While most effects-driven blockbusters tend to fade away a year or two after their release, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park continues to endure 20 years later. Although far from perfect, the film succeeded on the strength of Spielberg’s peerless knack for staging masterful set-pieces and building white-knuckle tension without forgetting the human aspect. Its novel, even brilliant, conceit only aided its immense appeal. But as the novelty faded, so did the quality of its sequels. The highly anticipated The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which Spielberg directed himself, was a muddled affair. The less said about Joe Johnston’s justly-maligned Jurassic Park III the better. Now, 14 years after the last film comes Jurassic World, a gargantuan, effects-driven monstrosity that takes the once novel conceit and buries it under a mountain of manure.
Although competently acted and beset with phenomenal visual effects, director Colin Trevorrow’s sure-to-be-blockbuster is shockingly short on suspense and devoid of thrills. Moreover, the witless screenplay, credited to an arsenal of screenwriters including Trevorrow, teems with unlikable characters that spend the entirety of the picture doing and saying inane things. Worst of all, the movie obnoxiously panders to fans by ripping off shots and entire sequences from its prequels while passing them off as homage. References, especially when used cleverly, can be gleeful fun, but the way Trevorrow incorporates them in Jurassic World is nothing more than fan service.
Jurassic World is set-up as a direct sequel to the original film. 22 years after those disastrous events, billionaire John Hammond’s dream of creating a theme park using genetically-engineered dinosaurs has finally come to life. Built on Isla Nublar, the same island as the original park, Jurassic World is a thriving Disney World-Sea World-like theme park, rife with thrill rides, aquariums, petting zoos, educational exhibits and even a monorail. If there’s one thing Trevorrow and his co-screenwriters Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver get right, it’s the ideation of the park itself. The establishing shot of the fully-functioning park is breathtaking—especially when accompanied by John Williams’ iconic “Welcome to Jurassic Park” cue.
But after 10 years of operation and dwindling attendance, the desperate administration led by Indian billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) orders the park’s chief geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong—the sole returning cast member from the original film) to conjure up a new dinosaur using the most dangerous traits of a T-Rex, and a bunch of other lethal carnivores. Yes, because that’s worked out spectacularly in the past! As the park’s workaholic operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) tells a swarm of corporate investors on a tour of the park, “Consumers aren’t impressed with dinosaurs any longer. They want bigger, louder, more teeth!” Interestingly, this line also perfectly describes the filmmakers’ mentality of what they think audiences want: Bigger, louder, more effects-driven movies, no matter how expensive and how hollow they are.
The park’s attendees certainly get the bigger, louder and toothier beast they’re hungry for with the Indominus Rex, a freakish hybrid equipped with more pre-installed special features than the Terminator: Fiercely intelligent, the I. Rex is also capable of confusing heat sensors, camouflaging itself in any terrain, tip-toeing across the island without anyone noticing, outrunning a helicopter and manipulating other dinosaurs to work in tandem with it. It even hunts for sport! In other words, it’s the Alien and Hannibal Lecter in one leathery package. As expected, the creature escapes and proceeds to unleash several circles of hell in the park – including devouring an entire platoon of the park’s apparently highly-trained security team, killing a herd of apatosauruses for the hell of it, and freeing a swarm of pterodactyls into the park.
Further complicating matters are Claire’s two annoying nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), who get lost after doing something incredibly moronic (like going through a busted gate with a dangerous warning sign on it). There’s also Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), a slimy InGen contractor who wants to use trained raptors as military weapons against insurgents in the Middle East. No, seriously! Frankly, every character (save for one) in Jurassic World is an idiot. To paraphrase the definition of the “Idiot Plot” from Roger Ebert’s Movie Glossary, “Any plot containing problems in Jurassic World would be solved instantly if all the characters were not idiots.”
The sole voice of reason in this Idiot Plot of a movie is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an ex-Navy Seal and currently-single bad boy with breathtaking hygiene issues. As the only one with the foresight to warn Claire and team that no good will come of the I. Rex, he’s meant to be the film’s Ian Malcolm. And Pratt, who oozes likability as much as he sweats in this movie, does his best to elevate the laughably bad dialogue and flat characterization. Unfortunately, Pratt’s reputation as the Internet’s New Boyfriend (sorry Benedict Cumberbatch) isn’t enough to elevate this movie.
Still, Pratt is a lot luckier than the otherwise wonderful Howard who is saddled with the most stereotypical & offensive female character I’ve seen in a movie this year. Draped from neck to toe in a pearly white suit (symbolism alert!), Claire is the epitome of the female control freak trope—a careerist who, wait for it, loathes children, has no time for fun, and who exists primarily to make ill-advised decisions despite charming Chris Pratt’s warnings. It’s only when things go haywire that she finally turns to him and realizes how attractive he is. As the central character of Jurassic World, her journey is that of a woman who matures from a frigid shrew to a warm and subservient figure. Hooray! This archaic characterization may have flown in the 1970’s or even the ’80s but in 2015? Considering that one of the primary characters of the original film (Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler) is a strong and independent woman, this regressive gender dynamic is flat-out embarrassing!
Now, none of the Jurassic Park movies, including the first one, have ever been beacons of screenwriting. The humans have always been secondary attractions to the dinosaurs. But the beauty of Spielberg’s first film lay in the methodical way he constructed his terrifying yet awe-inducing set-pieces using sustained suspense, masterful craftsmanship and a human sense of wonder. Alas, Trevorrow, whose only previous credit is the tiny indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, fails to deliver in this regard too. His set-pieces are a chaotic mix of mass hysteria and CG mayhem, neither which makes for suspenseful cinema. More perplexing is that a vast majority of the action sequences are scene-by-scene rehashes of iconic moments from the other movies. Even the one highlighted in all the trailers featuring Pratt and his team of raptors rings as a disappointment. Although more innocent people die in this movie than the previous three movies combined, it’s telling that I couldn’t recall a single memorable death. While Jurassic Park‘s legacy will continue to endure 20 years from now, I predict that this soulless monstrosity will be long forgotten come next summer.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenwriter: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson
Producer: Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall
Running time: 124 minutes
Companies: Universal Pictures
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril