A few times a month, I watch big-budget blockbusters that ultimately underwhelm me because they are corny, cynical, insulting to my intelligence, and otherwise ludicrous. Jurassic World, the first new Jurassic Park movie in 14 years and fourth film in the franchise overall, is all of those things at one point or another but I’m willing to forgive its (relatively sporadic) flaws for one simple and humongous reason: DINOSAURS.
It’s been forever since we’ve had a major monster movie worth watching (2008’s Cloverfield was, by my reckoning, the last, but that movie is so divisive that plenty of people will need to reach back even further). Jurassic World is not just worth watching—it’s impossible to take your eyes off it. The spectacle is appropriately mammoth.
The movie presents the realized vision of the first film’s John Hammond (that old dude with the cane topped with a mosquito in amber played by Richard Attenborough)—Jurassic Park is now a reality, except it’s called Jurassic World in an attempt to dissociate it from the tragedies that resulted from the attempted launch of the original park. This movie provides a sense of the size and scope of a Jurassic park like we’ve never seen. Jurassic World is an Epcot-esque theme park with corporation-sponsored attractions (“Verizon Wireless presents Indominus rex”) and more carefully crafted thrills than its throngs of visitors could possibly experience in just one day. Just as the park wows its visitors, the movie wows its audience. The thrills are barely vicarious; they’re just thrills. The CGI is that good.
Jurassic World is open about its efforts to entertain—it shows its hand as many park workers discuss the thought that has gone into giving people the most bang (or in this case roar) for their buck. When the park’s operations manager, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), says of the dinosaurs, “Customers want them bigger, louder, more teeth,” and of the new species unveiled in this installment, “The Indominus rex makes us relevant again,” she might as well be speaking from the point of view of the producers, writers (four are credited), and director (Colin Trevorrow) about the very movie we’re watching. Rebooting can be such a burden. A lot of thought went into doing it right.
The self-conscious flair is but one update to the quintessential ‘90s action/adventure franchise—we’re also treated to POV footage via cameras attached to raptors’ heads during a climactic scene, as well as a seamless chain of dinosaur attacks that flows like that mind-blowing single shot during the third act of the first Avengers movie, when the camera breathlessly goes from one ass-kicking superhero to another. In this movie, the superheroes are dinosaurs, which kicks infinitely more ass.
I fell in love with Jurassic World during an early shot of the parks’s petting zoo attraction that features babies of herbivore species like triceratops and apatosaurus. The unabashed, heart-melting cuteness reminded me of Gremlins, as did the fact that this movie takes place at Christmastime. Elsewhere in the pastiche, I detected evocations of Jaws (you only see the Indominus in brief flashes initially), Jaws 3D (which took place at SeaWorld), Blackfish (Howard’s character is exposed as an asshole early on for not treating the animals like sentient beings), Jaws: The Revenge (another case of the fourth franchise mimicking the first in structure by echoing several of its beats), and Piranha. If I’m being pessimistic, Jurassic World’s frequent borrowing betrays its limited creativity. If I’m being optimistic (and I loved this movie so much I have no other choice but to be that), Jurassic World understands the joy in reference.
I have a much harder time excusing the presence of Chris Pratt, who’s woefully miscast there. His action-hero shtick feels like a drag performance. There’s too much Shirley Temple-with-her-bottom-lip-protruding in his brooding to take him seriously as he spouts off one-liners so on the nose that they could have easily appeared on the Jurassic World’s posters in the form of taglines (“You made them and now you think you own them”; “Maybe progress should lose for once”; “Don’t ever turn your back on the cage”; “Were those claw marks always there?”; “She does not even know what she is”). He’s too inherently goofy and not nearly rugged enough to buy him in such an unsmilingly macho role. As though the film itself has little faith in him to pull it off, he’s actually made to verbally identify himself as the alpha at one point, when asked about the pack of four raptors that he wrangles. Keep telling yourself you’re the alpha, Pratt.
(Pratt often shares the screen with Vincent D’Onofrio, who in his daddy beardom looks like such a raunchy pig, I half expected him to pull out his dick and piss on Pratt. Maybe next time!)
Jurassic World’s dialogue is clunky, its message is muddled (like Deep Blue Sea, another movie it borrows from liberally, the moral here seems to be: if you’re going to mess with nature, at least don’t modify its genetic code), its acting overall is kinda meh, and there’s no fucking way that we’d ever have a surplus of great white sharks (a vulnerable species) lying around to feed to the massive, aquatic mosasaurus (as seen in the trailer). But there’s a level of detail and nuance here that saves this from the mundanity of typical dumbed down blockbuster fare. Detail like the semi-domesticated raptors in face cages, expressing their impatience through tight-jawed snarls. Detail like Jimmy Fallon hosting the tutorial video for the gyroscope (reminded me of Ellen). Detail like a dispassionate young park worker flatly intoning, “Enjoy the ride,” as each visitor boards. Detail like Claire’s ringtone being comprised of the first three notes of John Williams’s main theme of the first Jurassic Park. Details like the Indominus’s blinking third eyelid. Detail like Pratt’s bulge situation.
Jurassic World is a b-movie, but it is a great b-movie. Like its most fearsome creature, it has been assembled via a concoction of preexisting DNA. The past, as park visitors know well, is worth revisiting. Nostalgia is charming, and damn it, this movie exists to charm.
I didn’t even mention the pterodactyl attack scene. Phenomenal. As a culture we are spoiled and as an audience we are unworthy.