“Jurassic World” Review: A Disappointing Devolution
Ah, that winning Jurassic Park formula: endless exposition, unrepentant sexism, nudging self-references, deaths of faceless innocents… Yes, it’s good to be back in the magical world of…
Jurassic World has taken the island, the vehicles, the props, and the skeletal plot structure of the first movie. But if you want the heart, the conscience, the three-dimensional characters, the quotability – oh, the quotability! – don’t look for them here. They died with John Hammond’s beautiful dream.
There is no Hammond, no mad visionary, behind “Jurassic World,” a destination theme park on a restored Isla Nublar sometime in the near future. The InGen corporate flowchart in this movie is a little vague, but at the top seems to be the nattily-tailored Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), a South Asian magnate whose worldview is inconsistent at best. He spends most of his time flying helicopters, but he has also given his geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong reprises the small role from the first film, but with new ethnic signifiers) carte blanche to engineer a super-dinosaur. Evidently Simon did this rather absentmindedly, because when Wu explains it to him at length (an hour after other characters have explained it to the audience at length) Simon seems surprised and outraged.
Beneath the distractible and ultimately inconsequential Simon is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who oversees the financial and public relations aspects of the park. She is prissy and uber-femme, and the script spends as much time criticizing her sex life and careerism as Wu’s Frankenstein experiments. Joss Whedon was wrong: this movie is not “70s sexism” bad, because the ‘70s weren’t this bad. Claire’s shrieking, trembling, and back-arching action poses are found in bad movies in every decade, and good movies in no decade. Her dramatic arc, like everything else about the film, is predictable from the beginning when we learn that she is to be the reluctant babysitter of her sister’s two sons on their visit to the theme park.
The boys, Zach and Gray, are a likable enough pair who hew closely to older sibling/younger sibling stereotypes and mirror the original movie’s Lex and Tim in all but Lex’s gender and computer skills. The highlight of Jurassic World comes when they enjoy one of the park’s rides, a human-sized hamster ball, in a field of herbivorous giants. Unfortunately, the boys have nothing to do when Chris Pratt is on-screen except to pile on his supposedly-charming haranguing of their aunt.
Pratt’s alpha male character – his words – takes finger-in-face browbeating to places it hasn’t been since Harrison Ford was a box office staple. Dinosaur trainer Owen Grady is clearly patterned after Muldoon, the big game hunter from Jurassic Park. The differences between the two brawny men, however, reveal how little Jurassic World’s writers comprehend what makes the first movie, and movies generally, good. Muldoon’s past is summed up in his evocative line, “I’ve hunted most things that can hunt you.” His relationship with the raptors is one of respect and fear, and is encapsulated in his parting tip-of-the-hat, “Clever girl.” Owen’s past, by contrast, is spelled out in needless detail by a mustache-twirling baddie who reminds him that “we hired you out of the Navy.” In case you didn’t catch it, Owen later reminds Claire of the fact. The information doesn’t come into play. Repetition and extraneous information were alien to the taciturn Muldoon and to the Jurassic Park script.
Like Muldoon, Owen is soberly moralistic about the propriety of dinosaur breeding, but his complicity in making raptors serve human needs runs far deeper and culminates in an outrageously improbable yet thoroughly predictable climax already largely spoiled by the movie’s advertising.
The biggest departure from the first film, which Jurassic World compulsively references long after it stops being cute, is the faceless Navy Seal security team stationed on the island. They could have been a James Cameron-like ensemble of colorful cannon fodder, but color isn’t a strength of Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow. The security personnel are voiceless and indistinguishable, and exist simply to raise the body count without incurring consequences. Bizarrely, the most gruesome deaths in the movie are reserved not for them, or for the villains, but for people who are practically bystanders.
Visually, the dinosaurs here are less convincing than their predecessors. The flying ones appear to vary in scale from shot to shot, the plant-eaters still seem unreal, and the chief carnivore is a ridiculous-looking hybrid creation. The raptors are halfway decent if you can ignore the racing stripes.
Jurassic World is a bad taste in the mouth that won’t go away until you’ve rewatched the original and remembered what it’s like to feel happiness and excitement.
That said, is it better or worse than the other two sequels?
Jurassic World vs. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) goes from celebrity mathematician to action hero in this Spielberg-directed disappointment. Its enduring image is the T-Rex at the swimming pool, but that is less powerful (if no less silly) than the hamster ball and the motorcycle that the Jurassic World commercials have teased. Jurassic World wins the matchup for these and for its many aesthetic debts to the original, however much it suffers from that comparison.
Winner: Jurassic World
Jurassic World vs. Jurassic Park III
JPIII showcased flying dinosaurs, which World gets some mileage from as well. Sam Neill and William H. Macy are better actors than Pratt (who, true to form, isn’t as bad as his character) and the rest of the World cast. The mere presence of Neill and Laura Dern are enough to raise the forgettable third movie over the hopefully-forgettable fourth.
Winner: Jurassic Park III