Who doesn’t love a good monster movie? I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but I hope you’ll forgive me. Finding childcare to go to the movies while my wife is working full-time is not the easiest of tasks, but we finally did it, and got the chance to sneak away and see the film we’ve been dying to see all summer.
Jurassic Park 3 v. 1.2: THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL
Er, I mean, Jurassic World.
This is the part where I’d usually say something like “there be spoilers ahead”, but seeing as the movie has been out for, what, like six weeks now? It’s on you if you are trying to stay unspoiled and ended up here. Instead, this is me being extremely upfront about NOT saying “spoiler alert.” Totally not saying it.
Let me say upfront that I had mixed feelings about going to see this film from the first trailer. I mean, I saw this promotional image:
And my first thought was, so the raptors are allowing Starlord to ride a bike within scenting distance — hell, within shredding distance — and they haven’t served him up with a side of motorcycle tires? How am I supposed to take this seriously? But then I remembered that I was going to a blockbuster summer film, and “taking it seriously” was the last thing I should be doing. It’s got Chris Pratt, and that one girl from that one movie (Zero Dark Thirty, right?) (I’m kidding, I know she isn’t Jessica Chastain) (but only because I leaned over to my wife during the film and made a joke about how she might find Osama in one of the dinosaur caves, and she was all like “you know that’s not Jessica Chastain, right?). I loved Jurassic Park the first, I didn’t mind Jurassic Park the second, and I don’t even remember Jurassic Park the third (it had pterodactyls or something, maybe), so this one was guaranteed to at least hold my interest for the space of an afternoon.
Well, buckle up, and spray yourself down with anti-raptor juice. You didn’t bring your anti-raptor juice? Oh. Well… just stand downwind, I guess.
- The special effects. No, really. Perhaps the computer-generated Indominus Rex and its less invented-name kin lack some of the magic of the practical robots and puppets from the original, but things have come a long way from the pseudo-lizard CGI monstrosity sloppily hacked into the streets of San Diego in The Lost World. The only moment I had where I thought, boy, that looked fake was toward the opening, where they had an extreme close-up of a hatchling busting out of an egg. Aside from that, everything looked really well done, and more importantly, was edited smoothly into the scene and cleanly acted by the cast to give it all a seamless appearance.
- The Top-Billed Cast. Chris Pratt’s performance is charming and charismatic as ever, while disparate enough from his showing in Guardians of the Galaxy to show some range, which is nice. Bryce Dallas Howard and her high heels started off obnoxious but then sort of grew on me not unlike a series of barnacles on a moored ship, and I’m not sure if that’s a result of the writing or the actress. Either way, a pleasant surprise. I also felt that their inevitable love connection, while obligatory by dint of their presence in said summer blockbuster franchise, had its share of chemistry. I didn’t hate them together, is what I’m saying, not that I went to see this film looking for the love story angle.
- The Showdown. This film, perhaps more than the others, follows the Big Bad construct — the one major villain that everybody must band together to stand against. For comparison, the first film was kind of about the danger of dinosaurs as a whole (the raptors had some kills, the T-Rex had some kills, and that one thing with the umbrella on its head got to eat Newman); the second film had a lot of human antagonists (the bald guy trying to up the wow-factor by opening a park in San Diego… and screwing it up by unleashing the T-Rex on the city, and don’t forget bumbling paleontologist Julianne Moore who seriously makes every mistake ever); and the third film was… god, who even remembers? Pterodactyls, right? …Anyway, everything in this film is tied to the Indominus Rex, a genetic invention that (of course) gets loose and wreaks hell on the park. The film ends with not just humans banding together, but the other dinosaurs on the island getting a piece as well. Believable? Fargo, no. But fun as hell.
- The Comic Relief. Some might argue that there was too much of it, but I found myself laughing out loud just when tension reached a high point due to what I felt was some brilliant comic relief. The bit parts played by Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame) and Lauren Lapkus (of Orange is the New Black) were glittering gems of giggles for me, but Pratt and Howard had their moments too. The director struck a nice balance between showing just how fargoed the park was and not taking himself too seriously to have a good time.
What’s Not So Awesome?
- The supporting cast. Outside of the two leads, name a character and they’re pretty awful. The kids? Wanted to shoot them. The military dude trying to subvert the project and turn dinosaurs into a weapon? Completely one dimensional and boring; he might as well have been twirling an oiled mustache rather than lugging around his ridiculous gut. The parents outside the park? Snore. I can’t even figure out why these characters are present. There’s a subplot about the parents getting divorced, but really, who gives a sharknado? I can barely bring myself to care about the obligatory romance between Generic Male Lead and Generic Female Lead, I can’t be bothered with an offscreen relationship on the rocks.
- The gimmicks. Okay, remember a while ago when I said you can’t take a film like this seriously precisely because it’s a big summer blockbuster? Yeah, that only goes so far, because a film still has to maintain its audience’s willful suspension of disbelief. This film takes that and chucks it out the goldfingered window.
- The gyrosphere.Nope, uh-uh, no way. A free-rolling, user-operated pinball amongst dinosaurs that are probably better than five tons? Forget it. They take this thing under the feet of (what I think were) brontosauri, five stories tall. The liability would be crushing. Not to mention how inefficient it seems for the sheer number of visitors to the park. And all it takes is a few beers (don’t pretend they aren’t selling alcoholic beverages at the park) and you’ve got a couple of drunk rednecks playing Atlasphere with these things. Oh, you don’t remember Atlasphere?
- Kayaks. Down the river. Again, around the feet of dinosaurs who, if spooked or upset or even simply careless, could crush a person like godzilla crushes cars. I don’t care how neat the idea is, it would never, ever, ever happen.
- Raptors in formation with the motorcycle. I mentioned it already, and yeah, I get it; they’re trained, he’s the Alpha, and it’s that eye-catching WOW moment from the preview. But, sorry, no. Ask Siegfried and Roy how things go when you get ONE well-trained animal in a semi-controlled environment, and then ask them if they’d take a platoon of somewhat-trained flesh-eaters out on a HUNTING MISSION. By all means, send the raptors, but if I’m the trainer I’ll be leading the hunt from an armored vehicle, thanks very much.
- The mini-reversal. Toward the end of the film, while the raptors are out on the hunt for the big game, they track it down, move in for the kill, and … suddenly they start talking to it — in dinosaur chirps and clicks, mind you — before they turn on their human caretakers. Because the Big Bad “had some raptor in him.” Look — the Indominus was enough of a stretch to begin with: Camouflage? Check. Ability to control its body temperature to fool thermal cameras? Check. Mental capacity to stage an elaborate prison break? Check. More teeth than an alligator with dental implants? Check. And I know that things have to go “from bad to worse”, but by that point, the park is a smoldering ruin, the body count is in the hundreds, and the movie is already at the hour and a half mark. You just don’t need the raptors joining up with the Big Bad. And to make it even dumber, THEY TURN RIGHT BACK after they dispatch the military guys because of course they do.
What’s Hard to Quantify?
- The science. This is a sticking point for lots of critics of the film. I don’t think it is for me. Because if you start with the premise of reanimating dinosaurs after millions of years of extinction, nothing is too much of a stretch. (Splice them with frog DNA? Lizard DNA? Potato DNA? Why not?) For me, I think every film in the franchise is monster flick first, science-fiction imaginarium second, but some don’t see it that way, and would like to see the film being more scientifically sound. Bollocks, I say. Who cares if raptors were nowhere near the size they are in the film, or if a lizard the size of Indominus would never be able to support its own weight? THEM DINOSAWRZ ARE SCARY IN THE MOVIE.
- The kids. Why does the franchise keep involving kids in the movies? The only time the kids didn’t suck bowling-ball sized eggs was in the first film. (I still laugh my donk off seeing the little blond kid get blasted off the high-voltage fence.) Since then, what have we had? An adopted gymnast whose gymnastic training allows her to best a raptor in hand-to-hand combat? Shenanigans! Some kid who managed to survive in the wilderness with dinosaurs for several weeks using… what, his charm? (Seriously, I don’t remember the third movie at all.) And now this film, with the nerdy kid whose encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs helps him NONE, and the goofy-looking older brother who shamelessly makes eyes at every teenage female within groping distance despite his girlfriend at home who totally loves him?Seriously, we know this isn’t the kind of movie where they’re going to let a dinosaur eat the younger-than-adult familial relations of one of the lead characters, so why are they even here? Just to get traumatized and make me want to stab their eyes? Maybe this kind of stakes-raising works for some in the audience, but not me. The only way they do work is by making Claire scramble and find her inner high-heel wearing badass to save them, but even that’s kind of a cop-out. I think it’d be more compelling if she just released the beast without having family members thrown into a fridge first.
Shortcomings aside, this film was easily the most fun I’ve had at the cinema since the raw we’re-having-fun-in-here-and-you-can-either-come-with-us-or-gtfo-who-cares-if-it-makes-sense whimsy of Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate to compare this film to that; it feels lazy seeing as they share the same star. But summer movies should be, above all else, enjoyable and action-packed and visually impressive, and Jurassic World fits the bill on all counts.
And you don’t even have to have seen the prior films to understand anything going on with this one. But honestly, who hasn’t seen the prior films, or at least the original Jurassic Park? Sidenote: I recently learned that my own father, who is responsible for much of my education in blockbuster film, hasn’t seen it. So… yeah. Seriously, just go see it.
All images are property of Universal Pictures. Except for that one from American Gladiators, which is property of MGM Worldwide.