(Colin Trevorrow, 2015)
Making a sequel to a film directed by Stephen Spielberg is challenging enough; in most cases you have to compete with huge success. But it is that much worse in a genre where success is partly defined by the effect of the set-pieces. Spielberg remains one of the best ever directors of suspense, and there are a handful of set-pieces from the twenty year old Jurassic Park which are immortal because they are so well conceived and directed.
So Trevorrow took on Jurassic World (effectively Jurassic Park 4) presumably aware of these factors. And, to give him some credit, the set-pieces in his film are probably the best sequences. He steals shamelessly from Spielberg, as well as James Cameron (there are a couple of blatant Aliens nods here) and the scenes in question benefit from that thievery. Once the stage is set for man vs dinosaur and Trevorrow can cut loose in a series of thrilling scenes of panic and stalking, Jurassic World feels like a decent summer blockbuster.
But films have to be more than just a loosely linked line of action scenes. They need to include characters. Jurassic World doesn't do so well here. Set in a new, functional and thriving Dinosaur theme park established on the same island as in the original film, the principals are all sketches composed mainly of stereotype, shorthand and outright cliche. First we have the two brothers (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) sent to visit their Aunt, who runs the park, while their parents divorce proceedings are sorted. The elder is a moody, hoodie-wearing teen, constantly staring at either his smartphone or the teenage girls in the park and impatient with his little brother's immaturity. The younger is sensitive and geeky, loves dinosaurs and worried about the future of their family. Once the mayhem begins, they are imperilled a few times, then reduced to running mannequins, fleeing from one dinosaur to another, dragged behind adults. The actors do alright, but the boys are boring cyphers. The adult have a little more to chew on. There are supporting characters, each easily summed up in a phrase: Vincent D'Onofrio as a hubristic, hawkish exec at an arms manufacturer, set on weaponising velociraptors (guess how he dies!), Omar Sy as a sensitive Velociraptor keeper, appalled by these plans, Irrfan Khan as the Billionaire owner of the park, torn between the ideals of wonder and the bottom line of profit, Jake Johnson as the dinogeek who runs the systems at the park clad in a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt, his work-space lined with dino-toys and most obviously, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard as our hero and heroine.
She is the boys' workaholic Aunt, portrayed as tightly wound and a little inhuman, until her nephews are in danger, at which point the humanity in her is revealed. Her repartee with Pratt's Navy vet Velociraptor trainer is a bit stilted, despite the natural charm of both actors. Pratt plays this character mostly straight - his job for the first half is to warn the suits that they keep making mistakes, and for the second is to run, shoot and rescue people. Perhaps the most interesting thing in the film is the dynamic between him and his pack of velociraptors - he has positioned himself as the alpha, and the confusion of the animals when confronted with a rival alpha in the form of the movies big bad, the camouflage-using, thermal-radiation sensing, many-toothed, extremely intelligent genetic hybrid Indominus Rex is nicely played. Meanwhile Howard does her best with an awful character; though her thaw from ice queen to lioness never really works.
What we're left with then are the action scenes. Twice we see groups of heavily armed military personnel go hunting the Indominus, the second accompanied by raptors, and these sequences are undeniably effective. The attack by a huge armada of pterodactals and pteradons on a fleeing crowd of people may be better for spectacle and sight gags (Trevorrow works in a few nice ones).
But this is ultimately a frustratingly workmanlike blockbuster; moving pieces and people not place for the big money scenes, and mostly disposable for the rest of the time.