There are precious few minutes of promise in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, the long-awaited fourth outing in the Jurassic Park film series. But that promise quickly fades into a quagmire of ruin, turning this 2015 movie into a disappointing experience that stomps from the silly to the downright excruciating.
Problems abound. The characters are inept stereotypes, brought to cardboard life by a series of insipid performers underreacting to everything. The dinosaur meant to vault Jurassic World into consequence is a retread of the Tyrannosaurus Rex with minor adjustments, a point driven home in the climax. Only the ethical questions matter, but these are drowned out in what becomes a baffling feat of self-parody.
It’s been 22 years since the events of the original Jurassic Park and the place is open for business, swarming with cloned dinosaurs and christened as Jurassic World. Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are brothers set to visit the park and their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is the busy operations manager. She pawns them off on her personal assistant Zara (Katie McGrath).
Claire is working overtime to bring more interest to Jurassic World and to please corporate sponsors, who want another creature to boost sales. Enter the Indominus Rex, a genetic creation from the DNA of several rapacious dinosaurs. Owen (Chris Pratt) is uncomfortable with the idea, which is really something because he trains Velociraptors. Naturally, all hell breaks loose when Indominus gets out.
There’s something to the early scenes that build up the apparent ennui of the paying public. Dinosaurs are so yesterday, bro. Of course, we aren’t shown the boredom of the unwashed masses. Jurassic World is teeming with enthusiastic visitors and there isn’t one expression of tedium in the bunch. Even the petting zoo is packed with smiling faces.
Because Jurassic Park had Wayne Knight, Jurassic World requires its own heavy. That job falls to Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays Vic Hoskins. He’s the head of security and he wants to sell Velociraptors to the military in hopes of creating a Velociraptor army. It’s a hilarious idea, but D’Onofrio’s not zany enough to put it over. He does fritter around with an inscrutable accent, though, so that’s a plus.
Obviously, the two-kids-in-peril storyline is part of the proceedings. This time, Zach and Gray are sent off by their weird mother (Judy Greer) to visit their weird aunt and her weird haircut. The younger brother, Gray, is worried that his mother and father are going to get a divorce. Zach is too busy trying to hit on chicks to be interested in much of anything. They bond and seek to reconstruct their crumbling family dynamic.
Enter Claire, tasked with leafing through Jurassic World’s “Guide to Maternal Instincts.” She’s a busy career woman. She has to watch the kids. She sends her assistant to do it instead. She gets chewed out by her sister, who tells her to embrace that latent motherly nature. She does so when the dinosaurs start freaking out, subsequently becoming sexier in appearance and more protective. Job done.
And because every provisional family unit needs a father, Pratt’s Owen swoops in as the auxiliary hunk. He knows about the animals, treats the dinosaurs the Right Way while Claire is all business and money and whatnot. He’s right, she’s wrong. She has a lesson to learn and will inevitably fall for Owen because the movie requires the establishment of yet another happy family “for survival.”
Jurassic World is fixated on this formula so much that it wedges everything into its service. Every character is a prop to the ultimate end, which features a sexualized Claire lying erotically under the T-Rex tail. This comes after the regurgitation of the flare scene from Jurassic Park. And it’s no accident that she loses more of that pesky clothing as the movie progresses.
Every so often, Jurassic World seems to acknowledge its silliness. It has Owen riding a motorcycle alongside a fleet of charging Velociraptors. But then it overcooks the situation, having a character remark to Claire about how “badass” her “boyfriend” is. And every so often, the movie is hideous. The treatment of Zara in a gratuitous and overlong death scene is awful stuff.
The basic thrust of Jurassic Park was tied up in gene panic, in the hubris of humanity when it comes to the control of the natural and unnatural. In Jurassic World, Trevorrow wants it both ways. The screenplay cites the danger early and loops back, allowing for one of the corniest “rescues” in recent cinematic memory. The only surprise is that the two dinosaurs didn’t shake hands afterwards.
From invasive product placement to a pre-owned plot to stock characters to underwhelming dinosaurs to its expository repetition, Jurassic World is a letdown. It joins The Lost World: Jurassic Park at the bottom of the barrel, achieving the exact objectives it rails against and banking entirely on past glory to get by. Luckily, nostalgia sells.