Let’s face it, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD means this is an all time great movie summer. Whatever else comes out, who gives a shit. Irrelevant. It could be nothing but THE COBBLER coming out every week until September and it would still be one for the record books. Therefore it seems weird to be praising a more normal, not world-shattering part 4 movie in this same summer, but I’m an honest man so I have to do it. JURASSIC WORLD is a solid, fun sequel and although I’m not sure I liked it quite as much as I liked LOST WORLD when I first saw that, I think this is the best of the sequels.
But Vern, you’re saying, THE LOST WORLD sucks. Hold onto your buts. I admit that my tastes in Jurassic Parks are different from most people around here. So I’m sure you will disagree with me that this is clearly, by far, for sure without even a remote question the best of the non-Spielberg-directed JP joints on every possible level forever and always amen may the force be with you and I hope they burn in hay-ell.
It’s odd that they waited 22 years to do this premise. In retrospect it seems like parts 2 and 3 were treading water trying to figure out what the hell to do in the wreckage of the actual Jurassic Park, the aftermath of the failed pre-opening in part 1. This time it’s a natural extension of that first concept. What would it be like if they actually got their shit together and opened the park, and made it work for a while and become a popular vacation destination before nature finds a way to fuck it up? Isn’t it time we actually saw Ian Malcolm’s prediction of the Pirates of the Caribbean eating the tourists?
One thing that’s enjoyable in the first one besides the jurassic is the park, and all the details of how it’s set up. The Mr. DNA educational cartoon explaining how the dinosaurs are cloned, the ride that takes you past the actual lab, turning it into a stage show, the safari-themed signage, the theme park’s logo that’s the same as the movie’s logo that’s the same as the book’s logo that’s on all the lunchboxes and shit in the gift shop, the structures used to (try to) contain the dinosaurs. This is the first Jurassic sequel to do more of that kind of stuff. We get to see the aviary for pterodactyls and what not, the closer-to-dinosaur-proof “hamster balls” that replaced the automated Jeeps, the petting zoo where kids ride on baby triceratopses and hug brontosauruses and shit, the many plazas which now have corporate sponsors, the “Asset Containment Unit” that gets called in when a dinosaur leaves its area.
It’s the little things that matter, like the lady who emcees the water show where people watch the mosasaurus, a gigantic aquatic dinosaur, getting fed. Her delivery is exactly perfect. I looked her up and her name is Courtney James Clark, she is an actual actress who has played many bit parts such as “Waitress” and “Female Student” in other movies, but I still wonder if she could’ve actually worked at Sea World, or maybe as a Universal Studios tour guide. She makes the park seem real.
(Which is needed, because the first big flyover establishing shot of the place looks like a miniature model for some reason. I would laugh if it really was, what with all the “practical effects” fetishization we do these days.)
We see this place through the eyes of two kids: mop-headed, overly enthusiastic Gray (Ty Simpkins, the kid from INSIDIOUS and IRON MAN THREE) and sullen teen brother Zach (Nick Robinson from THE KINGS OF SUMMER), who tries to be unimpressed. There’s a very Spielbergian scene where a crowd clamors behind a zoo window as the t-rex is about to be fed and we don’t get to see it because the camera stays on Zach, who turns his back to it to answer his phone. “De-extinction” isn’t as impressive as it used to be, it turns out. Anyway the kids are supposed to be visiting their aunt Claire (Jessica Chastain lookalike Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager of the park, but she’s busy and pawns them off on her assistant (Katie McGrath).
The real star of the show is Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt, who worked with the original Jessica Chastain in ZERO DARK THIRTY). He’s an ex-Navy guy who I’m guessing trained the attack dogs because his job here is working with raptors. He has had some very minor and inconsistent success in getting them to respond to commands. But fucking Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio, of course) is nosin around hinting at some ALIENS type shit about hey man what about we train dinosaurs to fight wars what are you unpatriotic or something. (I am predicting that the next one will be called JURASSIC WAR. Not a joke. And I’m for it. We need more crazy in this series. THE LOST WORLD WORLD would be a good title too though.)
I like Chris Pratt as much as the next world citizen and we all know that Marvel bought him action hero muscles, but he’s so good at being a comedic doofus that I honestly wasn’t sure he could pull off playing a guy who knows what he’s talking about. Consider me impressed. But his main job here is a cartoonishly amplified manliness. He walks very upright with his chest out, he’s always kinda sweaty, shirt open to expose some chest hair, holding a filthy rag, trying to wipe some grease or dirt off his hands. When we first see him he’s throwing dead rats to the raptors, and right after that somebody shakes his hand. Women come to him for help, children want to be protected by him. During conversations he’s generally tinkering with a motorcycle or posing with his rifle, which doesn’t look like it would do much dino-damage but maybe it just looks small compared to his arms. He’s got a knife holstered on his lower back that I don’t think he ever uses. I’m surprised he doesn’t cut an apple with it, I’ve noticed alot of tough guys in movies like to cut apples with their knives.
I think Owen is a good JURASSIC PARK hero because he’s got that Mark Trail respect for dinosaurs as animals, but also a macho charisma unlike any of the previous characters in the series, except maybe some of the bad guys. He’s no dummy, he seems much more aware of how dangerous the dinosaurs are than the other people in the park, but he’s also the reluctant hero who has the balls to try to deal with them.
All of these characters will come together because of – well, this is embarrassing – they create a hybrid super-dinosaur called Indominus Rex that gets loose and starts killing all the other dinosaurs as well as the employees and is headed for the guest area. There’s alot of talk from both the money people and the lab about being pressured to come up with bigger, fiercer dinosaurs to bring in more people. (I don’t know why – it looks fucking crowded.) That’s obviously a meta type deal there and I’ve seen some writers read it as self-criticism. But I think it’s more just an acknowledgment of the challenges of making sequels. These people are making movies, not life, so creating a spectacle doesn’t raise the same ethical and safety issues as it does for their characters. JURASSIC PARK III proves that smaller scale, fewer dinosaurs and less eventful doesn’t cut it for a JURASSIC PARK sequel.
I think WORLD successfully ups the ante on mayhem. There are widespread attacks on crowds, new types of dinosaurs, inter-species clashes, a set of grizzled dinosaur hunting mercenaries straight out of a Michael Bay movie (the Drift King himself, Brian Tee, gets in on the action), and an excellent climactic dinosaur battle that had me giggling. Of course there’s also the plot-point given away in the advertising, that Owen enlists his pack of raptors in the mission to catch Indominus. I’m sure since this is the freshest and most different twist to the material it will be the part people fixate on as being undeniably bad. Personally I love this turn of events, but then again I love the idea of that legendarily crazy John Sayles version of the script where it was about a Dirty Dozen team of human-dino hybrids rescuing kidnap victims. This must’ve evolved out of that (and maybe is setting up for some less insane version of that concept in a future installment).
It’s actually not as absurd as it sounds. He’s using them as bloodhounds, not as soldiers. And the threat of the raptors is very much intact. The tensest parts of the movie are about coming face to face with the raptors, and they get alot of suspense out of the clearly insane plan of letting them out on purpose. Luckily they appease my need for silliness by putting night vision cameras on their heads and having people watch their POV of the mission on monitors like in ALIENS. Thank you for that. Next time I hope they get to wear leather vests like all the tough safari dudes in the series.
While the raptors remain great monster characters, even gaining new dimension, I can’t say ol’ Indominous is a worthy addition to the pantheon of dino-villains. Her design is generic, neither living up to the great build-up of her while she’s offscreen or her purpose as the creature that will impress the shit out of the tourists. And I don’ think she ever re-uses useful abilities she’s revealed to have such as a chameleon type camouflaging. She just kind of acts like a t-rex with more useful arms.
I think her best scene is actually one where she fails – she sees the boys inside the sphere so she bites on it, and it’s too big for her mouth. It looks pretty funny, and it would be cool if it actually got stuck in her jaw for a while. There used to be this one-legged seagull that hung out on a dock where I go jogging, I called him Ahab and I would feed him sometimes. One time I saw him and he had a starfish stuck in his beak. Couldn’t get it out, couldn’t shut his beak, but I had no way to help him and he just flew off like that. I was afraid it would be the last time I saw him, but then one day there he is and he got it out somehow.
Did you guys know birds are actually dinosaurs. It’s fucked up man the shit could go down at any moment. Ticking time bomb. That’s science man.
The most serious problems I have with the movie aren’t really bigger than any I have with the Spielberg ones, and they all pretty much happen early on. First of all, I’ve gotten to a bitter age where the cliche of the awe-filled wondrous sciencey dreamer kid is too corny for me. They did it with the daughter in INTERSTELLAR and the girl in TOMORROWLAND and here we have it again with Gray, who knows the parts that make up DNA and spouts off constant dino-trivia to the embarrassment of his brother but it’s supposed to be charming and impressive I think. He also has the scene where they show his bedroom so you can see that he has a big shelf full of dinosaur toys and another one full of robot toys. And a poster that has a picture of a robot on it that says “ROBOTS!” on account of how much he likes robots. (Nothing from any cartoon or movie though, just generic, unaffiliated robots.)
And worse, there is a comic relief character that’s a grown up nerd (Jake Johnson) who works in the control room and doesn’t fit into the corporate culture because he has dinosaur toys all over his desk. He’s supposed to represent the purity of a guy who loves dinosaurs and everybody else is potentially into it for the wrong reasons. But he’s not, like, a paleontologist or a person who works with animals, like previous JURASSIC heroes. He’s just an adult who still likes the thing he liked when he was in kindergarten.
Claire, in the first half, is a bigger problem. Howard plays her as way too much of a bad guy. She acts cold and phony, overly concerned with profit, underly caring of living beings, pointedly saying “assets” instead of “dinosaurs” and “it” instead of “she.” Which is dinophobic in my opinion. And to drive home the overly ambitious worker cliche she has neglected family, having no idea how old her nephews are or how long it’s been since she’s seen them, and at first being a terrible hostess/guardian to them. (I have a hard time believing the kids would be so disappointed about that, though. They wouldn’t give a shit. There’s dinosaurs.)
Many have decried this as a sexist stereotype, which I suppose it is, but it’s also a female equivalent of the InGen guy in part 2 or the lawyer in part 1, and the movie clearly likes her better than either of those dicks. Not to spoil anything but she does redeem herself and doesn’t get eaten off a toilet. But even if it follows in the Crichton tradition I think it would be so much more interesting if she was allowed to be wrong about this stuff but also likable. Misguided instead of being a jerk.
I’m afraid it’s when she swallows her pride and asks for the sweaty man’s help that the movie allows her to become more tolerable. There’s a great scene where Owen and Claire come across a brontosaurus (or whatever) laying on the ground dying after being attacked by the Indominus. Owen has his gun, you’re not sure if he’s gonna put her out of her misery or something. Instead he walks over and puts his hand on her head, comforting her in her last moments. Claire joins him and cries and this is when she regains her humanity. It’s a nice moment reminding us that Owen is right, these are animals, and humans can have a relationship with them. And then they walk over the hill and see what looks like the same valley from part 1 where they all saw the dinosaurs for the first time and marveled at their beauty. But now it’s littered with bodies, dinosaurs slain by this newfangled 21st century model dinosaur. Once again greed has killed the dream that put all the Spielbergian awe on those faces.
A few poor choices that characters make in this movie:
1) Going into the Indominus cage because they think she got out, even though they’re not really sure.
2) Taking a gyrosphere “off roading” through the broken gate of a restricted area. I know he’s trying to cheer up his little brother but still, not wise there, Zach.
But the one most people seem bothered by is Claire dealing with this emergency while wearing heels. I don’t agree with her decision, but I think it’s a legitimate character point. She rolls up her sleeves and opens up to her tank top undershirt as her symbol of getting ready to get shit done, but doesn’t fully butchify like Ripley, Sarah Connor or Barbara in the remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, who literally takes off her dress and puts on pants at the point where she decides to man up. By keeping what Owen calls “those ridiculous shoes,” Claire is refusing to disavow her life as Powerful Business Lady. Maybe she can be nice Auntie Claire the dinosaur lover without quitting her job. I mean, could’ve, if there had still been a company to have a job at.
By the way, the new owner (Irrfan Khan, LIFE OF PI) is kind of the reverse of part 2’s Roland Tembo, in that he seems like a good guy but is kind of a bad guy. He talks a big game about sparing no expense and John Hammond’s dream and shit, but we find out making up fake dinosaurs was his idea. Returning chief geneticist B.D. Wong (EXECUTIVE DECISION) (who seems to have gotten sleazy since part 1) pierces through the bullshit in a speech about how they always used other animals to patch in missing strands of DNA, and had never been going for “realism” (good way to explain away changing dinosaur theories and artistic license on the size of velociraptors).
Of course this new dinosaur is not the only danger – we still have the same threat as ever, that any of these dinosaurs could get out. Hell, even the veggiesauruses could step on somebody. You know, the most deadly ride ever at Disneyland was the boring ass Peoplemover. Anyway, just when I was wondering why it’s only this new dinosaur that’s a danger, when she could be setting loose the other dinosaurs, she runs through the side of the aviary like the fuckin Kool Aid Man and releases a swarm of pteranodons and/or pterodactyls, or whatever flying ones they got now. And this leads to the best Dinosaurs Attack! part of the movie, a great sequence that includes the most spectacular death in the series.
And that actually was the part that made me think yeah, this movie might not be that respectful of women. These movies have always had a bit of a slasher side, giving terrible deaths to broad, one-dimensional characters that you’re not supposed to like. But Claire’s assistant didn’t earn her spot in that line of victims, in my opinion. The lawyer had a callous indifference to the safety of others, Peter Stormare was cruel and sadistic. This lady just looks at her phone too much. Pretty harsh punishment for that.
Still, I feel like to not appreciate that scene would be to be in the wrong fuckin place. I don’t know about you guys, but this is what I watch a dinosaur movie for. Hats off to director Colin Trevorrow (some guy who only directed SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED before this!?) for the literal and figurative ups and downs of that scene, and the joyful fan-shitting of the whole dino-birdy attack sequence. Bravo.
Since this is the first intentionally 3D JURASSIC PARK I was hoping it would be fun in a JAWS 3-D type of way. It’s a much better movie, but does have a few inevitable similarities since that was about a shark attacking Sea World. In that one they even had dolphins helping fight Jaws. They’re the raptors of JAWS 3-D.
But as you’d expect in this day and age, they did not have the good sense to treat this as a real 3-D movie. The fake after-the-fact 3Dification is well done, it looks very dimensional and there are some choice show-off moments. But I can’t honestly say they went for it. The logo doesn’t come out of the screen. There is no equivalent of the shark’s jawbone flying out at the crowd. This is a movie about roaring dinosaurs and shit, I don’t think you gotta be self-conscious about being too tacky or gimmicky. Many missed opportunities on this front. Shame. So you get one bravo and one shame, Trevorrow.
But I definitely lean harder on the bravo. I enjoyed this one.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.