If the script for Jurassic World wasn’t so terrible the movie itself might be a fascinating failure, as the film’s themes keep it in constant conflict with itself. Jurassic World is a movie that is kind of disgusted with its own existence, a blockbuster reboot that finds the whole concept of blockbuster reboots distasteful. But the intriguing push and pull of the film’s thematics are undercut by a script that is devoid of real characters and by set pieces that have the slack aimlessness of pre-viz allowed to run amok.
When Jurassic World opens Isla Nublar - ie, the island from Jurassic Park - has been a tourist destination for years. It’s been a destination for enough years that dinosaurs have become sort of commonplace, and the park is forced to genetically engineer new forms of dino life in order to attract guests to the island. This is, of course, a Bad Idea. Things go wrong, people die, etc.
This new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, is both the expression of the movie’s themes and an expression of the movie’s failings. Jurassic World is, to put it bluntly, the thing it is criticizing. The film satirically presents a world where transcendent spectacle isn’t enough, and where audiences demand dinosaurs that are bigger and louder and scarier and more explosive and have more moreness, but the movie makes the fatal mistake of being those very things it is calling out. It’s bigger and louder and more violent than Jurassic Park, and it ends with a big, flaming battle royale that seeks to top JP’s climax, even though it can never hope to top that film’s craft and majesty.
In the film the Indominus Rex is all things - it can have whatever special powers it needs at any given time in order to keep moving forward. It’s smart in ways that are ludicrous (the beast knows it has a tracking device implanted in its skin and, what’s more, seems to know what that device is for) and it exists only to create chaos and danger; the dinosaur doesn’t act like an animal but rather like a sociopathic serial killer, abandoning the original film’s conceits that these creatures are beasts, first and foremost. The Sociopathasaurus Rex is a generic threat, a creature who exists simply to wreak havoc.
The dinosaur’s role as carnivorous McGuffin makes it essentially boring - all it wants to do is creat enough carnage to keep the movie going. The dinosaur has been made to be more than an animal, but it doesn’t have goals - it isn’t trying to survive or escape, it’s just killing and moving forward, popping up to move the story along (usually by chasing people to another place). This aimlessness could be cool if the Indominus were cool, but it isn’t; the dinosaur’s design is never shown off well - it doesn’t even get a particularly good hero shot - and the movie doesn’t really give it a sense of scale. It’s big, but how big? More than that, the dinosaur has abilities that exist for no reason - at one point it is established to have camouflage powers that it never uses again.
The disappearing camouflage ability feels like a by-product of the movie’s pre-viz weakness. There are a number of set pieces that seem to exist only because they were pre-visualized and work on the CGI started before shooting did, and the movie bends over backwards to fit them in. The camouflage is one - it’s like a scene from a totally different movie - and there’s a sequence with clear Gyroscope travel balls whose existence defies the film’s internal logic (it involves taking these heavily monitored Gyroscopes outside of their prescribed zone - you would think an automatic kill switch would stop park visitors from joyriding wherever they wanted in these things).The sequences themselves are often bafflingly lackluster, without a strong sense of pacing or even visual dynamics. The Indominus Rex escapes from its pen early in the film and this sequence should be one of the movie’s most exciting and rousing moments, but it’s totally flat and uninvolving. It is unfair to compare this film’s set pieces to the work that Spielberg did in Jurassic Park, but even looking at Jurassic World on its own terms it’s hard to find a single set piece that sings, that tells a story within its own boundaries, that grows tension and excitement.Even beyond the set pieces I can name maybe three or four very good shots in the film, but otherwise it’s shot with only competence.
Within that visual competence is a story that is both half-baked and overstuffed. There are too many characters in play, none of whom get serviced well. Most characters have arcs that are missing the middle, bringing them from their start point directly to their end point. The villains are villainous because… well, I don’t know why. There’s a scene where Chris Pratt punches Vincent D’Onofrio’s contractor character (he dreams of training raptors to be soldiers) for no reason. Actually, truly no reason, as the chaos hitting the island has absolutely nothing to do with him. He’s just a villain because we’re told he is, not because his actions are any worse than anyone else’s.
Other characters float through the movie including Irrfan Khan as the billionaire behind the park, a character who has zero consistency. In one scene he explains that making a profit on the park isn’t the point, that he’s happy to spare no expense to keep John Hammond’s dream alive, and in the next scene he’s saying the Indominus can’t be killed because they spent too much money developing it. Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins play imperiled brothers who are so awful and annoying that I couldn’t decide who I wanted to die first. They have a subplot about their parents divorcing that is absolutely dropped from the film, left to dangle at the end as if we are being enticed to come back for Jurassic World 2 to find out if their mom and dad get their act together. D’Onofrio hams it up as the contractor who comes up with the plan that has Pratt riding a bike with raptors, ie the guy who invents the movie’s whole marketing campaign, but the movie says it’s a bad idea (like I said, there’s a fascinating undercurrent of a movie at war with itself here).
At the center of it all is Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, with little chemistry between them and a love story that skips any middle part where they might bicker or talk or share aspects of themselves. Howard is flat but fine, while Pratt is a cartoon character. His hero has no arc, he is always right, he is always capable, and he has no discernible weaknesses. There are dinosaurs who have more going on personality-wise than Pratt’s handsome but weirdly not-witty raptor whisperer.
I didn’t care about any of these people, which renders the already subpar set pieces completely tedious. There’s not a single character with enough dimensions to make you either worried about them or hate them enough to want them to die. The script is bad in larger strokes - it doesn’t have much of a structure, for instance - but it’s here, at the character level, where it truly fails.
Perhaps the most baffling thing about Jurassic World is the way it creates a vision of a park I would never want to visit. Overcrowded, over-branded and full of irritating long lines and exhibits where it can be hard to see the dinosaurs, Jurassic World sucks as a theme park. I think that’s part of the point, but it’s a weird point for a movie like this to make. The film never captures the sense of awe it is telling us that we lost; it reminds me of Tomorrowland in that Jurassic World is a movie that browbeats you with what you’re doing wrong as opposed to presenting a vision of someone doing it right. We don’t experience awe, the film says, because we’re jaded and distracted, but then the film fails to give us a single awe-filled moment.
Jurassic World is like a bottle of flat soda that’s been sitting in the sun - the caffeine and sugar will still do their thing, but the drink has lost all of its desired taste and fizz. Dinosaurs are always cooler than not having dinosaurs, and the movie moves at a fast enough clip that it never drags. But it also never works, and Jurassic World ends up as a generic bore that will, I think, be more interesting to dissect in the future than to ever actually watch.