Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time so Colin Trevorrow was going to have to pull off some sort of miracle in order to meet my expectations. He didn’t and the film is a bit disappointing in a number of respects, but as far as entertainment value goes, Jurassic World is as effective as any other decent, over-the-top, CG-laden action film.
The movie features a lot of characters, but there are four in the spotlight. Chris Pratt is Owen, a guy who used to be in the Navy but also, for some reason, is now the park’s animal behavior expert attempting to train the raptors. Bryce Dallas Howard steps in as Claire, a top level Jurassic World employee who’s in charge of managing the facility. And then, of course, there’s got to be kids so that’s where Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) come in. Their mother (Judy Greer) sends them off to the park alone assuming that her sister will be responsible for them, but Claire’s too busy dealing with potential investors because all she cares about is the bottom line and running a booming business.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of the story yet, but there are four major problems right there – Owen, Claire, Zach and Gray. Every single one of them is a bland cliche. Owen’s the hero who “understands” the dinosaurs and he’s especially smug about it. All Claire thinks about is wowing the crowds until things get crazy, but even then, she still insists on running around the park in a pair of absurdly high heels. Gray’s super smart and sensitive, and Zach’s an especially nasty bully of a big brother. Owen and Gray have absolutely no arc whatsoever and even though Claire and Zach do, they’re clunky and predictable. All four are hollow and don’t feel like real people.
A few supporting characters fair a bit better. Omar Sy doesn’t get much screen time as Owen’s right hand man, but he manages to convey his character’s beliefs well enough so that you fear for his safety during the movie’s climax. Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson deliver two of the film’s most memorable performances as a pair of control room operators. They’re responsible for a good deal of Jurassic World’s most effective one-liners yet still manage to give their characters a warmth and sincerity that the main players don’t have. Irrfan Khan is passable as Masrani because he’s the guy who’s carrying on John Hammond’s legacy, but he doesn’t have much to offer beyond that.
The weakest link of them all is Vincent D’Onofrio as Hoskins. His performance is cartoonish, but even worse, Hoskins’ storyline is downright ridiculous. The idea that dinosaurs won’t impress kids twenty years after the park opens is a little tough to swallow. Disney World opened well over 40 years ago yet it’s still wowing crowds today. But, then again, the park does open new attractions regularly so Jurassic World’s need to deliver a “bigger, scarier, cooler” dinosaur is passable.
The idea of militarizing dinosaurs, however? That’s pushing it. Hoskins sees that Owen is making progress with the raptor training so he thinks, “Why not train the raptors to fight wars instead of sacrificing human soldiers?” Considering Owen is only capable of getting the raptors to beg for food and listen to a “stay” command at the start of the film, I’d say turning them into military weapons is a completely stupid idea. The whole Hoskins storyline also overcomplicates Jurassic World on a management level with some folks making secret deals with others to further their own agendas. All the details are way too thin and become disposable plot points.
There’s really only one character in the entire film that manages to strike a chord on a deeper level—Blue, one of Owen’s raptors. Blue doesn’t get a stitch of dialogue (obviously), but the dino manages to convey more heart and conviction through a physical performance than any of her super-famous human co-stars. Trevorrow puts the Mosasaurus to good use and the Indominus Rex definitely makes for one heck of a villain, but none manage to transcend the fact that they’re CG dinosaurs. There’s definitely some impressive VFX in the film, but dinosaurs in Jurassic Park had a texture to them that seems impossible to replicate even with the best digital effects. When Grant, Ellie, and the rest of the gang touch that sick triceratops in the original film, you share that incredible opportunity with them. Jurassic World can’t replicate that feeling.
Clearly there’s a good deal of negativity here, but that doesn’t mean Jurassic World is a total loss. As the film’s promotional campaign suggested, getting the opportunity to see a fully operational version of the original park is an absolute thrill. In fact, I could have spent the full two hours exploring Jurassic World’s attractions and facilities instead of seeing all the dino mayhem. Trevorrow is a bit heavy handed when it comes to sneaking in nods to the original – like in an especially unfunny scene during which Claire makes herself jungle ready by tying up her fancy shirt to resemble Ellie’s outfit in the 1993 film – but there is an abundance of moments during which the familiar score pairs just right with the visuals to give you chills and leave you in awe of what became of John Hammond’s original vision. There are also some fun parallels between Jurassic World and existing theme parks. The product placement gets a bit tiresome, but the petting zoo, the feeding shows, and all of the shops and restaurants on the street leading up to the main building look just like something you’d find at Disney World and other major theme parks and resorts.
Jurassic World is definitely a disappointment as far as the main characters go and a bit of a letdown when it comes to those outlandish plot points, but as a diehard fan of the original, it’s tough not to find some enjoyment in returning to Isla Nublar and seeing visitors enjoy the attractions as John Hammond intended. And once things start to fall apart, Jurassic World does function as an adequate, CG-heavy popcorn movie. Do you care about the people the Indominous hunts down? Nope, but it is fun seeing what she’s capable of.