Jurassic World is absolutely the best sequel yet to the 1993 Jurassic Park, which is one of the least-impressive compliments you can pay to a record-setting summer blockbuster. We should not feel obliged to mark it down as a strength when a movie can be confidently declared to be better than not just 1997's enervating The Lost World: Jurassic Park, but also 2001's brain-dead Jurassic Park III. Better than those should be obligatory. People who can't make a better summer thriller than those shouldn't be allowed out of Popcorn Movie School. But this is not the best of all possible worlds, and there's shit worse than that every year. So yes, it is the second-best Jurassic Park movie, and that is a good thing and worthy of note.

It is not, however, particularly good or interesting on its own merits, and it really doesn't even seem like it's trying to be. Even by the standards of nostalgia properties, Jurassic World goes all-in on nostalgia, and very rarely to its benefit, allowing fannish enthusiasm for recreating moments from the first movie to overwhelm the new movie's own ideas and characters and especially basic story logic. I would go so far as to call the script by director Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly, retrofitting an original by Rick Jaffe & Amanda Silver, a catastrophe, and not simply because of how readily it drifts into Jurassic Park fanfiction, though that happens all the time. It's criminally undernourished and erratic: filled with plot holes and unearned leaps of faith, to a degree that it's practically daring you not to nitpick every last thing to death.

Which I will not do, because that's a lazy form of criticism, but at least this much needs to be said: at no point in the movie did I get any sense of what Jurassic World, the dinosaur zoo/theme park at which the film takes place, is actually like. That is, I couldn't imagine what a tourist's trip to the park would be like on a day that all the dinosaurs didn't break out and try to kill everybody, nor how it's geographically laid out (a neat trick for a movie that keeps returning to its Big Electronic Map), nor even what attractions it contains besides the ones conspicuously designed to be death traps. Like the self-guided gyroscopic balls that allow you to zip around under dinosaurs' feet, and which don't automatically return to home base when the park managers flip the "rampaging killbeast on the loose" switch, but simply assume the teenagers joyriding around in will return in an orderly fashion because they've been asked to do so. That makes for some impressive popcorn movie imagery - very impressive, in fact - but fuck Jurassic World forever and always for pretending that it could possibly exist in anything like the form we see it.

That's one of the most glaring examples of many places where the film demonstrates a complete disinterest in building a coherent, sensible world, and it's ruinous. Any film whose plot depends on such utterly fantastic nonsense as cloning dinosaurs needs to have a stable, utterly plausible foundation - even the entirely flimsy Jurassic Park III knew how to do that - without which it's nothing but scenes of monster mayhem stitched together by mind-sapping bullshit. And surprise of surprises, that's exactly what Jurassic World turns out to be. The plot feels like a Mad Libs completed after a lazy day of watching creature features on SyFy: one day at Jurassic World, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds herself obliged to take care of her nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), while their parents (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) are busy getting divorced. It being a particularly busy day at the park, she hands them off to her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath), while she deals with an immensely important business meeting on top of all her normal duties. Meanwhile, the current park owner, multibillionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), is concerned that their new showcase attraction, a genetic experiment built on a Tyrannosaurus rex base by head scientist/Frankensteinian supervillain Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the sole character and cast member returning from an earlier film), will be unsafe, so he sends the park's tart-tongued animal trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to take a peek at its enclosure. He finds that the animal, Indominous rex, is a supervillain in its own right, able to form complex plots that, in record time, leave it rampaging through the park and triggering the usual monster movie action. And this allows the venal Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) to try out his pet theory that the park's velociraptors, the pride and joy of Owen's career, can be weaponised.

None of the above is particularly bad as such, though it's preposterously clichéd. None of the Jurassic Park movies have been models of narrative ingenuity, and it would be unfair to expect them to start after 22 years. Still, the lifeless way that this has all been stitched together is unlovely at best, and the uniformly flat characters and performances don't offer any distraction from how the film requires all of its humans to make the most obviously stupid decision possible at virtually every turn. Howard fights with the film's laziest character and manages to turn her into something that doesn't feel totally useless, and Jake Johnson is actively good as the nerdy comic relief character in the park's control room, and that's about it as far as memorable acting; even Pratt, who so nimbly played a sarcastic dick at the center of a summer tentpole in last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, offers no personality or charm to a totally generic action hero who emerges as the structureless film's protagonist largely through attrition.

Yeah, but the dinosaurs, or so the internet tells me. And I'll spot the film that: almost all of the dinosaur scenes are terrific, up until they're not. Several of them suffer from the same basic lapses in logic as the rest of the film (the film's best monster, far more impressive than the rather dopey looking Indominus rex, is a seafaring mosasaur that's comically oversized and presented in a context where it is impossible to believe that it doesn't murder a couple dozen park visitors every week), but in such places the film exploits the rule that if the genre parts of a genre film are good enough, it gets a pass on having a brain. I mean, it exploits that rule constantly, but this is the only time it works out. Everything about the action and suspense feels mercilessly pre-ordained and overfamiliar - its best sequences don't so much "steal" from Jurassic Park, Aliens, and Predator, as they use different colored crayons to fill them in - but the film's largely gorgeous CGI (I can only point to one shot where the effects fall apart, a child awkwardly "hugging" a baby brachiosaur) makes those borrowings enough of their own thing that it feels okay to forgive them.

Even as broad spectacle, the film can't quite put itself over: the Michael Giacchino score is shockingly insipid when it's not directly quoting from John Williams's awestruck motifs (and even that poorly: the first appearance of the main Jurassic Park theme accompanies a shot of Nick Robinson's feet), and the final climax gets more and more dumb as it adds more and more complications and self-conscious bigness. But the costliness and grandeur of the spectacle is enough to keep the film from being as totally sour of an experience as its disastrous scriptwould otherwise make it. It's not memorable, and it's rarely fun, but at least the film offers up a summer movie's worth of summer movie opulence.

Reviews in this series
Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1997)
Jurassic Park III (Johnston, 2001)
Jurassic World (Trevorrow, 2015)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Bayona, 2018)