Jurassic World has two things going for it—state-of-the-art special effects and Chris Pratt. It’s also got a completely unoriginal plot line with cliché subplots, and is often poorly directed. And it’s the biggest moneymaker of the year, which is worth exploring for reasons outside of the purview of this blog.
This latest installment of the series is pretty much a reboot, with enough references to the original to be simultaneously cute and knowing, with little other effect. It’s essentially the first film reset into current times, but with sexual politics right out of the worst of the ‘80s.
There is nothing edgy or even fresh outside of the effects. It’s the same old story of innocents in danger, but with a little background of corporate greed. This is ironic to the max, as the film is also a first-rate example of the excesses of product placement, the extremes of which border on the absurd. The central “romance” has come under a great deal of deserved criticism, featuring the rather cold corporate female having to be “tamed” and defrosted by the rough-and-tumble male lead. There has been enough ink spilled on the ludicrousness of the female lead hiking, walking and running in her high heels; no need to beat a dead horse here.
There has also been deserved criticism of the lack of wonder in the film. This too is true, and even Spielberg’s production presence failed to provide that. Spielberg as a director knew how to bring the viewer back to the feelings of awe and surprise felt by a 10-year-old while not insulting one’s intelligence. That sense is not captured here. Director Colin Trevorrow has limited feature film experience, and it shows. Some of the early scenes are functional, with not much else. Some of the conversations, especially between Pratt and female lead Bryce Dallas Howard, are awkwardly directed, with bumpy editing and uneven conversational rhythms that were clearly not intentional.
The action scenes are more successful, and some are even beautifully timed and well executed. This is the film’s biggest strength, and obviously the factor that fills the seats. Logic needs to be suspended at times, sometimes greatly, during these scenes, especially when the people we come to care about rather magically escape harm, and when Pratt’s character can manage to ride his motorcycle smoothly through areas where dinosaurs have to jump over obstacles in their paths.
The acting, usually not a major component of the action adventure film, is run-of-the mill. The young brothers get off to a rough start (blame it on the script and director), but improve slightly throughout the film. Bryce Dallas Howard is a wildly inconsistent actress. She can nail a character sometimes and stay consistent throughout, as she did in The Help. She can also fail to locate the essence of her character and just “do her best” from scene to scene, as she does here. Her character doesn’t come off as particularly likable, which becomes more and more of a deficit as the film progresses and as she and Pratt’s character Owen supposedly grow closer. The eventual “creation of the couple” here ends up where you think it will, which is satisfying on a superficial level. But their basic incompatibility as two people casts a rather dark shadow over the pairing and its possible future.
But finally, and ultimately, there is Chris Pratt, doing a Julie Andrews in the new millennium. Her Oscar-winning Mary Poppins in 1964 was followed the next year by the juggernaut The Sound of Music, which put her stardom into the stratosphere. Pratt’s one-two punch was last year’s runaway surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy, followed by this film. The single greatest attribute of both films is Pratt, though he is much more limited here in expression.. In GOTG, he was funny and cool in equal amounts. Here he is the traditional action hero, but is much straighter and serious. Yet his undeniable charisma and charm override the restrictions of his character, and he remains the glue—even more than the dinosaurs—that holds the films together. As has been said about only a handful of stars in the past, everyone likes him; men want to be him, or at least hang out with him, and women want to be with him.
To those who get the difference, Jurassic World is a movie, not a film. It’s escapist, mindless fare of the first order, and is therefore highly resistant to analysis and criticism. Yet that only makes it more of a challenge to try.