Jurassic World opened last summer to a record high box-office and positive critical reception, gliding in on the back of Steven Spielberg’s classic 1993 movie. But as time went on, opinions started to shift. No one said the movie was bad but it certainly had some issues that were overlooked on the initial viewing with regards to tone. Much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the argument falls between quality of story versus the visually enticing set pieces. That is, how much are people willing to overlook in the plot of the movie if the images on screen are able to draw an emotional response based on some other factor like nostalgia. It’s not meant to be a swipe at either movie (I’ve personally recommended both to people), but given the absolutely MASSIVE popularity that these franchises have it’s difficult to not see them as lightning rods for discussions on what makes a movie good beyond its connection to something you already like. The problem is the only way to do that is to single out flaws and get really nit-picky, which some can construe as being an offense against the movie or franchise as a whole.
Despite a history of shaky standards for safety, the park has finally been completed and Jurassic World has opened to the public. An island where people can come and see the creatures that once ruled the Earth millions of years ago, it’s suffered in the ratings as people have quickly gotten bored of regular ho-hum of ordinary dinosaurs. So the island’s scientists have whipped up a new dinosaur, an amalgam of all the best features of the best species in the hopes of creating a new spectacle to dazzle audiences. Of course, they call it the Indominus Rex (I-Rex), a killing machine focus tested to be the best the park can offer. As expected, something unexpected goes wrong releasing the Indominus and the park has to be evacuated save a select few who have a plan to contain the creature. But nature always, um… finds a way.
As for the characters in the movie, well, there’s a reason this was prefaced with a warning about singling out the flaws in a very popular franchise. The characters are the weakest part of this movie and pretty much where all the problems originate. It’s not that they don’t hold up compared to the characters from the original Jurassic Park, but that they don’t compare well to real people. Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady doesn’t have a single flaw. He’s a former soldier, a raptor trainer, mechanic, all around cool guy who from start to finish always makes the right calls about everything. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing is a stiff administrator who only needs to be loosened up by the addition to her life of a handsome man and two new kids. That’s kind of a cheap shot, but her character’s only defining trait through the entire movie is near absolute dedication to her work at the expense of what little social skills she has left. The two children in question are her nephews, sent to the island as a distraction from the fact that their parents are having marital strife. When everything starts going wrong, it’s up to Owen and Claire to save them when they get lost in the jungle with the I-Rex on the loose. Vincent D’Onofrio plays a guy who wants to weaponize the dinosaurs for the military because they’re efficient killers. The rest of his character is summed up quite eloquently in the stroking of his goatee. Quick tangent, it’s hilarious to think that since D’Onofrio plays the Kingpin in Marvel’s Daredevil, that Wilson Fisk’s new plan for Hell’s Kitchen is to unleash dinosaurs.
It’s this character weakness that saps at the strength of the story. In the original Jurassic Park, we’re introduced to the characters and their love of paleontology. Then we’re introduced to the park where we get to see the dinosaurs for the first time from both the scientists’ perspective and the children’s. After the T-Rex escapes its confinement and everyone is separated, that sense of wonder and amazement shifts to terror, but it doesn’t stay there for long. We get the full sense of what these characters are feeling as they attempt to salvage the park. Here, the dinosaurs are most often a distraction or a danger. Though we as an audience get to see the park for the first time as it was imagined to be in Jurassic Park, only the younger of the two kids has any sense of wonder for what he sees while for everyone else it’s just a job. Owen’s a trainer, Claire is a manager, and older brother isn’t excited to be at the park at all. We as the audience have to connect our enjoyment of the original movie to this one in order to experience that same sense of wonder. In other words, this movie is powered by nostalgia.
But, does the strength of the visuals alone add up to a satisfying experience? It definitely has its moments. All the dinosaurs look great and the movie takes its time with the introduction to the park in order for us to see them all in the way they were originally intended. The I-Rex is well designed, taking all the best aspects of the most dangerous beasts on the island and squeezing them into a single body. The raptors trained by Owen are a definite standout as characters in their own right, given names and treated with respect as creatures. And the final fight with the Indominus is something like a cross between the dinosaur schlock of the sixties and a Bollywood action movie. If you haven’t seen it yet I won’t go into spoilers, but suffice it to say that it makes whatever qualms you might have with the rest of the movie fall by the wayside just for the sheer audacity of what they have the dinosaurs do.
There’s a not-too subtle web of references to the movie industry through the park’s newer dinosaur, the same way studios have to make bigger budget spectacle features to keep people interested rather than the well intentioned smaller, indie-projects that are better classified as “art.” The problem is that Jurassic World is very wishy-washy on how it actually chooses to employ those references, sometimes in ways that are counter to what the movie is really trying to do. Is Owen a total badass because of lazy storytelling or because this movie really is intent on deconstructing summer blockbuster’s usual indomitable badass main character? Does the camera spend too long following one of the more innocent character’s demise and spend too little elsewhere? Is the product placement a statement on the current state of sponsored entertainment, or did they really need to plug Mercedes and Verizon at every turn?
So, does the quality of the story weigh down the spectacle of dinosaur fights or does the over-the-top style detract from what should be a much more human story about nature and family? For Jurassic World it’s definitely the first one. That said, it’s easy enough to get past for the sake of seeing the dinosaurs of the park square off with each other, the security teams on the island, and the island’s visitors. The action is big and exciting and bombastic thanks to the direction of Colin Trevorrow and Chris Pratt’s natural charisma. Though the movie does have its faults, it stands as a solid entry in the twenty-year-old franchise. It’s definitely worth checking out!
Jurassic World Premieres Saturday, April 23rd at 6:55 PM!