PLOT: Many years after the events of JURASSIC PARK, Isla Nublar has finally opened and become a fully functioning theme park. But the creation of a new dinosaur, a hybrid called the Indominus Rex, once again throws the park into chaos and threatens to make its human inhabitants dino-lunch.
REVIEW: This is the danger of so-called "fan service." When a new movie is so utterly beholden to its source material that it ceases to be its own entity. That's the truth about JURASSIC WORLD: it couldn't exist without JURASSIC PARK. And I don't mean because it's a sequel. I mean it quite literally. Every piece of this movie's DNA (that's Mr. DNA to you) is linked to Spielberg's 1993 film. There are countless references - countless, because I tried to keep count and stopped after an hour - and while all those tips-of-the-hat would seem to be right up the JURASSIC PARK fan's alley, it eventually becomes a sad reminder that this film is but a shell of the still-terrific original.
But I don't want to simply expound upon the movie's inability to be its own thing, although I'm sure countless articles are being written right now about how WORLD gleefully imitates PARK. As its own film, JURASSIC WORLD is a so-so adventure, filled to the brim with busy dino-action but sadly lacking in genuine thrills or chills. There isn't anything remotely scary or exciting about it, and even when it's at its best, you can't forget you're looking at a cash-grab filled with digital fabrications. There never seem to be any stakes. Perhaps I've been desensitized by years of nonstop CG mayhem, but for me the events in JURASSIC WORLD don't have the necessary weight or danger required to fully engage me. Plus the visual effects are still not as good as those in the first one.
The movie also joins the other two sequels in this franchise's unlikable tradition of not treating its amazing creations with awe. JURASSIC WORLD is making a minor statement about the growing ennui of an audience expecting to be wowed at the drop of hat, but c'mon people: we're still not quite past being amazed by friggin' dinosaurs. For whatever reason, after the first JURASSIC PARK, these films pretty much got over the "holy crap, it's a dinosaur!" phase and skipped to "let's just put as many of these things on the screen as we can." I'll personally take one or two genuinely great dinosaur shots over a hundred OK ones, and JURASSIC WORLD absolutely opts for the latter.
Wisely acting as if parts 2 and 3 never happened, JURASSIC WORLD brings us back to where it all first happened. Isla Nublar. The park is now open, John Hammond's dream has been realized and the wily billionaire has handed the reins to another wily billionaire, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), who, despite the park raking in tons of dough, is concerned the paying public has grown weary of his main attractions. Thus he and his team of brilliant scientists (led by BD Wong's Henry Wu, back again) have concocted a new monster, the Indominus Rex, a fearsome and uber-intelligent hybrid of several different animals. One big mistake, of course, but these folks are more concerned about the bottom line than the wisdom of crafting a dinosaur than can blend in with its background. Ah, the folly of man.
Our main characters are thoroughly unimaginative creations, but at least they're well cast. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Masrani's top advisor, a career-obsessed ice princess with no time for family or relationships. (Think she'll realize the importance of those things by the time the movie ends?) She's being visited by her two obnoxious nephews, one a girl-crazy jerk (Nick Robinson), the other your typical science geek (Ty Simpkins) bummed about his parents' impending divorce. When the kids get caught up in the eventual dino-madness, Bryce needs to call upon Chris Pratt's hunky raptor trainer to help. Pratt is great at doing the swaggering Han Solo/Indiana Jones schtick (he did it last summer to much better effect in a much better movie), but that's pretty much all he has to do here. None of these characters have much in the way of depth, and honestly, you wouldn't miss them if they got eaten. (Okay, you might miss Pratt a little.) You can criticize the characters in JURASSIC PARK for being slightly one-dimension, but at least they frequently talked and acted like human beings, and you bought their exchanges with one another. The people in WORLD are just archetypes without anything interesting to say or do.
Once the action starts, it's all fairly generic; there isn't one standout set-piece. (Those raptors who hunt alongside Pratt are semi-amusing.) The Indominus Rex eventually escapes its paddock and becomes the center of attention for the majority of the film, and while she's a fine creation, she's nothing so outstanding we can't believe our eyes. (Frankly, it's not much more impressive than the much-maligned Spinosaurus from JURASSIC PARK III.) What's really frustrating about JURASSIC WORLD, however, is that it fails to provide enjoyable action within the actual park. That sequence you've seen of pterodactyls descending upon a horrified public? That's about it. Why even bother "opening the park" if you're not going to let the many dinos roam about and snatch people up? Instead, most of the movie takes place in a familiar jungle setting, which adds to the "been there, done that" atmosphere hanging over the production. The most novel thing about this installment is just how many product placements there are; I don't think there were so many in the last three movies combined.
The temptation is to not keep comparing it to JURASSIC PARK, but it's impossible because director Colin Trevorrow keeps inviting it, again and again. As if it's insecure about being it's own movie, JURASSIC WORLD leans so heavily on Spielberg's classic it's almost groveling. A handful of references are to be expected, sure, but lifting actual visual cues and scenes? Not impressive. But then again, Spielberg is a master of the craft, and Trevorrow has a lot to learn about building tension, escalating action and - most importantly - making us care about what's happening on screen and who it's happening to. Everything in JURASSIC WORLD is a pale imitation of the first film. Close the park once and for all.