There’s a scene early on in Jurassic World when one of the characters sprints into his resort hotel room and throws open the curtain on a large window, revealing the entirety of the theme park in full operation. The music swells, filling our ears with that all too familiar Jurassic Park theme. It’s a breathtaking scene, clearly orchestrated by Director Colin Trevorrow to represent the culmination of billionaire John Hammond’s (and Stephen Spielberg’s) vision from so many years ago. The moment nearly succeeds in making me feel like I did while watching Jurassic Park for the first time.
Jurassic World really wants you to feel this way. It’s a 2 hour film that’s constantly saying “Remember how much you liked Jurassic Park?” Unfortunately, this can only go so far. While the film is a fun filled trip down nostalgia boulevard, it’s also a movie with an overstuffed, nonsensical plot, boring characters, and themes that are seemingly at war with it’s own existence.
Jurassic World is the story of the theme park imagined in the first film, now open and successfully running for years. But in this world people are already bored of Dinosaurs, so the brilliant minds of InGen decide to splice genes to create a new species; one that will both scare and excite adults and children alike. Things go wrong because of course they do, and the new species, the Indominus Rex, escapes and rampages across the island, killing indiscriminately.
The overall theme here seems to be that it’s our tampering with nature that causes disaster. Through our meddling we create the tool of our own destruction. This theme works, and touches on what was first discussed in Jurassic Park (“Your scientists were so preoccupied by whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”). Jurassic World is a movie that hates the existence of the park. A movie that hates the over-commercialization it has caused and pokes fun at the ridiculous spectacle of it all (children are riding baby Triceratops in a petting zoo, for fuck’s sake). It’s also a movie that criticizes our need to constantly create something bigger and scarier to entertain us, claiming instead that we should be satisfied with what already exists.
Here’s the problem with all of this: Jurassic World is a movie that also seems to hate the existence of Jurassic World the movie. While it’s poking fun at the over commercialization of the park, it’s commercializing the shit out of this huge franchise. While it’s holding a light up to our need for more danger and more spectacle, it’s also a movie that felt that it needed a new, more exciting dinosaur to be it’s main threat. Early in the film Chris Pratt’s Owen says “They’re Dinosaurs; wow enough.” But this movie says, “Nope, Chris Pratt – you’re wrong. We need this scary super Dinosaur to carry us.” This is a film that’s at war with itself. And because of this, none of the themes are ever carried through to a satisfying conclusion.
What’s worse, a second plotline related to using Dinosaurs as military weapons is shoehorned into the film just so we can get a cool trailer shot of Chris Pratt riding through the woods with his raptor pack. This storyline, and the entire third act for that matter, is so absurdly stupid that I wound up laughing my way through the entire climactic battle.
All of this would be ok if the film wasn’t filled with flat, uninteresting characters. One of the reasons Jurassic Park is still such a great movie even 22 years later, is the memorable, likeable cast of characters. Alan Grant is a man who’s finally getting to see the animals he’s been in love with his entire life, while simultaneously dealing with the consequences their existence might have on his career. John Hammond is a dreamer who creates the park because he genuinely wants to give people the experience of a lifetime. He’s rich and arrogant; convinced that what he’s doing is good. By the end of the film he’s grown and realized the errors of his ways. Even Dennis Nedry, our villain, is a fully fleshed out character. His motivations are clear; he’s greedy and angry with Hammond for underappreciating his contribution to the park.
If you contrast these with the characters in Jurassic World, none of them hold up.
The two children, Zack and Gray are just thinly veiled attempts to recreate Lex and Tim from the original film, but there’s no work put into actually defining them as human beings. We get some weird beats about their parents divorce that are so random and out of place I’m convinced that there was some resolution to this plot line that ended up on the cutting room floor. And then there’s the moment when they jump off a waterfall to avoid Indominus Rex. Zack is absolutely shocked that his brother was able to jump, but there’s no set up to this payoff. The movie never shows us that this would be something out of place for little Gray. Also they randomly know how to repair a 22 year old car because…reasons? Another payoff with no setup.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays Hoskins, the villain of this story. Hoskins sees the chaos in the park as an attempt to test his stupid Dino soldier idea. But like Zack and Cody, we don’t get any setup for this guy. Why is he so hard pressed to force this new plan? What is his motivation? Why does he seem to relish in all the death of innocents as the park descends into chaos? The movie can’t be bothered to fill us in on any of this, so he just ends up being a cheap, hollow bad guy.
And finally we get to our two heroes: Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Before you all jump down my throats: I really like Chris Pratt:
*Chris Pratt murders my entire family*
Haha he's so fun
— Sage Boggs (@sageboggs) August 5, 2014
He’s great. He’s got all the charisma and attitude that make a great movie star…and this movie makes him boring as shit. Owen is not a real character. He doesn’t have any resemblance of an arc. He has no flaws and is never wrong. He’s just there, mindlessly badassing his way through the film. It’s a testament to Chris Pratt’s skills that he manages to make him watchable despite all of this. Howard’s Claire is the closest thing to an actual character, but again, the film can’t be bothered to flesh her out. She just occupies a space of weird, sexist stereotypes.
Colin Trevorrow does a serviceable job at the helm. The problem comes about when you’re attempting to make a movie that intentionally recalls the work of arguably the greatest living director in one of his all time great films. Trevorrow, try as he might, is no Spielberg. A master at creating and pacing incredible set piece moments, Spielberg’s T-Rex’s escape in the original Jurassic Park is one of his finest works. I could write an entire article dissecting this massive achievement (this is the part where I get new article ideas as I’m writing). Trevorrow tries, but none of the big, exciting moments come close to anything that was accomplished in the original film. Is it fair to compare this work to one of the all time greats? Probably not, but Jurassic World’s construction and intentional nostalgic throwbacks forces this comparison on you.
Here’s the thing. You’ve probably all seen Jurassic World already, because apparently half of Earth went to see it last weekend. Or if you haven’t, you’re probably going to go anyway, despite anything I’ve said here. And I kinda think you should. Jurassic World is a fun ride. It’s got huge dinosaurs killing lots of people. It’s got Chris Pratt. It’s got that theme song that we all love. Go see the movie. But go knowing that it’s a film that, like the theme park on which it’s named, is stupid, hollow, and devoid of any deeper concern for its subject.