I’ll be frank: not one trailer or preview I’ve seen for this movie has fully convinced me that it needs to exist. In an era where there’s no sense of wonder as to how dinosaurs can possibly be brought to life on film, and where computer generated visual effects have become too rampant and in-your-face to actually be breathtaking, is a sequel to Jurassic Park really wanted? Such where my initial thoughts on Jurassic World, or at least the idea of it.
But, in the year where nostalgia became Hollywood’s greatest weapon with such classics as Terminator, Mad Max, Ghostbusters, X-Files and Star Wars getting either remade or resurrected, it seemed Jurassic World was amongst the most genuinely anticipated ones. And now that it’s out, the critical reception strikes me as very “love it or hate it”, even though I did neither.
First of all, hi again America’s new favourite sweetheart Chris Pratt. Nice to see you’re still doing well after solidifying your awesomeness in Guardians of the Galaxy. Pratt plays Owen Grady, a man who works as what’s basically a Raptor Whisperer at the newly opened Jurassic World, built on the ruins of what was once Jurassic Park and supposedly safer and more competent than its predecessor, and yet we all know we’re in for a repeat of the first movie – except with actual visitors at the park and a new type of dinosaur, that is. More on that… fascinating choice later.
The plot revolves around two kids (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) who travel to the island of Jurassic World to get free tickets from their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works with park security but is too much of a workaholic to spend any meaningful time with her nephews. The new big attraction at the park, currently run by one Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), is a genetically modified beast that gives T.Rex and Velociraptor alike a run for their money. Predictably, the dinosaur monstrosity in question gets out during a day when the park is crowded by tourists and it’s up to Aunt Claire and Owen “Raptor Whisperer” Grady to save Claire’s nephews before the entire park goes to hell. Again.
We also get a human bad guy in the form of Owen’s violent supervisor Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), as if a dinosaur that’s bigger and stronger than a Tyrannosaurus Rex isn’t enough of a threat. Jurassic World also features Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, and a great deal of throwbacks to the original Steven Spielberg film, which is likely yet another attempt from modern-day filmmakers to use the audience’s nostalgia and emotions for a certain classic to divert their attention from flaws within the film itself. It didn’t work too well for me, charming though it was.
Many have tried to make the argument that Jurassic World gets a pass because it’s “self-aware”, such as when characters will point out the pointlessness of breeding new types of dinosaurs when the dinosaurs we already have are awesome enough as it is, almost as if the movie is making fun of itself for existing. I’m sorry, chaps. Pointing out how poor your choices are doesn’t make them better, but if it’s any consolation, I thought the new dinosaur – “Indominus Rex” to cite its scientific name – was pretty cool.
Although I won’t go so far as to call Jurassic World bad, its flaws are considerable. What it suffers from most is predictability. Be it a dinosaur that’s about to appear from behind a tree, a perilous scenario from which the heroes will escape in some contrived way at the last second, or who’s the next character to bite the dust, you can almost always foresee it. There are some genuine surprises and twists and the movie does those well, but the “easy to predict” nature of the rest of the film holds me back from rating it much higher than 3 out of 5.
On the note of characters and performances, the movie is a little all over the place. Chris Pratt is of course lovely and his character is a lot of fun to watch, but the kid duo we follow is only half good. The authentic and often moving sibling dynamic they share is mostly thanks to the youngest kid, who does a rather great job compared to the lad who plays his teenaged brother, who spends most of the film staring at things in dull surprise – yes, including dinosaurs that are about to eat him. Though on the other hand, I suppose one realistic aspect of his character that they nailed was his tendency to stare like an idiot at random girls at the park in spite of his generically hot quasi-girlfriend back home. Ah, teenagers. What’re you gonna do?
As for Bryce Dallas Howard, many have pointed out that she doesn’t play an especially strong female character. And remember this: a “strong female character” doesn’t mean “girl who kicks ass”. We also need depth and a character arc, and the one of Aunt Claire – a lady who goes from boring business woman to gritty action girl – is a clichéd one. So she’s not particularly interesting, yet maybe it is customary to at least compliment Howard for playing her non-interesting stereotype quite well?
But let us talk about the true star of these films: the special effects. Fear not, I will say that they’re good. I will say that this is probably as good as dinosaurs will ever look on the big screen. I must, however, also say that due to the age of film we currently live in, this doesn’t mean the movie achieves the same level of amazement factor as Spielberg’s original. When Jurassic Park came out, we’d never seen anything like it. That movie also had predictable character deaths and a preference of fun over cleverness, but it was the way it broke new ground in terms of what we can do with computers that made it a masterpiece all the same. With Jurassic World, we’re treated to what has, sadly, become typical every day visual effects. Or at least, that’s the case for the most part.
See, the movie actually does some things right with its special effects and CGI. It doesn’t overdo it on the same level as The Hobbit movies (another case of hoping nostalgia for classics will distract the viewer from the new film’s problems) or the action scenes in the Avengers sequel. It uses CGI sparingly and when it’s time to get exciting, which is a smart decision and makes the movie’s danger seem more real, even if it’s hard for me to consider it completely genuine. Despite this, as well as some truly magnificent sound design, there are some more problems here, like obviously fake CGI blood and that weird green filter that removes depth and color from the imagery and, counterproductively, accentuates the fakeness of the dinosaurs. There’s an article about this odd choice on Cracked that goes into greater detail about it than I intend to.
At the end of the day, Jurassic World is a fun, dumb popcorn film that’s exciting enough to be enjoyable and impressive enough in its visuals to, well, make the dinosaurs look cool, if not always genuinely dangerous-seeming. I just wish it was a popcorn film that amazed me the way it amazed the world all those years ago. But I guess it is wise to not attempt to top the masters.