Review: Jurassic World (2015)

“God creates dinosaur. God destroys dinosaur. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaur.” – Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

The third sequel in a series about re-creation and destruction, Jurassic World’s revival of a franchise that skirted extinction for years is thankfully not altogether in vain. In fact, despite coming 21 years after the original Jurassic Park, Jurassic World delivers enough satisfying action set pieces to be worthy of its forced existence. Unfortunately, the film’s successes are matched by blunders, its new life stunted by misguided aims.

Gone is the original’s slow build and sustained emphasis on suspense. While I recognize that it wouldn’t have worked for director Colin Trevorrow to simply re-create the anticipation and foreboding that pervade the early scenes of the first film for this third sequel (although Gareth Edwards with last year’s Godzilla achieves a close approximation), the set-up in Jurassic World is pretty straightforward, even dull at times. It’s as neat and efficient as the new theme park, but it lacks the atmosphere that has always been one of my favourite qualities of the original.

Thankfully, we don’t have to wait too long for the different characters to be introduced and fit into place before everything goes wrong in the park. Set 20 years after the first disaster, the theme park Jurassic World on Isla Nublar is open and doing well, although as the park operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), explains, audiences aren’t as impressed with dinosaurs anymore. CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) has instructed Dr. Henry Wu (B. D. Wong, reprising his role from the first film) to engineer a more terrifying spectacle in order to up the “wow” factor. The result: Indominus rex, a hybrid dino killer and, of course, the critical element in the disaster that ensues. Filling the children-in-peril roles are Claire’s visiting nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson).

The early scenes showing the attractions in the park strive to impress but aren’t able to achieve Spielberg’s sense of awe (a high standard, I admit). Instead of the majestic beauty of the Brachiosaurus, the film foregrounds the impressive and terrifying spectacle of a giant marine reptile (a Mosasaur) devouring a shark suspended above the tank. It becomes clear as the film progresses that such differences, and the film’s emphasis on the insatiable corporate and consumer desire for bigger, better, and more, are themes the movie is exploring.

In this respect, Jurassic World continues Jurassic Park’s self-reflexive tendencies. The first film’s exhibition of its wondrous special effects mirrored the theme park’s attraction of seeing living, breathing dinosaurs. With the new park’s corporately-sponsored hybrid dinos and Claire’s mind for profits and audience satisfaction levels, Jurassic World self-critically comments on its own status as a corporate product that has to deliver bigger, better, and more, but it also uses self-referential humour to somewhat anxiously deflect criticism. For example, park operator Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson) explains how cool the vintage Jurassic Park T-shirt he bought online is, and that the old park was more “legit.” I can imagine similar comments being made about the films in the real world.

Instead of generating suspense and awe, the film successfully builds on The Lost World’s darker focus on action, while also taking up that sequel’s brash sense of play with the possibilities of people fighting dinosaurs. The new twist: man uses dinosaurs to destroys dinosaurs. Chris Pratt’s ex-military macho man, Owen Grady, is experimenting with training Velociraptors, but he’s unhappy with InGen security boss Vic Hoskins’ (Vincent D’Onofrio) desire to weaponize them. The Lost World’s critique of the military-industrial complex was no more elegant, but that sequel’s admiration and respect for its dinosaurs seemed more genuine. Indeed, this film’s initial critique of weaponizing the raptors conflicts with how centrally Chris Pratt fighting alongside his raptors has featured in the advertizing. Hell, the prospect of his raptor pack was one of the big selling points for me.

If Jurassic World enacts anxious twenty-first-century movements of corporate presentation alongside self-reflexive critique, its characters are firmly outdated. It therefore continues the series’ downward trend in terms of characterization. I’m surprised by how fondly I think back to Jurassic Park’s characters, which I don’t believe were much lauded at the time. Most of them (I never liked the kids) have turned out to be very memorable though, one even enjoying near-iconic status (Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm).

The main problem with the characters and their storylines in Jurassic World is the ill-conceived and poorly executed critique of Claire’s careerism. Perhaps screenwriters Trevorrow and Derek Connolly were trying to replicate the first film’s emphasis on family (Dr. Alan Grant must learn to like children, you will recall), but there’s nothing close to that film’s witty exploration of gender issues (remember Dr. Ellie Sattler’s addition to Malcolm’s storyline: “Dinosaur eats man. Woman inherits the earth”). There’s nothing inherently wrong with a thematic focus on the idea of the alpha male—indeed, it’s a standard subject of action movies—but surely it could have been explored without denigrating the two career women in the film as part of its aims.

You don’t have to be a progressive culture-warrior to notice that the film strangely takes a moment to have Claire’s sister (Judy Greer) correct her “if” about having children to “when.” Moments such as that one alongside the uncomplicated celebration of Grady’s macho badassery reek of male-supremacy. Then there’s the subplot between Claire and Grady that’s all about how Grady should be in control, not Claire (he’s the alpha, she’s the beta). And what are we to make of the prolonged and gruesome death (reserved for actual villains in the previous films) of the other career-focused woman, Claire’s assistant (Katie McGrath)? Given the film’s criticism of corporatism, it does seem that the characterization of Claire is supposed to participate toward that theme, but there’s no way to overlook the sexist results. I don’t think the likelihood that the ultimate alpha—the T-rex—is female is enough to offset what’s come before.

Although it contains significant missteps, I’d rank Jurassic World third in the franchise. The action is that well done. It also demonstrates that the Jurassic Park idea is still ripe with possibilities. I just hope someone has the audacity to create a story and characters as inventive as the action. While they’re at it, why not take the title change from Park to World seriously and expand the scope? I for one would have loved to see humanity grappling with a new Jurassic world, and not just another park disaster.

6 out of 10

Jurassic World (2015, USA)

Directed by Colin Trevorrow; screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly; starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, B. D. Wong, Lauren Lapkus, Katie McGrath, and Judy Greer.