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Did the world need another iteration of Jurassic Park? Did audiences need to see more terrified people running away from more ridiculous dinosaurs? Did movie-goers want to watch another set of children running from rampaging beasts? Did we need an additional wise-cracking Chris Pratt action hero?
As it has turned out, we did.
How do we know? Jurassic World is now the third highest grossing movie of all time. It lags behind only Titanic and Avatar as a money-maker and, while it’s not likely to catch either of those James Cameron juggernauts, the fact that the fourth movie in a dormant franchise can reach these heights is very impressive indeed. No other sequel has come close to making this kind of money. But is the movie any good?
It is some good. It might even be mostly good. It is not great.
Jurassic World shares the DNA (forgive the pun) of the first film in the franchise, Steven Spielberg’s rightly beloved Jurassic Park. This movie, in fact, serves as a more direct sequel to that one than even Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park did. The massive failures of planning for the first amusement park worked out, the dinosaurs better tamed and controlled, and the infrastructure of the facilities refined to almost perfection, Jurassic World is an interactive wonderland with a high-tech rides, dino-petting zoos and luxury hotels on site. No longer run by Wayne Knight and Samuel L. Jackson from a dark computer bunker, Jurassic World is maintained from a NORAD-like control center peopled by dozens of high-tech nerds under the direction of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, a Jurassic World power-player who can barely be bothered to look away from her cell phone when her two nephews arrive for a weekend visit. It should also be pointed out that all of these computer geeks are terrible at their jobs. Jurassic World exists because its vision of humanity is that people are dumber than the dinos and even armed with technology and weaponry, they will be lucky to survive their interactions with creatures from the Jurassic Era.
It should. Jurassic World doesn’t actually try to cover much new ground. It is almost beat-for-beat a copy of Jurassic Park and knowingly so. It’s homages to the original film are nice to see, but remind the audience that Spielberg and Michael Crichton did this a whole lot better with a whole lot less money 25 years ago.
What’s the same? We have a profit hungry CEO. We have kids in danger. We have dinosaurs on the loose. We have company employees with secret agendas. We have Velociraptors. We have our returning hero (Sam Neill? No – the Tyrannosaurus Rex).
What’s different? No much, just take all the original components and set the dials to “11.”
- Why have one employee working to subvert the amusement park when you can have 2? Vincent D’Onofrio (so very good in Netflix’s Daredevil) comes off as a one-note, mustache-twirling villain and BD Wong takes a wholly odd turn to the dark side not at all suggested by his original appearance in the series 25 years back.
- Why have Velociraptors that are one the loose and wild when you can put them in captivity and train them to be heroes? Hello, Terminator II.
- Why have “real” dinosaurs when you can have genetically spliced together super-dinosaurs like Indominus Rex?
- Why have an island where fewer than a dozen people can be terrorized by rampaging dinos when you can have an island of tens of thousands at the mercy of said rampage?
- Why have anyone in authority with the slightest sense or ability to learn from past mistakes?
Okay, so sequels are designed to give the audience the same beats of the original film but with, you know, more. I get it and Jurassic World does, too.
This doesn’t mean it doesn’t try to also give us something new. The closest the original films came to Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady was Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm in terms of the wise-cracking hero and, though Pratt is pretty much held in check throughout the film and not as engaging as he was in last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s very watchable here. Affable and comedic, Pratt is making a career out of these types of characters and there’s nothing wrong with that. While the script doesn’t give him much to work with, Pratt makes the most of the role. My guess is the recently announced sequel will take of Owen’s training wheels and we’ll get the full Pratt.
Bryce Dallas Howard has a much less rewarding role as Claire, the Julie McCoy of Jurassic World. As things fall apart around her, Claire is taught the true meaning of Christmas as she realizes she’s placed her nephews in mortal danger, placed the guests in Jurassic World at similar risk, placed herself at the hands of the corporate monster. It’s too bad so many people had to die for her to learn the lesson John Hammond learned two decades earlier. Howard is good, but it’s hard to overcome the ridiculous sight of her running around Jurassic World in high heels. As a role model for women and as a woman action hero, Claire Dearing is given a few moments, but she leaves something to be desired.
The audience is expected to understand that Pratt’s Grady and Howard’s Dearing have some sort of history because of a throwaway line about a date that went awry but that shared past means absolutely nothing in the larger context of the film and is pretty lazy screenwriting. When the fit hits the shan, it matters very little whether these two characters are meeting for the first time or are star-crossed lovers, what matters is that they can run from dinosaurs, scream really loud and look cool doing so. Pratt and Howard acquit themselves well on these counts.
The movie is meant to be a thrill ride and director Colin Trevorrow delivers. The computer graphics are top-notch, the tension is engaging and the dinosaurs (especially the ones that Spielberg and company didn’t have the tech to deliver in the earlier films) are very cool. The questionable decision to revisit the original movie at various points throughout Jurassic World – both in terms of plot, locations and set pieces – actually takes away from this film. It makes the audience familiar with the first movie wish they were actually watching it.
There is a dubious flirtation with themes here – don’t mess with Mother Nature, don’t trust the para-military, don’t prostitute yourself to the almighty dollar, etc. – but they are so obvious and so broadly written that they seem like they came from a piece of creative writing from a high school freshman. That’s okay because that’s not why we’re coming to Jurassic World.
We’re coming to be entertained. We’re coming to be amazed. We’re coming to see dinosaurs eat some people.
Well, as Maximus once said at a similar gathering: “are you not entertained?”
I am, thank you. Just enough.
JURASSIC WORLD receives THREE AND A HALF MOTORCYCLE RIDING CHRIS PRATTS out of a possible FIVE.