By Jarrod Jones. There’s something woefully amiss when the spectacle of dinosaurs roaming the earth isn’t enough to put asses in theater seats. Even Jurassic World‘s stud du jour Chris Pratt knows something’s up: “They’re dinosaurs. ‘Wow’ enough.” And if this were 1993, he would be precisely right.
But most of us have lived through the (jesus, really?) twenty-two years that followed Steven Spielberg’s instant classic, Jurassic Park, and all the rip-offs, retreads, and *cough* sequels that came with it. These days dinosaurs alone won’t cut it.
Nope, these days the audience expects bigger things from their monster movies, and Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World has done the one thing its star attraction was never allowed to do: adapt to the times. In fact, Trevorrow’s first big budget film for Universal Studios (his first feature length was the well-received Safety Not Guaranteed) is a film so aware of what audiences think they need that it’s sapped all the wonder and reverence from its prehistoric cash cows so that no one could ever confuse them for anything but monsters.
Wait, that’s not entirely true. Only the big ones are monsters, specifically the beefed-up Indominus rex, a Frankenstein monster of genetic horror designed for the sole purpose of smashing, slashing, and otherwise terrorizing the visitors of corporate uber-resort Jurassic World. The rest are meek and cuddly, enough for small children to smother with hugs or for their upper-middle class families to pose around. Commerce, it seems, found a way.
The middle ground between fear and marketability decidedly belongs to the once-terrifying velociraptors, whose cunning pack mentality has made them somewhat pliable to Chris Pratt’s alpha charms. With names like “Charlie”, “Echo”, and “Delta”, the stalking predators have been diluted into stampeding sidekicks made to hustle alongside Pratt’s roaring motorcycle, and any primal terror they might have provided is reduced to a logical inference.
That’s probably the fault of the film’s deterministic screenplay (by Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, with Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow saying otherwise), which never once allows a moment of sobriety to stick around long enough that it might ground this fantastic world in any sort of reality. So instead it imbues the film with cynical, not-so-subtle jabs at Hollywood’s dark corporate nature before it paints yet another dinosaur in the rearview mirror of a 2015 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6. Jurassic World is a film so reflexively meta that it’s actually insufferable.
And it doesn’t bother too much with its humans either: Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is a clipped and terse corporate manager for her billion-dollar overlords, whose only absolution from her wrong-minded capitalist ambition is found in the bronzed arms of Chris Pratt. Their whole dichotomy is built upon tired-ass sexism, one that employs a “have some sense, little lady” approach that wouldn’t be out of place in a Connery-era James Bond movie. For a film that attempts to pander to the times, it sure feels like it’s stuck in the past.
It’s enough to make us remember that Joss Whedon spotted this coming from months away, and if you start to think about it you’ll find that he’s not entirely wrong.
In fact, the film can only be considered a success if you never once — not once — apply any rational thought to it. That’s the inherent function of a summer popcorn flick, I suppose, but when a movie pretends that it can recapture the magic of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original, you’d think it could bring along some of its smarts too. (Even the recreation of John Williams’ iconic score feels tin-eared.) And that’s the problem with Jurassic World: everyone was so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.