What’s most frustrating about Jurassic World is that there’s part of a good movie in there, somewhere, just dying to get out. Unfortunately, it’s buried under a thin ash of nostalgia, smothered by a uselessly mawkish family drama, and strangled by a profusion of half-thought-out subplots that don’t make a particularly great deal of sense.
Because I’m an optimist who loves positivity, let’s discuss the good first. The park, re-christened "Jurassic World," is an amazing realization of John Hammond’s (Sir Richard Attenborough’s) vision. Everything about it is pretty darn cool, from the park-circling monorail that allows visitors to see the dinos roam to the Sea World-style tank in which a giant water-based crocodile-looking dino splashes guests to the kiddie-sized dinos wandering the petting zoo paddock. Obviously, given the, ah, issues, with Jurassic Park—you know: all the death—it’s hard to imagine Jurassic World would’ve ever gotten off the ground. But still! It’s pretty neat.
Also pretty neat is Chris Pratt, playing an ex-Navy man named Owen who is hand-raising a velociraptor pack at the behest of InGen, the conglomerate behind the park and the technology that brought it to life. His role is a fundamentally silly one—"The Raptor Whisperer, Starring Chris Pratt!"—but he’s also so darn charming that he makes it work. He’s even able to gin up some chemistry with the always-frosty Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Claire, the frigid, business-minded woman who runs the park.
And, finally, there’s Dr. Henry Wu’s (BD Wong) amazingly villainous turtleneck. No, seriously: as the credits rolled, I said to my seatmate, "BD Wong’s turtleneck was the best thing in that movie." And it kind of is! At some point between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, Dr. Wu has become a mad scientist bent on combining various strands of dino DNA in order to create an unstoppable killing machine. He manages to do it and seems utterly baffled why anyone might be upset with him, even after said monster dino, the Indominus Rex, starts eating people and killing all the other dinosaurs for fun. He was just following orders, after all. It’s as if Dr. Krieger borrowed Sterling Archer’s wardrobe. The whole role falls apart without the black turtleneck, I’m telling you. BD WONG’S BLACK TURTLENECK FOR JURASSIC WORLD MVP.
Now, as you might be able to guess, if I’m spending a whole paragraph praising an item of clothing worn by a character that is onscreen for, oh, ten minutes, Jurassic World has some issues. Let’s start with the entirely superfluous subplot involving a pair of kids who are sent to the park by their folks for a week so they can finalize their divorce. They are both annoying and unnecessary, and could’ve easily been jettisoned.
Then there’re the reams of fan service stuffed into the middle of the picture. We see references to the original film throughout—the animated strand of DNA from the informational video at the first park shows up in the foreground of a shot, for instance—but its most concentrated serving comes when the aforementioned moppets stumble into the original park’s structures. Oooh, look, the night vision goggles! And the walkie-talkies! And the banner from the visitor’s center! And the jeeps! It’s all a bit too precious, a substitution of reminiscence for plot movement or character development.
Then, finally, there’s a remarkably dumb—I mean, really, egregiously dumb—subplot involving a military contractor played by Vincent D’Onofrio who believes that InGen should be breeding velociraptors to serve as terrorist hunters. If you’ve heard anything about early drafts of the script, this might call to mind the rumors that the movie was originally going to feature human-raptor hybrid commandos. Honestly, that idiotic idea makes way more sense than the idiotic idea we wound up with. Not even the most bloodthirsty Hallibushitlerite contractor would look at Owen’s initial, tense, interaction with his raptor brood and think, "Yeah, let’s set those loose on the battlefield."
Most frustratingly, this comes at the expense of what could’ve been a relatively interesting discussion of the intersection of entertainment and commerce. Dr. Wu’s crazy killing machine only comes into existence because Jurassic World needs to convince sponsors to hop on board for newer, better attractions: "Verizon presents: The Indominus Rex!" If Jurassic Park is a treatise on bioethics and the unstoppable nature of "progress," Jurassic World could have been a fascinating commentary on the nature of big budget commercialized bloat.
In a way, I guess it kind of is. But not in the manner the filmmakers likely intended.