Jurassic Park is a film I admire more than I love. Much like how I feel about Citizen Kane, I can recognize and appreciate the massive effect Jurassic Park has had in the film world, especially in relation to summer blockbusters. But the success of Jurassic Park saw a demand for bigger, badder, and ill-conceived sequels. The magic the first film conjured vanished in the wake of studio gumption and filmgoer’s carnivorous consumption. Ironically, the Jurassic Park series evolved into a beast the first film condemned: the sacrificing of wonder in the name of revenue. Like most series, Jurassic Park eventually ran its course, with a fourth film toiling in development hell for well over a decade. Through persistence from Spielberg and Universal, a fourth film finally was given the greenlight. Based off Jurassic World’s box office receipts, the world was anxiously awaiting to revisit the terrifying, fun world Spielberg created two decades ago. The only problem is I don’t think Jurassic World is worth the wait.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow, who wrote and directed the excellent Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World takes place in a world where walking with dinosaurs is an expected attraction at an amusement park. Despite the Jurassic Park tragedy echoing loudly through time, danger and interaction drive ticket sales at the titular park, with patrons demanding more from the lab bred dinosaurs. Understanding people’s hunger for bigger and louder attractions, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager, pushes the research and development team to create something new and altogether terrifying. On the other end of the park is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a raptor trainer pushing the limits of dinosaur and human connection. Owen is begrudgingly tasked with helping Claire build a cage for a potentially hazardous beast known as the Indominus Rex, a prehistoric test tube baby. To no one’s surprise, Dearing’s creation wreaks havoc on the island, as its unpredictable social tendencies and physical attributes dominate Jurassic World’s wranglers.
The Indominus Rex escapes and battles dinosaurs, chases children in over-sized hamster balls, and gobbles up marginal characters without empathy. Oh…and there’s a random villain who wants to militarize raptors. As you can imagine, there is a great deal of spectacle found in Jurassic World, but all of it means nothing when half-baked ideas, lackluster plot points, and wasted performances litter the screen. The latter is one of the more disappointing aspects of the film. Starring Chris Pratt, one would assume Jurassic World would be bursting with charisma and energy, but it’s listless. Pratt’s Owen is devoid of humor and heart, offering us nothing but a vanilla character that finds himself in a maelstrom of regurgitated blockbuster tropes. Opposite of Pratt is Bryce Dallas Howard. Howard isn’t given much to work with either, as her character is nothing more than a negligent corporate vamp that finds her heart in the wake of large-scale destruction.
As ineffective and slightly offensive as the lead characters are, Jurassic World’s biggest grievance is its inert screenplay. First off, there isn’t really any commitment to a particular theme. Is it about the dangers of scientific hubris? Is it about man’s needless control over nature? Or is it about our growing need for pop consumption? There are so many themes being juggled that they all fall to the ground, leaving little sense of wonder behind the film’s impressive special effects and set pieces. Oddly enough, the manufacturing of wonder and its commercial appeal is the strongest point the film can make. Jurassic World’s screenplay winks at the audience through jokes and grand monologues about the stains corporations leave on us, but aggressive product placement undermines its self-awareness. Sure, Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle within a pack of raptors is a sight to behold, but it’s a singular image sandwiched between two pieces of nothingness. Twenty years ago Spielberg launched the franchise and inspired film goers. I can’t help but ask: where did all the magic go?