REEL SALAZARS: Jurassic World Review: An Entertaining Reboot That Explores Sequel Culture & Its Discontents
A dinosaur is on the loose wreaking havoc on everything in its path. In the meantime, the humans are not only trying to find a way to stop it, but also looking for the responsible parties in creating this out-of-control monstrosity.
It is around this point in the middle of "Jurassic World" when Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) tells the eponymous theme park's owner Masrani (Irrfan Khan) that he was simply following orders to create a new dinosaur that is "bigger, scarier, cooler." Earlier in the film, protagonist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) explains that a new dinosaur was needed because park attenders were bored of old attractions and wanted something with "more teeth."
It is almost impossible to watch Colin Trevorrow's reboot to the 1993 classic by Steven Spielberg and not see the film poking fun at itself in the midst of an industry laden with sequels that are thrown on audiences wanting things that are "bigger" and "cooler."
The film is set 22 years after the events of the original film with John Hammond's original vision fully realized. Jurassic Park has turned into a fully-fledged theme park with numerous tourist attractions and even opportunities for children and adults to interact with dinosaurs.
However, interest has waned in recent years and the managers in the park have concocted a new attraction -- a genetically created dinosaur. Of course this turns out disastrously wrong as the dinosaur turns out to be more intelligent than expected and escapes its holding area. It then runs about killing dinosaurs and humans alike.
The dinosaur in question also known as the Indominus Rex (a genetic combination of a frog, T-Rex, raptor and fish among other things) is itself a metaphor for sequels in the movie industry; haphazardly constructed using genre clichés and importing characters from previous installments with the only intention of regaining audience attention. As has been the case with many sequels of popular franchises ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2" or "Transformers 4," anyone?), the experiment not only backfires but causes destruction on its creators. For the studios, this has not only been a financial disaster, but also caused the loss of prestige, something that the owners of "Jurassic World" endure in equal measure.
The film's quasi-cynicism about its own existence delves deeper with not-so-subtle jabs at product placement (Starbucks and Margaritaville make prominent cameos) and even imagery that almost breaks the fourth wall reminding viewers that we are just like the park goers paying to see the latest attractions, despite their own lack of authenticity (one character notes that every dinosaur in the park is a concoction and not the real thing). There is even a scene in which merchandise that references the original film is ironically scoffed at as a "disrespect" to the current institution; the film knows that it is asking for trouble, but seems to relish this opportunity. "Jurassic World" is so self-aware that in one crucial scene, one character walks away with the plans for creating more dinosaurs (aka a sequel).
Furthermore, the film does bring up issues about humanity's place in the animal kingdom as well as other ethical issues of treating dinosaurs as little more than pets. To this end, the film feels like it is rehashing themes from the original film that were explored in greater depth. The fact that "Jurassic World" even attempts this dialogue is an accomplishment in the context of other blockbusters out these days.
Trevorrow also seems to understand that this film will always be compared to the original and he does not shy away from references to the masterpiece. Some might feel that the copycatting of earlier techniques (a massive dinosaur eye looking at camera) might come off as unoriginal at times, but there is no doubt that there is a great deal of nostalgia at work here.
The plot itself is a mere copycat of the original with a dinosaur on the loose endangering the people within reach. As with the first one, a family's quest for unity lies at the heart of the film. For many, this will not be a major issue as at its core this horror-action film is filled with sufficient suspense and pacing to keep the audience in rapture. The inciting incident, the escape of the Indominus Rex, happens quite early in the story, ramping up the tension quickly and never letting it go until its entertaining climax. It helps that Trevorrow has brought over the comic touch that made "Safety Not Guaranteed" such a big hit a few years ago. This film is laden with laugh-out loud moments that provide relief for the overall tense film.
The cast also elevates this movie with Howard and Chris Pratt showcasing their charisma and star power. Their characters are little more than archetypes (Pratt is the noble white hero while Howard is the insensitive control freak who learns that there is more to life than spreadsheets and deadlines), but the two characters do just enough to make the viewer care and join them on the journey. While Claire is far from the most complex woman, it does help the film to actually portray a strong female heroine at the center of the film.
Jake Johnson, who starred in Trevorrow's "Safety Not Guaranteed" is a pleasant addition to this franchise, providing lightness to the proceedings.
"Jurassic World" does have its issues. The subplots and other supporting characters tend to be a uneven, with some never managing resolution. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson play two brothers who develop a strong bond over the course of the film. However, their parents' issues are brought up early on in the film, but ignored for the remaining running time.
Another subplot follows military man and prototypical bad guy Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) as he tries to turn Owen (Pratt) to the dark side and force his trained velociraptors to fight for the military. Predictably his seemingly innocent scheme turns into something bigger that endangers the entire situation. Viewers will probably see it coming, thus emphasizing the film's lack of originality in some departments.
Other characters are extremely inconsistent with Masrani taking the cake. His initial introduction shows him as a man interested in reminding humans about their place in the world. He scoffs at Claire's talk of business and comes off as a billionaire disconnected from his business. Once hell breaks loose he becomes serious about his investment, even refusing to kill the murderous dinosaur. Later on, he changes back to the carefree man who irresponsibly flies into action. Khan plays up the humor splendidly, but the character proves rather frustrating and an example of screenwriting for convenience.
The visual effects are fascinating with the dinosaurs having truly life-like appearance. Looking at the Indominus Rex can be frustrating as Trevorrow and editor Kevin Stitt never actually hold on the creature for long, making it difficult to take in the dinosaur's overall scope and appearance. The sequence in which Pratt rides a motorcycle alongside raptors is worth the price of admission.
Unsurprisingly the 3D is as useless as ever, with some of the shallow focus close-ups really revealing the poor execution of the technique in their backgrounds. As is always the case with these kinds of movies, the senses eventually adjust and the 3D's impact diminishes. Why are they still making films with this pointless technology? This is actually the film that outwardly addresses this question.
Despite the shortcomings, "Jurassic World" is a well-paced summer blockbuster with a strong cast and terrific visuals. The social commentary on the state of the industry adds to the fun making this one of the better summer films of 2015 and one of the finer reboots of recent memory.
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