Dino Sore, by Rita Cannon
Jurassic World is a lot more slick and cynical than its predecessors, and it wants you to know that it knows that. The first 30 minutes of the film is full of winking references to how the world, and specifically popular entertainment and blockbuster movies, have changed since the first Jurassic Park film. “No one’s impressed by dinosaurs anymore,” says Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a middle manager at the current incarnation of the park, which features more dinosaurs, more immersive attractions, and a whole lot more strategically placed Starbucks and Ben and Jerry’s locations. That sentiment is echoed by a number of other park employees, including Jake Johnson as a smart alecky control room staffer who wears a t-shirt from the original park that cost him hundreds of dollars on eBay. The only person loudly proclaiming that regular dinosaurs are still cool is Owen (Chris Pratt), an ex-military raptor expert who’s managed to raise a handful of the scary creatures from birth, and now functions as the alpha male of their group.
But Owen would seem to be wrong about that, as park attendance has lately stagnated, leading the company’s owners to create a new attraction in the form of a genetically engineered dino called Indominus Rex. It’s mostly T-Rex, but with the genes of a few other creatures thrown in to make it bigger, toothier, and in the words of one higher-up, crueler. It will come as no surprise that the monster gets out of control, and that it does so on the very day that Claire’s nephews, sulky teen Zack (Nick Robinson) and pre-adolescent dinosaur nerd Gray (Ty Simpkins), come to visit the park for the first time.
The first scene Claire and Owen share together, which was released as a promotional clip, drew loud criticism from people who found it sexist. (It basically consists of Claire soliciting Owen’s expertise on a problem at the park, and Owen recalling how they once shared a terrible date, apparently because Claire is a frigid bitch who works too much and needs to get laid.) Anyone hoping this scene might play better in the context of the whole movie will be disappointed. It’s a stupid, embarrassing scene that no amount of “context” could render interesting, but what’s strange is that the backstory and character dynamic it introduces basically never come up again. While that’s a relief on the one hand, on the other it makes the scene’s very existence that much more baffling. Whatever chemistry Claire and Owen have (and they don’t have much) springs from the fact they’re the two hottest people in the movie, not from the fact that they’ve met before. Their relationship isn’t gross or offensive, it’s just boring.
This flatness unfortunately extends to most of the principal characters. Pratt is a supernaturally charismatic actor, but even he can only make Owen interesting in fits and starts. Howard gets even shorter shrift, stuck playing a toxic stereotype of a female workaholic who the film overtly shames for such awful crimes as not remembering how old her nephews are. Howard briefly shines near the end of the film, when she’s finally allowed to do something other than talk about focus groups, but those moments are far too few. Side characters fare better: Vincent D’Onofrio is predictably awesome as a smarmy boss of Owen’s who envisions using raptors as a new kind of super soldier, and sees the crisis at the park as a chance to put his evil plans in action. BD Wong makes a strong impression as a conflicted scientist who helped build Indominus, and the aforementioned Jake Johnson has great chemistry with Lauren Lapkus, playing another comic relief control room employee.
While the human characters are hit or miss, the real attraction here is the dinosaurs, and thankfully, they’re actually pretty wonderful. Despite its own rhetoric about the need to go big to impress a jaded public, Jurassic World refrains from piling on too much, and knows when to take a break in the action and let the audience breathe. Yes, Indominus Rex is bigger than a T. rex, and has some flashy new features like the ability to camouflage, but the way its attacks are staged isn’t so wildly different from something you’d see in the first Jurassic film. The action sequences are not only great-looking from a technical standpoint, but refreshingly comprehensible. For me, it was genuinely thrilling to watch these people, animals, and machines physically engage with each other in a way that actually made sense and could be tracked by the human eye. It sounds counterintuitive to refer to anything in Jurassic World as stripped down, but after several years of summer blockbusters boasting action so assaultive and nonstop that it eventually melts into a numbing wallpaper of collisions and explosions, watching a couple of dinosaurs stalk something through a jungle feels almost stark, and the film is that much more compelling for it. These sequences do an admirable job of proving Claire wrong. Looking at these dinosaurs is still pretty darn exciting; it’s the humans they’re surrounded by that are a little more dubious.