When Jurassic Patrk stomped into theaters in 1993, it was a landmark of technological innovation while offering up a range of memorable characters. It even made a dinosaur few had heard of, the velociraptor, one of the great villains of cinema. After a slew of uninspired and uninspiring sequels, the dinosaur theme park fires up again in 2015’s Jurassic World, bringing state-of-the-art computer animations to the dinosaurs once limited to our childhood imaginations. And, sad to say, much like many of the recent crop of blockbuster films, it favors spectacle over what makes a movie, you know, work.
The plot leans heavily on that of the original, where we find a pair of siblings, in this case brothers, sent to stay with their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a bigwig in the theme park we all want to go to, Jurassic World. Gone are the days of dinosaurs run amok and eating the tourists. This park is host to tens of thousands of visitors who ride triceratops and kayak down rivers where brontosaurs sip from the rolling waters. The trouble is, investors always want a bigger return and attendance only spikes when a new attraction is offered. Thus, Claire and her team of scientists, led by Jurassic Park vet Henry Wu (BD Wong), have cooked up a new dinosaur in their genetic nursery, this one called Indominus Rex, still being kept under wraps. We’re given all sorts of spooky lines about the thing – it ate its sibling, it’s never been out of confinement and may be stir crazy, it is impossibly smart – which means it’s definitely going to be the big bad of our film.
Enter cocky ex-Navy man Owen (Chris Pratt) who works at the park with a quartet of velociraptors. His boss, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), wants to use trained velociraptors as weapons to replace soldiers in the field, which sounds just stupid enough to work. At least Owen is reasonable enough to point out what a terrible idea this is, but, because it’s a movie, Hoskins is determined to use the eventual escape of the Indominus Rex to test his theory that ‘raptors can be used to hunt and kill enemies of America.
With the Rex on the loose, Claire must learn that her stodgy, business-centric ways ignore the fact that she’s dealing with real animals and get with Owen, who’s chock full of common sense, rugged charm. Pratt, who I like very much as an actor, doesn’t have a single line that isn’t a double-entendre directed at Claire or an ominous warning for those who ignore the threat of the dinosaurs corralled on the island. His unlikely and, frankly, unbelievable bond with the four ‘raptors figures heavily into the conclusion of the film, which you may have seen glimpses of from the trailers in which Pratt rides a motorcycle amid the ‘raptors. “Your boyfriend’s a badass!” one of the brothers exclaims to Claire, allowing the movie to tell the audience directly how we should feel about Owen, not that all his doom-saying and easy charm didn’t let us in on that already.
If you detect a tone of derision, it’s because the characters are so cookie-cutter, it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Hoskins, fresh off seeing the dangers of letting the Indominus Rex loose on the island, immediately suggests they add four more vicious killers to the mix. He seems less motivated by greed or patriotism than some fervent desire to see people eaten by dinosaurs. The kids are purely disposable. There is a suggestion of divorce in their conversation, but this, like the older brother’s propensity to stare at young women, is never picked up again and bears no
weight on the story or its resolution. It’s a lazy script, far more concerned with the dinosaur rampage than any of the people suffering it.
That said, the dinosaurs are frightening, even if they behave in ways that run counter to everything the franchise has offered us thus far, especially the notion of Pratt’s velociraptor pals. The final action sequence involved several dinosaurs on screen at once, and it looks amazing, even if there are no emotional stakes to give the sequence weight. It lacks the terror of the T. Rex chasing the jeep in the original or the moment we understand that velociraptors can reason and use that reason to hunt us, giving us the iconic “Clever girl” line. It’s lots of eye candy in service to nothing, and makes the film as a whole feel like a monumental waste of time and money.
With its box office success, there’s sure to be a return to Jurassic World, but I hope we get a smarter, more grounded group of visitors next time around, and I hope the filmmakers understand what a wonderful premise they have on their hands and what care it deserves. I can think of no good reason to recommend Jurassic World to any viewer. It’s too violent for the young ones who might delight in seeing dinosaurs convincingly brought to life, and it’s too dumb for older viewers to enjoy for long.