Staving Off Extinction
As Universal’s parent company engages in a fierce bidding war with Disney for the assets of 21st Century Fox, the Jurassic franchise takes bold, unprecedented moves to remain relevant beyond the removal of the theme park device. While the first half of the film tries (and fails) to remediate the missteps of the first sequel Lost World, the second half course corrects and revolutionizes the series in the process. While critics may deride Jurassic for “jumping the shark,” the boost in lore was desperately needed by a franchise that received a successful jolt by finally opening the famed park in the prior movie. In the end, I have mixed feelings about two narratives mixed into one film. The weaker dinosaur ecology tale is mitigated by the nefarious twist that culminates in a strong, elongated horror/stealth sequence that harkens back to the iconic raptors-kitchen scene.
Three years after the theme park and luxury resort Jurassic World was destroyed by dinosaurs out of containment, Isla Nublar now sits abandoned by humans while the surviving dinosaurs fend for themselves in the jungles. When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event. Owen is driven to find Blue, his lead raptor who’s still missing in the wild, and Claire has grown a respect for these creatures she now makes her mission. Arriving on the unstable island as lava begins raining down, their expedition uncovers a conspiracy that could return our entire planet to a perilous order not seen since prehistoric times.
The promotional campaign for this film has had a rough start and was only able to recover slightly. The initial trailer release was met with universal disdain, however Colin Trevorrow did (correctly) state that the first trailer did not even feature more than half of the film. In response, Universal’s follow-up trailer changed the entire narrative, teasing the movie’s shocking twists and turns.
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard keep their same solid chemistry but the on-again/off-again relationship theme has run its course. While it was a cute laugh to see the bickering pair argue over who broke up with who, their character choices lead to little, lazy moments that could’ve been avoided altogether. Pratt brings a new level of solemnity to this adventure. He is constantly tortured by the fear of failing to save his friend, the raptor Blue. In one scene, heavily teased in the trailer, Pratt stands outside of a gyrosphere in utter awe, as rampaging dinosaurs race to avoid extinction. Howard doesn’t have any unbelievable “running in high heels” scenes but brings some new levels of maturity to Claire.
Special praise should be given to Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood, the grand-daughter of Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s former partner in creating dinosaurs. I am not always a fan of child actors, but casting hit a home run in this film. The horror scenes are magnified by Isabella’s sheer terror. Unfortunately, Jeff Goldblum’s reappearance as “Chaos Theory” mathematician Ian Malcolm is a mere cameo.
J.A. Bayona was the perfect choice as director to bring the film back to its scarier roots. While Jurassic Park did indulge in its spectacle, the setting was always ominous and defeating. No amusement park had ever opened in the original trilogy, but Jurassic World ushered in the impossible. Bayona takes Trevorrow’s spectacle and turns its action into more personal affairs, focusing on establishing a tense tone and predatory hunters. As in the original, smaller dinosaurs can be just as deadly as a gigantic dinosaur.
Despite the smaller scale focus (other than the erupting volcano), the classic T-Rex has a number of memorable and inventive scenes. Overall, Jurassic World is a slight step back that sets up great potential for the future. While it takes a bit of time for the fossils to get rolling, the film returns to its roots to reclaim its prehistoric glory.