It’s possible that Jurassic World is the best of the sequels to Jurassic Park, though that’s not much of a compliment even if we do decide to bestow it that honor. After all, the second and third films in the series are pretty much uniformly terrible. “Barely adequate” might be the better descriptor for director Colin Trevorrow’s four-quel, but at least it never goes off the rails to the point where you’re looking at other audience members trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
The Jurassic World of the film turns out to be a resort/theme park built atop the ruins of the original Jurassic Park. It’s a mega tourist attraction that leaves you wondering which organ one would need to sell to afford the admission price. Whatever the costs, they don’t seem to go toward park safety features, as the film shows us entire families free-rafting down rivers alongside huge dinosaurs with spiked tails that could easily turn said families into finely tenderized dino hors d’oeuvres with one well timed swing. But I digress …
Jurassic World introduces us to various new human characters but fails to develop them over the course of the film in any significant way. It’s true the Jurassic Park films have never really put character arcs front and center. (Dr. Grant’s character arc in the original movie sums up as: “I hated kids, but now that I’ve spent some time with them, they’re not so bad!”) Nevertheless, small, complete character arcs do exist in the earlier films. Not so much here where character traits are established but then just dropped after a certain point in the film. For example, the older of the movie’s two kid brothers is girl crazy, a fact much is made of early on, but it never goes anywhere. And the relationship between the brothers as a whole is ill defined. There’s really no change in their relationship from the point that we meet them to the point that we last see them.
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dalls Howard play they leads. They do what they can with the threadbare material given to them (mostly flimsy details put out in passing). Pratt plays the role of “I Told You So” Guy, and if the trailers had you worried about the ridiculousness of him training raptors, it’s to the film’s credit that the notion is made somewhat convincing. Howard plays the operations manager of the park and aunt of the periled children. The film desperately wants her and Pratt to have some chemistry that never really develops. In the early goings, he mostly seems to want to smack her, and by the end of the film you’re scratching your head over how these two can even stand to be in the same room together. On a somewhat amusing note, Vincent D’Onofrio can’t seem to shake off his performance as the Kingpin in Netflix’s Daredevil series. I almost expected him to start staring at white walls.
The Indominus Rex, the big, bad, new dinosaur introduced in this film, isn’t much to write home about either. Early on, it escapes from its paddock in an interesting scene, but past that there’s not much to be said about it other than that it’s the color of milk and comes from a genetic cocktail mix of dinos and several other creatures. It has the ability to blend in with its surroundings, but rather than exploit this nifty detail the movie just forgets about it. The giant water-based Mosasaurus is a much more interesting crowd-pleasing creature and would have made a better threat had the movie been entirely set in the water. (Although I suppose there’s no point in making a film where you can end it all by staying far away from the shore.)
And that’s the biggest problem with Jurassic World. The dinosaurs never really give off a sense of danger or menace. All three prior films had at least one showstopper of the sequence where the dinos just get mean: The original movie’s fantastic T-Rex attack, where children are menaced and a lawyer gets eaten like a Harvard Cheesesteak; the super intense dangling-trailer scene from The Lost World; and the relentless Spinosaurus attack on the chartered plan as it tries to take off before crash landing in the jungle in III. Jurassic World doesn’t have a single action sequence worth adding to that list. Then again, it doesn’t have a raptor getting taken out by pre-teen contemporary gymnastics either, so at least there’s that.
And that’s the thing. There’s nothing that terrible here. Despite its failings, Jurassic World remains watchable to the end credits. There’s an obvious affection for the landmark original on display, with many fan-friendly callbacks to it ranging from the recycling of John Williams’ classic score to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references peppered throughout. But with characters whose safety doesn’t concern you taking center stage and dino action that all feels somewhat understated, Jurassic World ends up being a disappointingly bland dino burger served up medium well.