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Monday, June 15, 2015

Jurassic World (Release Date: 6-12-2015)

        Everybody's got a soft spot for one type of movie or another, and mine is the big monster flick. Maybe you love fast cars that perform unreal stunts, or coming-of-age stories about young people finding themselves. Perhaps you're more into based-on-a-true-story biopics, or the druggy surrealism of David Lynch or Terrance Malick. I like all of those things, but if I'm being honest with myself, it's only the Pacific Rim's and Godzilla's of the world that are virtually guaranteed to get my butt in a seat on opening weekend. Jurassic World, which is now finally meeting the world over two decades after Jurassic Park (and 14 years after the franchise's most recent entry, the maligned Jurassic Park III), bets hard on your adoration of the original picture, inundating itself with rampant references and call-backs. Perhaps nostalgia for the 1993 smash truly is powering World's preposterous box office returns (it's made 524.4 million dollars in three days), but I can't help but wonder how many out there are like me, and would just rather see grandly-sized, gloriously imagined hellions roam the earth than watch another superhero punch someone in the face. Level-headed criticism of Jurassic World can be found in abundance on many a site across the web; this article is by someone who was in the bag for this movie all along, like a parent who still thinks their kid is the best player on the team despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. But for those who share my soft spot for all big things that go 'Roar,' this is the review for you.

        Set twenty-two years after the events of the original film (and ignoring the events of the second and third chapters in the franchise altogether), Jurassic World envisions something none of the previous films ever dared; a fully operational and active version of the dino-centric theme park. Though the gates have been open for years now, brothers Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, respectively) are only getting their first crack at it now, and only one of the two is even remotely excited. You see, in 2015, snobby, hormonal teenagers like Zach already think of pre-historic enormous lizard monsters as old hat, and would likely rather stay at home and play Call of Duty. Enter Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a JW higher-up who is pressured by any number of ambitious, oblivious moneymen and scientists to up 'the wow factor.' She commissions the creation of the Indominus Rex, a creature just as preposterously powerful and menacing as its name might suggest. The American tidal wave of stardom known as Chris Pratt is called in for his expert advice on how to handle the creature, but hardly gets three sentences into his lambasting the idea when old Rexy herself makes a break for it, leaving a wake of near-ceaseless carnage behind her.

        Writing that last paragraph was like beating my head against the wall, not because of any tangled plot machinations or avoidance of spoilers, but rather the resistance of adding a snarky comment after every single sentence (seriously, I think my delete button might be broken). There are enough plot holes and faulty logic stored within the screenplay of Jurassic World to make the Fast and Furious movies look like gentlemen of Harvard; hinging an entire Jurassic movie on the diminishing returns of seeing dinosaurs is not only laughably unbelievable, but something of a self-fulfilling meta-prophecy for the movie itself. Additionally, the idea that the original park could turn into a veritable human buffet, only to be subsequently reopened, and run the gambit from wild success to middling returns in a mere 22-year period in a world where the internet exists... not sure about that one. I could go on, but the point I'm making is this; if stupidity and loose ends are issues you simply can't abide, you should run from this film like there's a velociraptor hot on your heels.

        Jurassic World makes Pratt's identity as the 21st century Harrison Ford even more obvious than it was in Guardians of the Galaxy, and while this franchise entry doesn't lean quite as heavily on his particular charms, its throws all kinds of weight into his visage. Chiseled, sun-soaked, caked with just the right amount of dirt, and borrowing his whole wardrobe from Dr. Jones' closet, Pratt is used as a sex symbol in ways that would have been unthinkable as recently as three years ago, when he spent most of his days shining shoes. The film itself is obviously in love with him, and while that aforementioned Marvel outing was undoubtably his star-making turn, this is the first we've seen him in all-out movie-star mode, and he wears it nicely. The rest of the cast plays almost exclusively to extremes: Simpkins as a wide-eyed Spielbergian youth, Robinson as his jaded teen brother, BD Wong as the mad scientist, Vincent D'Onofrio as the military lunatic, and Jake Johnson as comic relief. Only Irrfan Khan's character is written with any sort of emotional/moral dexterity, which is likely why the movie doesn't really know what to do with him.

        The flick does know, however, is what to do with the sky-scraping beasts that are the movie's real draw. What the screenplay (as penned by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly) lacks in dialogue and smarts it more than make up for in structure and reveals, using each animal so judiciously as to keep things fresh throughout its two-plus hour runtime. Many have scoffed at the trailer's depiction of Pratt as a Raptor trainer straight from the mold of Cesar Millan, but the film is careful to display the loose grip his character has over their actions, the pack animals ultimately proving just as dangerous as ever. The Indominus Rex is a bit tougher to sell, and while the film's focus on its self-fashioned Turbo-dino forces all other scaly assailants to the margins for much of the picture, it pays incalculable dividends in the movie's final hour.

       Director Colin Trevorrow, who's only previous feature was the big-hearted indie sci-fi rom-com Safety Not Guaranteed, always seemed like an odd choice for this movie, but its in that last act when Jurassic World stomps on all those doubts like a rampaging tyrannosaurus. Suddenly all the scenes that were merely engaging become impossible to look away from, and all the jokes that sent eyes rolling to the back of heads start landing. Trevorrow and editor Kevin Stitt prioritize pace to masterful effect, their film passing 2+ hours in what feels like 60 minutes all without exhausting the viewer, but its that final chapter where the pedal really hits the floor. It would all seem like too much chaos if it weren't for how cleverly the previous passages have set up the mayhem, planting little seeds here and there that all grow and bloom into a gonzo action bonanza. I wish I could elaborate, but Jurassic World is one of those rare movies where even if the end result is self-evident, the steps it takes to get there are savory enough to merit secrecy. I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff, which is why even the first half of the film played relatively well in my eyes, but the kinetic energy and special effects majesty of the closing passages are another thing altogether. Jurassic World is stupid, clumsy, and riddled with plot holes, and I wanted to watch it again the second the credits rolled.

Grade: B+

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