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'Jurassic World' is an almost self-aware clone of the originals

The "Jurassic Park" franchise comes back to life with a belated fourquel that tries, and sometimes succeeds, in rehashing the Spielberg originals.

‘Jurassic World’
Director:
Colin Trevorrow
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

It’s not clear how cynical “Jurassic World” wants us to think it is. It does claim, after all, that humankind would ignore three separate mass dinosaur attacks — chronicled in three previous blockbusters — and open a dino-park. What’s definitely cynical is everything else. “No one’s impressed by dinosaurs anymore,” declaims park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) early in the franchise’s fourth, which itself arrives 22 years after the first wowed audiences with dinos seamlessly milling about with actual actors. We probably no longer notice the magic of raptors hobnobbing with humans, just as we’re probably not all that impressed with a series’ fourquel, especially in yet another summer overrun with monster-sized movie product, each struggling to make a titanic opening weekend dent before moving on.

At its most interesting, “Jurassic World” acts as a savage commentary on its own existence. The film’s best joke is not just that a park finally opened, but that it has trouble keeping the interest of an eternally bored populace, where every next level chunk of one-upmanship must eventually itself be one-upped. Thus, the geneticists, responding to cranky missives from panicking execs, have had to start creating new and bigger and scarier beasties to harness attention. When this new dino, which basically looks like a scarier T-Rex, is introduced to the park, next level mayhem ensues, and it seems like only the park’s resident, well, apparently this is a thing, but “raptor whisperer” — a disarmingly strapping Chris Pratt, basically doing “Parks and Rec” alter ego Burt Macklin but for reals — can save the day.

At its most fun, “Jurassic World” even somewhat comes somewhat close to almost recreating the semi-campy thrills of Spielberg’s two originals, including the unwieldy but underrated second. (The third, helmed by Joe Johnston, is nothing to sneeze at either.) The director is Colin Trevorrow, who justly became a pariah when he went from a guy who made some indie — the scruffy time travel rom-com “Safety Not Guaranteed” — to helming a $200 million property, all while established female directors were being booted from franchises on merest whim. For what it’s worth, Trevorrow either doesn’t embarrass himself or was handily sucked into a well-oiled machine built to do its best imitation of the series’ original director. “Jurassic World” never comes close to Spielberg precision, but it tries. The first assault milks both suspense and funny, tiny character moments out of camera placement. (The irritated look on the face of the film’s second victim right before he’s chomped up is priceless.)

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It’s still an imitation — a clone, if you will, and one made with as many unlikely parts as the film’s new beastie. Pratt, semi-improbably, comes close to being the real deal. When he storms about saving the day or holds the camera with a steely gaze, it takes several seconds to realize this is the guy who filed years as bumbling dadbod goofball Andy Dwyer. He’s even introduced with a dolly worthy of John Wayne in “The Searchers.” He’s for real, as is, as it were, the film’s casual, perhaps unconscious sexism. Howard’s Claire is a Type-A stereotype out of a Rush Limbaugh bit, routinely guilt-tripped for her workaholicism and her lack of a maternal gene and forced to anguish over neglecting her nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), who thus wind up scampering about the grounds willy-nilly. She comes around, but only after being sufficiently shamed. Still, she fares better than overqualified supporting players Omar Sy and Irrfan Khan, who the film forgets and prematurely wastes, respectively.

These gripes are easier to if not ignore than slightly forgive once the film gets a-cooking, which is fairly often. Even without a director with a steely command over the medium, “Jurassic World” still taps into the base desire to watch a steadily escalating apocalypse, plus, more importantly, pterodactyl mayhem and dino-on-dino (and sometimes dino-on-dino-on-dino-on-dino-on-dino-and-later-one-more-dino) action. At heart, this is a classic boys’ adventure, and one with few girls. Its peaks make its valleys easier to brush off, including a giant, muddled subplot about private military contractors, led by a hissable Vincent D’Onofrio, wanting to militarize raptors…or something. His plan isn’t clear, no matter how many times he repeats it. However self-conscious “Jurassic World” is, it can’t fix its flaws, just as it can’t help but sate anyone who wants to bask in the simple, very expensive sight of one dinosaur stomping on a human like it was nothing.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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