Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. It’s a trap that we humans allow ourselves to fall into over and over, content to reminisce over what we had yesterday rather than create something new today. It seems that now more than ever people are attempting wherever they can to monetise our collective craving for shared memories: entire internet empires are being built out of an endless stream of content that exists just to say ‘remember this?’ and it seems that Hollywood producers are bearing back ceaselessly into the past with abandon: if it’s not a superhero movie, it’s a remake, or a reboot, or a throwback. Sometimes, as with The Amazing Spider-man, it’s all three at once.
So it makes sense to reboot Jurassic Park now, at just the right time for the generation that saw it as kids to be coming into disposable income for the first time. Park inspires passionate nostalgia in millenials, and with good reason: looking at it now, it’s still something of a marvel – with special effects both physical and computer generated that somehow still hold up today, a cast chock-full of iconic characters, and Steven Spielberg behind the camera at his most technically assured. It’s one of the most taut, purely pleasurable action films of its time. Its sequels, too, featured some thrilling sequences, but each applied same format with diminishing returns; dinos can only get so big before they get weary, and though they do include some new ideas, they suffer from repeating many of the same beats as their gold-standard forebear.
So it’s a credit to Jurassic World that it’s intent upon trying something new. Now, the park is open and attracting droves of patrons who, in a kind-of-rude bit of metacommentary, are so weary about regular ol’ T-Rexes and velociraptors that the park scientists haven taken it upon themselves to genetically engineer a brand new superdino.
You can probably guess where this is going. The superdino (who I can’t quite bring to call by his eye-rolling name, Indominus Rex) breaks loose and wreaks havoc, except this time its upon hordes of consumers. Some ideas here are novel, particularly the part-trained, free-agent velociraptors, but sadly they’re to be found in a film that is undercooked in character and overcooked in plot: where its forebear was direct and simple in its plotting, this is overstuffed with subplots and digressions acted out by characters that never spark the way they need to.
Chris Pratt struggles to imbue his veteran dino-whisperer character with his trademark charm, and Vincent D’Onofrio is wasted as the army man who boneheadedly wants to weaponise dinosaurs (if this was a thing, why aren’t we already weaponising tigers and hippos?) The two boys are exceptionally annoying, particularly in the early scenes when they’re running around the park being amazed by everything, and Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus aren’t given enough to do with their office nerd roles. Worst by far, though, is the mess of sexist tropes that is Bryce Dallas Howard’s leading lady, Claire.
Maybe it’s because it’s been less than a month since Mad Max roared its way onto screens in a frenzy of feminist fury, but the film’s treatment of Claire feels inexcusable. She’s a shrill, uptight workaholic who, despite working in a scientific wonderpark, has failed to pick up any useful skills or knowledge; though she looks like she might be a scientist, her job seems to be vaguely…operational? She is criticised throughout for her lack of maternal instinct and her inability to handle a very stressful situation, despite the fact that no one else is, and her key emotional journey is from someone who is career-driven (bad) to someone who wants a family (good), for no discernible reason other than I guess she’s lost her job now and Chris Pratt is pretty hot. The moments where she kicks ass are linked to her romance with Pratt so distinctly that it feels as if she’s working for his affection, making herself worthy of his smoulder, even if he seems woefully unsuited to her as a partner. When he mocks her for being unsuitably dressed for a disaster, she ties her shirt around her waist to make her look cuter, but fails to take off her high heels. She doesn’t even take them off when she runs from a T-Rex that she has deliberately baited. Jurassic World’s sexism doesn’t stop with her, either – by far its worst moment comes when the kids’ babysitter, equally as uptight and unmaternal, is mauled, tortured and killed in an extended moment that seems to be played for laughs. If it weren’t for the fact that all the dinos were female there wouldn’t have been a developed lady-character among the bunch.
Mostly, though, the disappointments of Jurassic World are all symptoms of the contemporary blockbuster. Where Jurassic Park thrived on its sense of realism, the park of World never stops feeling like a glossy animation, the camera moving so impossibly through its computer generated landscapes that you never really feel as though the actors are standing in a real, living space. Sadly, this extends to the raptors and rexes, too – these CGI beasts simply never muster up the awe and fear that their puppet grandfathers did 22 years ago. From this perspective, Jurassic World seems to constantly comment upon itself. The park’s fat cats constantly bemoan how unimpressed the park’s audiences are, cynically creating bigger and better monsters to “scare the kids.” As such, their hubris echoes the film’s producers’: Jurassic World’s overblown, state-of-the-art juggernaut may sell the tickets, but it can’t compare to the simple, primal thrills that got people excited in the first place.