It’s been 23 years since we had a good Jurassic Park film; 23 years since Steven Spielberg made everyone deprive their fingers of nails with the tension created by a looming T-Rex and a goat chained to a pole. In those 23 years, cinema has advanced in huge leaps, bringing with it rows of computer-generated monsters, raising an audience that is infinitely harder to please. This is what Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) tells potential investors, the constant need to create something bigger and cooler, a sentiment that is echoed throughout Jurassic World. This latest edition sees a teen turning away to attend a call in boredom as a T-Rex munches on a goat in the cage background, which I hope not to be the reaction of kids watching Jurassic Park for the first time now. Jurassic World is unexpectedly self-referential to its third-sequel nature, playing to the strengths of increased numbers in the Park, but ultimately falls back to being another monster movie, albeit better than the usual fare.
The Park is finally open. God knows how though, considering that every attempt prior to this has been an utter catastrophe, is Jurassic World telling us that there are no consequences and people keep thronging to the Park – sorry, World – until yet another island-wrecking disaster is caused? The film opens with some half-assed CGI work on the hatching eggs of what I can only imagine to be Indominus Rexes (Wait, aren’t the dinosaurs in this World created in a test tube? It is at this point that I realised it wise not to write too deep into the logic of the film for the sake of my own sanity.) We are then introduced to Zach and Gray – the too-cool-for-this bigger brother and excited nerdy young one – who are headed to Jurassic World where their aunt Claire works. Aunt Claire meanwhile is busy convincing the investors to do what they do best with their new ‘asset’, the clumsily titled Indominus Rex (Don’t worry, Chris Pratt makes a joke about the name later on in the film), the creation of an even more ambitious and sinisterly confident Dr. Wu. The film, as I said before does not forget its roots in Jurassic Park – one of the few things it got right – as John Hammond’s legacy is kept alive through Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan), an overly Indian character whom all his workers seem embarrassed by, from his unreliable helicopter piloting to the dry ‘Spare no expense!’ that he quotes from Hammond. Vincent D’Onofrio, who showed his acting chops and how in Netflix’s Daredevil is here present as the stereotypical use-monsters-for-war guy who wants the unpredictable Velociraptors to be uniformed and sent into battle. Most of the characters in this film lack what their nomenclature itself wants – characterization, the feeble amount of which renders them little more than cartoons. The beloved Chris Pratt may bring more charisma in comparison, but placed in the midst of weak characters, he seems at times like a parody of himself.
It may be true that the characters are the weakest asset of Jurassic World, but it is a spectacle film at the end of the day. This is no awe-inspiring Jurassic Park that makes us believe in its emotion of nature finding a way and with a warning that the natural order of things is not for us to tamper with. In fact, the film does try to push the same message across to the audience, that hybrids and DNA cocktails are probably a bad thing, but it fails to hit anything but an off-kilter note since the ‘natural order’ it preaches was never meant to exist in this time in the first place. All it manages to say without fail is that science is not to be used dishonourably for profit and amusement, a theme we have already seen done to death in the years since Jurassic Park itself. The most groan-worthy moments of the film are those concerning the brotherly bond between Zach and Gray, which hardly develops through the film although the director really wants you to think it does. The more emotional scenes which should have unfolded between the two feel simply thrown into the mix to make a rounded out movie. Now the more emotional relationship in this film is actually between Owen (Chris Pratt) and the Velociraptors, which I wasn’t expecting to be as believable as it turned out to be. The raptor training sequences and the bond he establishes as alpha to the pack is what holds the movie together to the point of at least cowering as Zach, Gray and Claire do, behind the brave stature of Owen.
Although most of the characters may have been messy in execution, none were wronged more than Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire who undergoes a negative arc, starting the movie out as a confident work-minded strong female character only to see it end in the shadow of the strong male whom she of course falls in love with for saving her dainty life. One of the many appreciable qualities of Jurassic Park was the equal treatment it meted out to all its characters, male and female alike, with a strong female voice in Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler who remained her own person of which the love interest for Dr. Grant was just a part. Claire here is expected to be believable as a real person when she compromises all she stood for, and changes drastically to fit into the mould of a conventional woman who would fall into Owen’s arms. What sets any such film involving a rampage from purely a monster movie is the presence of human character that act like real humans, and not twist to the needs of the plot, and it seems silly that a 1993 film be more progressive than one which came out today.
Judging it as a spectacle film, there are quite a few merits with Jurassic World, the first one being the images and dinosaurs themselves, both of which are over the line constantly treaded by Transformers and other glossy CGI porn. The visuals especially the wide shots of the World from above accompanied by the slightly tweaked score that stays true to the original is the absolute selling point of this film, and it definitely succeeds in its goal to recreate the same breathtaking feeling that inspired a generation a couple of decades ago. In addition to the dinosaurs we have already seen on screen through the previous films, there are some new beasts to drool over, particularly the Mosasaurus which dwells in the depths of the ocean. That scene where she jumps out of the eerily still water for a shark lunch (a snide reference again to bigger blockbusters eating up old ones like Spielberg’s own Jaws) spraying water over a crowd of dropped jaws is what caught my attention most in the trailer, and is perhaps still the best moment of awe in the film. Sure, the Indominus Rex is menacing and a mean killing machine, but we’ve already been awestruck by a T-Rex before, and this is just slightly larger and white-gray in colour. It’s no wonder that the older kid also acknowledges this as the first time in the actual rides that he looks up from his phone and displays an emotion that is slightly less bored.
The two halves of the film are divided in purpose, with the former adopting a more gradual and tense atmosphere which is played off quite well, particularly when they find out just how intelligent the Indominus really is. Taking on abilities from the several animals whose DNAs were used in its creational cocktail, the attack and rampage are effective for the most part. (Hey, at least they didn’t get the Indominus to turn and say ‘Claire’.) The second half is a feast of action, not pulling the stops on anything from an Indominus hunt using Velociraptors to the climactic fight, which I shall not spoil. But in doing so, it strays away from what the film has been all about to this point, with Owen seemingly reversed on his view of blind violence on animals. Dinosaurs are thrashed and killed mercilessly all around, by human guns more than the jaws of the Indominus; to the point where it seems more like a first person shooter than a Jurassic Park film. This unnecessary bloodshed and full-throttle action undeniably is well-directed and a really entertaining chase, building up to a climax that sees the ‘old meet the new’.
As all sequels do, Jurassic World too pulls on the emotions of the first one by way of references and inclusion of the old Park in the plot. While for the most part, this inclusion served its purpose without getting ahead of itself, the same cannot be said during the climactic sequences, when the old is dragged in for nothing more than nostalgia, in a fight that is the most illogical thing in a film about a park where dinosaurs roam alive. This is partly owed to the less-than gratifying presence of the Indominus which serves as a mere placeholder, a giant killing machine. The film itself tells us that today’s world needs something more than your average movie monsters, and yet it fails to give us that transcendence. All this is not to say Jurassic World isn’t an enjoyable film, because it certainly serves up more than morsels of entertainment: which is why it is a monster film, relying solely on spectacle and brilliant visuals. That is not necessarily a bad thing, and if you can sit back and suspend logic, you will not be bored while munching your popcorn. The strength of the film resides in atmospheric awe and the high-fuelled energy that runs throughout the World, but which is sadly never complemented in its human ties. The script that is a shade of self-referential and anticipative of rants, is again oddly coloured in with stock trailer lines that run stereotypical, making you wonder at times how serious anyone really is. And when the main ‘asset’, as well as the driving performances are compromised for spectacle, there is only so much there can be said. It’s easily the best sequel to Jurassic Park we have had yet, but that’s not saying much.