“No one’s impressed with dinosaurs anymore.”
So says Claire, the corporate executive played by Bryce Dallas Howard in Jurassic World. Perhaps that’s why this franchise – first launched by director Steven Spielberg in 1993 with Jurassic Park – has been on a 14-year hiatus. Now it’s back, with Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow making the leap into blockbuster territory, and this is the hook: in an effort to bring in new crowds, the park’s investors have genetically modified their dinosaurs to be bigger and scarier. Things do not – as they say in movies featuring humans slipping into monstrous gullets – go well.
The challenge for Jurassic World the movie, then, is the same as it is for Jurassic World the theme park: to reinvigorate its audience. Unfortunately, Trevorrow and his team of screenwriters fail to use this self-referential reality to nudge the film towards anything particularly witty (to say nothing of satire). They limply wink at the parallels here and there, but overall the mercenary natures of the picture and the park are largely indistinguishable.
This is perhaps most evident in the movie’s use of product placement – a scourge that has long been with us yet reaches galling new heights here. Claire’s claim, quoted above, is part of a pitch she gives to Verizon representatives who are considering sponsoring one of the park’s attractions. The movie wants to wink at this too – Jake Johnson appears in a bit part as a techie who likes to wear vintage t-shirts with the old park’s logo. Still, it’s hard give the film kudos for such touches when Claire spends a lot of time holding a cup from Starbucks, another character greedily slugs from a Coke bottle and many scenes take place in the “Samsung Innovation Center.”
If I haven’t mentioned Chris Pratt yet, it’s because he probably wouldn’t want me to.
A satire of sorts was within reach. There is much discussion these days about the treatment of captive animals, especially in a place like SeaWorld, which Jurassic World particularly emulates with a water show involving a gigantic Mosasaur. And, indeed, there is a hint of critique during a massive Pterodactyl attack, which has the giddy looniness of a 1950s monster movie and seems to be implying that all of these exploiting, Slurpee-sipping tourists are getting what they deserve. But that sequence is out of step with the rest of the film, which focuses less on the faceless, consuming crowds than on Claire and her two visiting nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson). These are clearly meant to be our sympathetic heroes, never mind that the emotional undergirding for the characters relies upon hoary clichés. (Claire is a workaholic with little time for children, while the boys’ parents are on the verge of a divorce that only massive trauma will be able to prevent.)
If I haven’t mentioned Chris Pratt yet, it’s because he probably wouldn’t want me to. As the park’s velociraptor trainer (who spends a curious amount of time denouncing the training of velociraptors), Pratt strikes a number of un-ironic Indiana Jones poses, courts Claire with decidedly pre-feminist come-ons and has an extremely unfortunate scene in which he cradles a dying brontosaurus like some sort of dino whisperer. Given such moments, the actor’s considerable charm barely registers.
It’s worth noting that a lot of dinosaurs die in Jurassic World; for young fans of the species, this could be the most traumatic installment in the franchise. The main monster – a genetically engineered beast that looks like a T-rex with more respectable arms – gets loose and goes on a killing spree, of humans and dinosaurs alike. The park’s security force responds with an indiscriminate amount of gunfire that leaves countless creatures dead. And a climactic dino-battle – clearly designed to be the film’s signature set piece – instead left me deadened. Various animals, including some we’ve been encouraged to care for, are mauled and maimed in a prolonged and gruesome fight scene that ends on an absurdly silly note of human-dino understanding. With Jurassic World, the franchise may not jump the shark, but it certainly jumps the Mosasaur.