Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World takes audience back to the past as the theme park promised in Spielberg’s unforgettable Jurassic Park is open to the public and raking in all sorts of cash.
It has been 22 years since the original Jurassic Park hit cinemas and it has remained a cultural benchmark ever since. Not even Spielberg could recreate his own magic with an uneven sequel. Let’s not even talk about the third film and how that dipped the overall quality of the franchise.
Jurassic World has been in development hell for over a decade with so many false starts, leaked scripts through many hiring and firings to try to make something that audiences could engage with once again. It’s a cash cow for Universal that could never quite come back. Eventually relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow was given the director’s chair and things started moving again until we finally have this.
For what it’s worth the whole thing starts out pretty well. Having the film set in real time relative to the events of the first one adds a certain distance to the first film making it an event that happened and should never happen again. The early parts of the film constantly refer to how different this stab is and that the same mistakes as before aren’t being made.
To paraphrase the sadly absent Jeff Goldblum played Ian Malcolm; instead they make all new ones but more on that in a minute. It’s unfortunate that the constant insistence that this isn’t the same thing is countered by the near constant onslaught of nostalgia for the original film. Many of the classic moments are recreated from the massive door welcoming visitors into the park to the herd of Gallimimus flocking across a wide open plain and of course the majesty of moving alongside massive herbivores. It all creates a sense of comfort as older audiences are reminded of those iconic moments while newcomers see them for presumably the first time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of nostalgia and I like it when films give entertaining nods to the thing that sourced them but here it’s pretty on the nose with Trevorrow seemingly relying on the iconography of the first film to get people invested in this one. At least that is the case early on. The Jurassic Park fan in me enjoyed seeing things like this recreated but I couldn’t help but think that I’d rather be watching the first film instead. Mileage will probably vary on this but for me it was too full on with reminders.
Underneath this there’s an interesting piece of satire involving the role of consumerism in modern society. Culturally we are constantly on the lookout for the next big thing while the current fad only holds the attention of many for so long. See iPads, video games or anything that grabs the attention of the masses really. This is a problem that plagues the Jurassic World business model. The park is holding a steady stream of revenue and high volume of visitors but as with any financially motivated corporation there is always more money to be made.
The correlation between new attractions and increased revenue is made so the team at Jurassic World are constantly trying to come up with the next audience grabbing thing. As you might expect this means that common sense is ignored and the meanest dinosaur ever is created by the in house scientists. It’s big, intelligent, has all sorts of awesome abilities and it is completely beyond the control of those who created it. It’s called the Indominous Rex and is sponsored by Verizon in a clever send up of corporate sponsorship taking the fun out of everything. Jokes are made about a Pepsisaurus etc which probably doesn’t seem so far from becoming a reality now that I think about it.
Naturally the super dinosaur escapes and starts tearing its way through Jurassic World proving itself to be nearly unstoppably as it casually stomps around killing for sport because it can. It’s the first time a film in this universe has had a clear antagonist in the dinosaurs as the other films make it abundantly clear that they are just animals acting on instinct where this one represents the arrogance of man and how humanity should be punished for it. It’s pretty simple symbolism but it mostly works.
There are some human characters in here too. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire has the central character arc of the film as she transitions from an uptight, bottom line company woman to a less uptight company woman who cares about the survival of her nephews Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson). She does a really good job with what she’s given but I never found her character to be all that engaging and her arc felt so by the numbers that I couldn’t really get invested in her at all. There’s been a lot of discussion about old fashioned sexism surrounding her character but personally I don’t see it to be any better or worse than anything else I’ve seen. Her relationship with her nephews feels forced and her interactions with other characters are pretty underwhelming due to the writing not being up to much when it came to characterisation.
Chris Pratt is the star of the show here as the Navy man turned Raptor Wrangler Owen. He has such a confident swagger about him that makes him perfect leading man material. Whenever he enters a given situation the audience knows that he’s the best man in the room and he constantly proves it. There didn’t need to be as much dialogue telling us how cool the guy is because the film actually shows that pretty well.
His introductory scene as he works with the semi domesticated Velociraptors is a franchise highlight as it immediately shows us how tough and intelligent he is. He’s the only one around that recognises that the dinosaurs are actual animals with instincts and desires like anything else. He’s something of an action hero Ian Malcolm who keeps reminding the deaf ears around him that dinosaurs can’t be controlled in the way they want to. His relationship with the Raptors exemplifies that as it’s made clear that he is not in control of them and constantly has to prove his worth to them. I wish this was something that the film spent more time on as I was really invested in all of that.
Beyond that Pratt is just excellent as the action hero when he needs to be. He casually rides on his motorcycle headfirst into danger without breaking a sweat and carries much of the film with his charisma alone. There’s no real arc for him but there doesn’t need to be. It’s made clear that he knows everything he needs to know about the dinosaurs in the beginning so all he has to do is keep hammering that point home until everyone eventually catches up to his way of thinking.
The children are pretty dull all told with some really boring character beats wedged inbetween the near constant jeapordy in the second half of the film. Any time spent developing them felt really forced and as characters to follow around they were both really uninteresting throughout.
The super dinosaur isn’t the only antagonist the film has to offer with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins serving as an ignorant human villain who wants to put dinosaurs onto the battlefield to fight Wars for him. Admittedly the idea of a group of Velociraptors taking apart an enemy human army would be cool to see but the film needs the audience to hate the idea. It’s something that is laid on far too thick as he’s so overtly evil that he is devoid of any other character trait. He doesn’t have a moustache but if he did then he would definitely be twirling it. He’s so devoid of personality other than aggressively evil that he reminds me of Hugh Jackman’s 1 dimensional villain in Chappie. I think the film could have easily functioned without him as he doesn’t really add anything other than setting up one of the action sequences.
In general the characterisation in this film felt like a tick box exercise with the narrative slowing down periodically for mandated character development. It all felt so forced and rushed that most of the characters come across as one note and uninteresting. Even the return of BD Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu fails to create any excitement especially since he is so thinly written that he could have been any misguided scientist. Basically the characters seem to exist to take the audience from one moment of jeapordy to the next as if this was some sort of cinematic theme park ride.
I did enjoy Irrfan Khan’s Simon Masrani with his John Hammond style youthful excitement managing to be a nice subtle throwback to that beloved character. It’s a shame that he never utters “spared no expense” but we can’t have everything.
In terms of action sequences the whole thing is a mixed bag. Some of them are really impressive but a lot of them have CGI so unrealistic that nothing about it feels in any way tense. I completely tuned out during the film’s climatic action sequence and I’m normally the first to defend CGI spectacle. It’s just so poorly handled here that I was disengaged by most of it.
It isn’t without standout moments though. There’s a really tender moment that I won’t spoil that managed to be quite affecting and some of the sequences clearly designed to look cool actually succeed. I also found some scenes to be really tense but they were few and far between. Also there was a lot of really dodgy CGI in there. In many ways it looked a lot worse than the original did which is a shame. You would think that the advancements in effects technology would give us a film in this franchise that wasn’t quite as fake looking.
When all is said and done there was nothing about this film that brought out any sense of awe or wonder in me as I was watching it. This review has had a lot of me comparing this to the first film and perhaps that’s not completely fair but when watching this I felt like I was constantly being encouraged to. When watching Spielberg’s classic I am still incredibly impressed by the reveals that I’ve seen umpteen times because everything about it just captures the imagination where this one simply kills time for a couple of hours. I can see how newcomers unfamiliar with the original would love this and maybe that’s the intention but for old school Jurassic Park lovers like me it doesn’t hold up.