The original Jurassic Park is a modern masterpiece with memorable and developed characters, a tight plot, and it helped usher in the modern use of CGI in blockbuster films, to boot. None of the sequels have ever lived up to the possibilities created by Jurassic Park in terms of story, character, or heart, and sadly Jurassic World is no exception – but it is closer than anything else. The film also partly succeeds as a meta-commentary on the failure of the modern blockbuster by dialing the dino-action up to 11. Jurassic World often draws attention to the prowess of the original and on the upwards creep of audience expectation, to the point that the final battle scene can only be interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on “bigger and better” CGI fights. What results is a fun-looking film lacking a coherent plot with broadly-drawn characters who are as annoying as they are forgettable – but at least four different dinosaurs face off in the climactic battle!
Of all the characters in the film, only the head of the park Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) approaches anything resembling an actual arc: while she begins the film prude and full of herself and her power over nature, she ends it more emotionally developed and humble, which is at least an attempt at story-telling. By contrast, raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) sure takes the collapse of the entire park in stride, showing no development or growth at all. He begins the film as a badass, and ends the film much the same way, but it is baffling that the script has nothing to do with the lead male character in this story. By contrast, just look at the first film: Dr. Grant is also a badass throughout, but grows through his nurturing of Tim and Lex and Dr. Hammond learns the folly of his attempt to control his prehistoric world. You’ll see none of that kind of development in Jurassic World, and it is a real shame.
In terms of plot, there are a number of issues with the way that Jurassic World attempts to craft something meaningful, and you can feel the struggle. To boost attendance, those at InGen create a genetic hybrid dinosaur named the Indominus Rex, which predictably escapes and becomes a walking plot convenience, allowing the four screenwriters an explanation for almost anything that they want to do. The entirety of the plot follows from this single creature – and makes very little sense. In an attempt to stay away from spoilers, suffice it to say that the I-Rex is thought to have escaped by jumping over the wall of the enclosure. Fortunately, the creature has a tracking device, so the characters can locate it, right? Well, yeah – but not before they open the door to the enclosure and go poking around it. Guess how that ends up? Fortunately, since we’ve established that you can easily tranquilize a T-Rex in The Lost World, it shouldn’t be that much of an issue, right? Well . . . Oh, and then the only apparent answer is to track it down with Owen’s raptor troop, which has never actually been field-tested in this way. What could possibly go wrong?
For all its weaknesses, Jurassic World’s tongue-in-cheek shots at blockbuster movie-making are partially redemptive, but Jurassic World itself gets caught in the crossfire, which leads us to puzzle over the actual meaning of that message in the first place. Some of these barbs are incredibly blunt and awkward (basically everything you hear in the trailers; lines like, “Genetic engineering would up the ‘Wow’ factor” and “They’re dinosaurs – ‘Wow’ enough.”) Others are more subtle, like having the children looking at their smart phones instead of the T-Rex feeding right in front of them, or the scattered product placement which, according to director Colin Trevorrow, is intentionally over-the-top in order to lampoon corporate sponsorship of blockbuster films. At the same time, though, we get dinosaur-related deaths that are crazy enough to come right out of a SyFy original movie. The resulting tone ends up fairly muddled, and I am not entirely sure what to make of it.
Ultimately, though, the essence of Jurassic World is contained within the climactic battle – a multi-dinosaur fight that becomes so cartoonish that it is hard to imagine how any subsequent sequel will be able to compete. But perhaps that is the point: while our imaginations and wonder were once sparked by these prehistoric behemoths alone in Jurassic Park, now we clamor like the hooting peasants of the Roman Colosseum for dinosaurs to battle each other for our attention. In that sense, Jurassic World truly is a crowd-pleaser – but nothing more.