Clomp, clomp, clomp — here it comes, another new blockbuster ready for its shock-and-awe ch-ching close-up. With its global brand recognition, “Jurassic World” comes with more muscle than the average big-ticket behemoth, one that’s been built on best-selling novels, three earlier flicks, theme-park attractions and the usual marketing tie-ins. Once again, dinosaurs are on the roam, an unpeaceable kingdom that is an index of the folly of man trying to play God. In reality, there’s more flab than muscle packed on this galumphing franchise reboot, which, as it lumbers from scene to scene, reminds you of what a great action god Steven Spielberg is. Too bad he didn’t take the reins on this.
Mr. Spielberg may not have directed “Jurassic World,” but his fingerprints — and anxiety over his influence — are all over it. He’s one of its executive producers and gave his blessing to the director Colin Trevorrow, who has just one other feature on his résumé, the indie “Safety Not Guaranteed.” As is the case with every filmmaker hired to lead an industrial brand to box-office domination, Mr. Trevorrow was principally tasked with delivering “Jurassic World” in salable shape, which he has done. Actors repeat their bad lines without smirking, and digital dinosaurs stomp, scatter and gulp amid product placements for Triumph motorcycles and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville chain. There are so many plugs for Mercedes that you may wonder if the targeted viewers are studio executives.
That would be par for the course in an entertainment that’s as relentlessly reflexive as this one. Cinema is an insistently self-referential art (movies about movies being just one example), and filmmakers have long enjoyed drawing attention to the fact that, hey, you’re watching the big screen. Given Mr. Spielberg’s heavy shadow, it’s no surprise that “Jurassic World” almost immediately if obliquely nods at antecedents, including the first two he directed, with a character in the new one stating that “every time we’ve unveiled a new attraction attendance has spiked.” She’s talking about the movie’s dinosaur theme park, but she might as well be referring to all the special effects and other blockbuster add-ons that moviemakers use to try to blow the audience’s collective mind.
Blowing minds rather than, you know, telling a good story is the driving imperative in “Jurassic World,” which takes place on an island turned luxury resort where thousands enjoy a very special kind of eco-tourism. There, the usual suspects convene, including a pair of bland young brothers (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins), avatars for the sought-after demographic; the usual odd-couple cuties (Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt); and some standard-issue villainy that exists to feed the dinosaurs and our bloodlust. It’s a measure of how dumbed-down this movie is that while the three heroes in “Jurassic Park” were scientists, Mr. Pratt plays Owen, an indeterminate animal expert, and Ms. Howard plays Claire, a corporate stooge whose idiocy is partly telegraphed by her towering heels.
The heels come across as a joke, or at least that’s how the filmmakers attempt to skew them, with Owen telling Claire that they’re “ridiculous.” That Claire can actually run from dinosaurs, over cement and through mud, without breaking a heel off or twisting her ankle like a film-noir dame, is played as a kind of triumph. Of course it’s a hollow one and it’s representative of how the filmmakers like to point out the very clichés (genre, gender, whatever) they embrace, as if merely acknowledging them were a critical move. By the time Claire is shooting a gun, still in heels, you may find yourself humming that old fake-feminist jingle: “I can bring home the bacon/ Fry it up in a pan/ And never let you forget you’re a man.” That Owen is the hero ensures that you’ll never forget, either.
Dolling Claire up so preposterously is a glib tactic, although it’s unclear if the filmmakers were trying to tweak politically correct sensibilities or thought they were being clever, or maybe both. Whatever the case, the heels are just silly and a distraction given that they’re nowhere near as insulting as the rest of her. Owen may be a parody of a hunk, what with his greasy workingman hands, shirt-busting arm muscles and nicely coiffed chin hair, but at least he does cool stuff like wrangle raptors and, spoiler alert, Claire. She mostly just schemes and screams, before Owen melts her like an ice cube on a hot griddle, proving that, yes, she’s every bit as bad as Joss Whedon thought when on Twitter he called out “Jurassic World” as sexist: “She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force — really? Still?” Yes, still.
Winking self-consciousness and movie love are Spielberg signatures and they suffuse “Jurassic Park,” which pivots on an entrepreneur cum carny, Hammond (Richard Attenborough, who directed “Gandhi”), who could be a stand-in for any Big Man of cinema. It’s Hammond who’s brought dinosaurs back to dangerous life, and while he has the vision thing down, he also likes to mention the money he’s spent on his spectacle, cementing the Hollywood analogy. By the end, his hubris nearly does him in and his plans flop, a cautionary fictional failure that spawned a real-life smash. Oh, the irony or, as one of the writers, David Koepp, said, “I was really chasing my tail there for a while trying to find out what was virtuous in this whole scenario — and eventually gave up.”
Part of the pleasure of “Jurassic Park” is how seamlessly Mr. Spielberg’s deep love of movies worked with what was, back in 1993, bleeding-edge computer-generated imagery: the dinosaurs were cool, and the filmmaking fluid and vigorous. It’s a resolutely old-fashioned Hollywood adventure movie in many ways, but one that felt (feels) paradoxically alive because of Mr. Spielberg’s filmmaking talents and his absolute faith in movies. “Jurassic World,” by contrast, isn’t in dialogue with its cinematic reference points; it’s fossilized by them. From the first shot of a dinosaur hatching (signaling new beginnings, etc.) to one of a massive aquatic creature chowing down on a great white shark (get it?), it is clear that the only colossus that’s making the ground shake here is Steven Spielberg.
“Jurassic World” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Product placements and other violence.