequels took place on “Site B,” a.k.a. Isla Sorna.) Jurassic World trades heavily on audience nostalgia for the first Jurassic Park by going heavy on the references and frequently evoking John Williams’ booming score.

Zach and Gray are nephews visiting park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a painful caricature of an uptight career woman. Claire barely knows the boys and fobs them off on an assistant while juggling meetings with the park’s owner (Irffan Khan) and potential investors. The film holds Claire in disdain for such sins as being unable to remember her nephews’ ages, when all she’s doing is running a billion-dollar resort based on long-extinct animals.

Michael Crichton’s original novel floated the wonderfully plausible-sounding idea that dinosaurs could be cloned back to life from zillion year-old DNA. With the park finally up and running, the miraculous has apparently become so commonplace that focus groups demand exhibits with more of a “Wow” factor than a boring old stegosaurus. Consequently, the guys in the lab (led by the first film’s B.D. Wong) have spliced together a bigger, deadlier beast called an Indominus Rex.

Ace animal wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) disapproves of the idea of inventing new dinosaurs, and proves capable of training vicious velociraptors to obey simple commands. The company’s security chief (“Daredevil” star Vincent D'Onofrio) wants to exploit Owen’s trained raptors for military purposes, an idea that’s laughable on its face. (Dude, just because circuses can have lion taming acts, doesn’t mean we should drop lions into combat zones.)

Unsurprisingly, Indominus Rex proves far more deadly and resourceful than anyone expects, at the precise time to put Claire’s nephews in maximum peril. After all the wearisome preparations, Jurassic World’s action scenes come as great relief. Not only do you get the dinosaur mayhem you paid your ticket for, you won’t have to hear the terrible dialogue over the screaming extras.

If you measure the worth of a summer movie solely by its quantity of crazy, expensive set pieces, Jurassic World is a rousing success: there’s Owen on a motorcycle, flanked by running raptors; there’s Indominus fighting both human and prehistoric opponents; there’s a marvelously chaotic sequence with escaped pterodactyls swarming the guests on the resort’s promenade. (If you remember the grisly fate of Richard Schiff’s nice-guy victim from The Lost World, know that at least one character gets comparably “Schiffed” here.)

The first Jurassic Park was never a very subtle movie, but Spielberg showed his gift for placing relatable characters amid outlandish screen spectacles. Jurassic World’s director, Colin Trevorrow, only had the low-key indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed to his name, and has to follow in some mighty big foot prints. He handles the adventure competently, but elicits grating, one-dimensional performances from his cast, and even flattens Pratt’s goofy charm.

Jurassic World’s script reflects some interesting ideas about animal behavior, like the psychological effects of being raised in captivity. But building better dinosaurs is only part of the film’s job. Comparing Jurassic World to the original film based on the criteria mentioned up top, it’s not as scary, not as cool, but certainly bigger. That may be enough for the franchise to stave off extinction. (2 out of 5 stars)

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