My expectations for Jurassic World weren't high. Like many others, I consider Jurassic Park to be a formative film. Having being stung by the sequels in the years up to this point and having caught the underwhelming trailer, I prepared myself for the worst.
Then the surprisingly good reviews started to come in, giving it solid four star write-ups and I started to get a bit excited. Now I've seen it, I'm disappointed and I'm left wondering what people are seeing in it that I'm not.
Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original film. Jurassic World is a fully-functional theme park that has been attracting visitors for a decade. Dinosaurs and the concept of a prehistoric park are as commonplace as seeing large animals at the zoo.
We follow two brothers, sulky teen Zach (Nick Robinson) and excitable youth Gray (Ty Simpkins) as they prepare to visit Isla Nublar and their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is the park operations manager. Park visitor numbers have been in decline and the park's lab scientists have cooked up a bigger, louder and scarier hybrid dinosaur they dub “Indominus Rex” in an attempt to boost ticket sales.
Predictably, this proves to be a terrible idea and the double-tough I-Rex escapes, endangering the lives of thousands of park patrons and staff alike. Claire enlists the help of ex-Navy man turned dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to find the Indominus Rex in the park's vast lands before any lives are threatened.
I liked the first half hour or so of the film. Seeing a fully functional Jurassic Park is a treat and there's an appropriate sense of awe when we see sights like a gigantic crocodile-like Mosasaurus leaping out of its Seaworld style aquarium and gobbling a suspended Great White shark whole.
There were nice little details that sold that Jurassic World was a fun place to visit. Despite being for children, I could easily spend hours in the dinosaur petting zoo alone were it real. John Williams' iconic theme also sold the majesty of it all. However, once we started to get into the main plot, the wheels started to fall off.
The script was the sticking point. The dialogue is flat and the story is confused. Tinkering with genetics with no thought for the ramifications is a series hallmark, but having a super-intelligent hybrid dinosaur with superpowers was a stretch too far for me. I don't think it would have been so bad if the film didn't use them so lazily and only to move the story along.
It has a camouflage ability that it uses precisely once. The I-Rex is portrayed as more of a scheming serial killer than a dangerous beast. There's one scene where it has dug a tracking device out of its flesh because it apparently remembers it been planted and knows what it is. It's funny how my disbelief can be extended beyond creating dinosaurs but comes to a sudden stop when a dino uses a tracking device to ambush a bunch of soldiers.
The film was in development hell for about a decade and it shows. The script has so many different fingerprints on it it'd probably be sticky to the touch. Being a JP supernerd, I know that the film is stapled together from all kinds of sources.
Some elements are from the original Michael Crichton novel, some are from the crappy original leaked script that boasted terrible ideas like dinosaur/human hybrids. There are even some pieced together from previous films' deleted scenes, including a sequence involving a helicopter and flying Pteranodons originally scripted for The Lost World. It feels like a connect-the-dots puzzle done simultaneously by four different people who hate each other, with the gossamer-thin writing only existing to join big tentpole action beats together.
The cast are fine and elevate the material somewhat. The trouble is that the characters are stock. Chris Pratt's Owen Grady is an all-purpose badass who is never wrong and has no character flaws. He has no real arc and it was hard to get involved.
Claire has a bit of character development, but it's a shallow turn from stuffy businesswoman to slightly tough maternal figure. Vincent D'Onofrio shows up as Hoskins He does his best with what he's given, but there's no escaping the fact that he's a weak villain. Any interesting quirks D'Onofrio gives the guy are lost in the haphazard way he's fitted into the story.
There's one moment where Owen punches Hoskins for no apparent reason other than because the film has arbitrarily decided at this juncture that he's the bad guy. It's completely unjustified. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are alright, although again it's like their personalities have just been copied and pasted from a list of character archetypes. The cardboard characters led to a lack of involvement on my part and as such, I didn't care whether somebody died or lived.
I like the reflexive approach the film takes. Both the park and the film itself are trying to make dinosaurs exciting again to audiences.
The film has some truly meta moments when talking about product sponsorships and a heavily reliance on focus groups. It's two-faced, however. It will slag off commercialisation with one side of its mouth and then have a car driving sequence which resembles a Mercedes advert.
Great respect to the first film is shown and there are some genuinely nice callbacks that tickled the nostalgia lobes in my brain. Both the Jurassic World park and film are giving the audience what they think they want- wall-to-wall dinosaur action and references to the only good film in the series.
You can't move for dinosaurs in this film. In one way, this is fantastic as we get to see some interesting and unique looking species. However, it also smacks of pandering to the short attention spans of young teens. It's more of an action film than anything else and that saddens me. Some of the sequences are really well done and we get some great humans vs. dinosaur and dino on dino action.
The body count in this film is significantly higher than in previous entries and to me, that outlines the problem. Every death in Jurassic Park meant something because we got to know the characters. None of Jurassic World's deaths really mean anything because of the flat characterisation. It's just aimless carnage.
The only real memorable death in this one actually struck me as needlessly nasty and karmically unwarranted. With this line, I've realised I've turned into my parents as we had this same issue with the original film 22 years ago, but parents with young kids eager to see it may want to hold fire on a cinema visit. It's pretty damn violent in places and I can't imagine the kiddies being too happy when the cuddlier, less toothy herbivore dinosaurs start kicking the bucket.
I started to get on board with the film's goofier charms towards the end, but by then it was too late. I was mentally checked out and disappointed.
It's probably the best of the sequels, but that's not saying much. The schizophrenic script lets the film down with stupid contrivances, inconsistent dialogue and huge logic leaps.
There's clearly a lot of reverence for the original film, but the constant references started to grate on me after a while and reminded me of all the ways the film wasn't Jurassic Park.
If they wanted to make dinosaurs exciting again, they've done their job, now they just need to work on making it all mean something in the sequel that's bound to follow.
Rating - ★★
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