Part of the reason Universal’s holding an Incredible Hulk movie to ransom is because they don’t really need it. Jurassic World proved that three years ago when it made a billion and a half dollars…with one of Marvel’s Chrises, no less.
For a second, some of my colleagues labeled Jurassic World The Worst Movie of 2015…which can’t possibly be the case since both Fant4stic and Terminator Genisys still exist. Hell, every movie from 2015 now feels like an artifact from the Before Time…when there were perfect things…including perfectly awful things. But shit – I’ve lived through two bad Jurassic Park sequels already. (Technically three, since Michael Crichton’s Lost World novel and Steven Spielberg’s movie are two very different beasts.) How bad could another one really be?
[*two hours later*] Okay…wow. Jurassic World is what happens when you have ten years worth of scripts, three companies worth of producers, and a director who has only the vaguest idea of what the fuck he’s doing. It’s like a coral reef of bad ideas, growing out of the submerged corpse of the original bad idea: making a sequel to Jurassic Park in the first place. Granted, Crichton’s novel does end on a cliffhanger…but since everything that was supposed to foreshadowing that cliffhanger got cut from the movie, none of the three sequels I’ve seen (at the time of this writing) have even bothered with it.
Jurassic World‘s title (no-doubt picked dude to the movie-industry-wide assumption that no movie with a “4” in the title has ever made money) practically begs to take advantage of Crichton’s cliffhanger: the idea that some dinosaurs (particularly velociraptors) had escaped the island. That their natural migratory instincts and chimpanzee-level smarts allowed them to reach the mainland and seek high ground, just in time for hurricane season. Costa Rica’s almost nothing but jungle-covered mountains – as close to the mesozoic as you can get without going to Hawaii or the Congo – the perfect place for human-sized predators to spread all up and down the Americas. But since the original movie took place on an island, the immutable laws of brand recognition dictate every other Jurassic Park movie do the same. Especially one that’s a remake disguised as a sequel.
So it’s twenty years since the events of Jurassic Parks 1, 2 and 3. The corporate bastards of InGen, having learned precisely nothing from the events of previous films, rebuilt the park and actually made it work sometime in the interim – glory be. We start off with two brothers who’re getting shipped off to Jurassic World because their parents are very obviously getting a divorce. This is the first of many subplots that will never be resolved except in the most hollow, platitudinous way, to the point where even calling them “subplots” feels like giving them too much credit. Because these aren’t our main characters – they’re just the kids the main characters are going to spend the whole movie babysitting because…well, there were two siblings in the first movie, so…
So our main character is actually the brother’s Aunt Claire, Jurassic World’s…PR person…? VP in charge of showing angel investors around the labs…? Fuck it – I’m checking the Wiki…Operations Manager! Okay, whatever. Shout-out to Dr. Wu, though, now that I’m thinking about him – looks like at least one person survived the events of the first film without any embarrassing lawsuits or professional censure. Hell, Wu’s still got his original job…and his new bosses are even more hands-off than Mr. Spared No Expense, Except When It Came to Staff and Back-up Generators. Driven by the needs that rule every aspect of the entertainment industrial complex these days – the need for everything to be, in their words, “bigger, louder,” and have “more teeth” – Wu’s cooking up new, hybrid dinosaurs, designed by corporate committee and built from the DNA up for the sole purpose of impressing the rubes. Exactly like this film…and I’m surprised none of our filmmakers broke their own arms trying to pat themselves on the back for this subtext-that’s-actually-just-the-text. Will quote-unquote “natural” dinosaurs defeat the genetic abomination our modern Frankensteins have made, once-again illustrating the inevitable triumph of the natural world over corporate-sponsored mad science? I’ll give you the rest of this review to puzzle that one out.
Dr. Wu’s latest and greatest creation is the Indominus Rex…”indominus” being Latin for “un-tamable,” or “fierce,” showing Jurassic World’s naming-committee had no sense of irony whatsoever. The I. Rex needs a once-over from resident dinosaur whisperer, Owen, before they show it to the public, and Clare needs to pull Owen out of his trailer so he can hit on her. So Claire pawns her nephews off on her assistant because the boys need to escape her sight so they can get lost in the park and everyone can reunite later on into one big, miserable family.
Owen’s our real main character – so main, he’s played by a Chris and right there, on the fucking poster – an ex-Navy man, now training raptors to do party tricks because…he’s a left-over from a previous Jurassic Park 4 script…and getting an ear-full of straight-up fascist bullshit from his boss, the head of park security, Hoskins. TV’s Kingpin sees Owen’s little Raptor Squad as the first in a literal new breed of special operations soldiers. Hoskins feels the military-industrial-complex will inevitably demand their own pet raptors because, as he sees it, “War is part of nature…War is a struggle. Struggle produces greatness. Without that, we end up in places like this – charges seven bucks a soda.”
One could just as easily to argue that seven-buck-chuck corn syrup and the Corporate American Empire™ ©® that produced it are themselves products of a long chain of wars…but arguing with fascists is pointless. So shout-out to whichever member of Raptor Squad eventually turns Hoskins into a chew-toy. She gets it. I know Antifa catgirls are all the rage nowadays – and as an old school Catwoman fan, I totally get it – but once you’ve had scales, everything else fails.
Eventually, the I. Rex manages to pull one over on, not just Claire and Owen, but the entire technological apparatus at their backs, and escape its enclosure. Dr. Wu eventually justifies this with the series’ patented pseudo-genetics, because why not? It worked in Ang Lee’s Hulk movie…well, it worked for me, if no one else…but context is for kings and we’re dealing with another “Rex.” Spielberg et. al. made the T-Rex (T-Regina, really, but whatever) the eleventh hour “hero” of the first film about halfway through shooting, and planned to make her the misunderstood anti-hero of the second from the start (as far as I can tell). Because, hey – everybody likes a Tyranosaurus, and raptors are easier to sell as personal threats anyway. They can follow you into places where a T-Rex can’t fit and their generally understood as “smart”…even though CAT scans of T-Rex brain cases provide compelling evidence that Rexes were just as smart…
According to Producer Logic, this pattern of alternating “bad” and “good” dinosaurs required a degree of one-upsmanship, especially after The Lost World “only” made half the money of its predecessor. Hence, the Spinosaurus became the villain of the third film, and the makers of this one felt the need to top that. They chose to do so by throwing all pretenses to the wind, making a brand new dinosaur out of whole cloth, and then making it straight-up evil…or crazy…which is the same thing in my puritanical, reactionary dipshit country. Owen suggests raising the I-Rex in isolation from everything but its own sibling (which it ate) may have something to do with the indiscriminate killing spree it goes on…but dwelling on the plight of our antagonist-dinosaur for more than one scene might confuse the In Real Life Rubes – excuse me, I meant “audience members.” So when he and Claire pull up on a field of dead herbivores, Owen makes sure to note that, “It didn’t eat ’em – it’s killing for sport!” And I start wondering if Owen has Frank Black-from-Millennium’s powers of post-cognition on top of his innate powers of raptor rapport?
And this is one of the pickiest nits I’ve ever picked, but…is that gun he’s got a Mare’s Leg? Seriously? You’re tracking an animal that must weight at least eight tons and all you brought was a Mare’s Leg with an 8x scope? What is this – Battlefield 4?
This might as well be Battlefield 4 once Jurassic World’s new CEO straps a minigun to a helicopter and tries to take out the I-Rex himself. But since he’s barely level thirty and hasn’t done any of the grinding you need to unlock anti-air defenses, all this does is kill him, the two guys dumb enough to get in the helicopter with him, and knock open the aviary, releasing all the pterosaurs upon the park’s previously-oblivious visitors. Credit where it’s due, the pterosaurs’ strafing run does finally give us a taste of what this movie sold itself on. We were all supposed to watch the trailers and think, “Ok – it’s like the first movie, but bigger, longer and uncut”…wait – I mean “bigger, louder and with more teeth”…wait, I mean – “the park’s going to be populated when the dinosaurs get out!” Visions of crowds stampeding each other in an effort to escape stampeding ankylosaurs were supposed to fill our heads. Of T-Rexes with scraps of loud Hawaiian shirts hanging from between their stained teeth. Of raptors painting Jurassic World’s equivalent of Main Street USA red with the blood of dumbass tourists, until it resembled that hallway from the end of Cabin in the Woods. Except you can only depict so much mass death and maintain that coveted PG-13 rating, rendering the execution of all this toothless. As it was designed to be from the word “go.” By committee, of course.
That’s why a large chunk of my colleagues spent weeks talking about the death of Claire’s poor assistant…hang on, time to look up her name again…Zara! The senseless-but-still-PG-13 brutality of her death-by-Mosasaur shocked people out of the full-body numbness the rest of the movie’d induced, largely without them even noticing. Either the sight of a Dimorphodon lifting a grown-ass woman off the ground overloaded their pedantry circuits, or the sight of a character with all of three lines who’d been MIA for half an hour ago getting the kind of death other movies reserve for supervillains (including this one) made them go, “What the actual fuck?” and then call director Colin Trevorrow a misogynist.
Evil Me: They had to remind people the Mosasaur existed.
Because the scene where they make a huge fucking deal out of introducing it and the Shamu tricks it does for massive crowds on the daily was…what? Not memorable?
This film’s T-Rex is just as, if not more, integral to the Climactic Battle, and she’s barely seen for half a second, obscured behind the heads of a whole crowd.
But the short life and gratuitous death of Zara the PA is symptomatic of a larger issue: that all of these characters are equally disposable. Owen is Chris Pratt in Chris Pratt’s Second Attempt to Brand Himself A Cool Action Star In As Many Years. Brother Zach is a Too-Cool-For-This-Shit teenager this movie imagined it’s target audience to be, his prematurely hardened-heart eventually melted by the wonder of 21st Century dinosaurs…especially as seen through the eyes of his little bro, Gray. Little brother Gray is the Enthusiastic Dinosaur-Nut in that annoying, Tim The Human Piece of Toast mold. Claire is the Perpetually Put-Upon, Professional Everywoman who has to learn the value of having kids. “They’re worth it,” her sister (the Brother’s mother) says in the one scene that only exists to blatantly state this (also the last time we’ll see the Brother’s mom). It’s the same message the first film delivered to paleontologist Alan Grant, only it took the back two acts to do it and never felt the need to state it outright.
Besides, Claire’s not Every Woman, now, is she? In the ranks of Put-Upon Professional Womanhood, there are a hell of a lot more Zaras than Claires. So many, in fact, that I suspect our filmmakers meant her over-the-top death as a joke. “Hey, look, put-upon PA’s of the world – it’s you!” But instead of nodding and going, “Yep,” they raised their middle fingers to the screen and said, “Hey, fuck you, buddy! The first rule of comedy – or indeed, any public speaking gig – is ‘Read the fucking room,’ and your demonstrable inability to do so is probably what lost you your Star Wars job, Colin.”
But I’m just speculating. With the I-Rex on the loose and the authority holding him back dead, Hoskins calls in his cavalry of mercenaries that all look like Rainbow Six Siege character concepts. And suddenly it’s night. It was just afternoon, but that was a whole jump-cut ago, man – keep up! That’s another thing – this movie is exactly 2 hours and 3 minutes long and the last nine are all credits. I have a nagging suspicion that all the character moments that might’ve made me give a shit about…any of these people…are somewhere on someone’s cutting-room floor. This movie pulls the few remaining, supposedly character-building moments right out of its ass “Hey, remember that thing we did that we’ve never brought up before which has suddenly become important to the plot? Good thing we did that thing, huh? We’re brothers. We have to state this outright, the way siblings never do, because we have nothing but contempt for the dumbshits watching this and otherwise they might forget our single defining character trait.”
Because this isn’t the human’s movie. It’s all about the dinosaurs and, in a way, always was. But both Spielberg and Joe Johnston made sure their dinosaurs were always viewed from the perspectives of their human characters. We saw the park, and its animals, through their eyes – and at their eye levels – vicariously experiencing their awe, their wonder, and their fear. Trevorrow sticks his camera anywhere, probably because this is his “first” action movie and he’s totally chugged the Kool-Aid about how CGI can let him put his camera anywhere. He spent so much time wondering if he could, he didn’t stop to think about if he should…
Like Hoskins, who press-gangs Owen into letting Raptor Squad off the chain and having them hunt down the I-Rex so we can finally get that shot of Starlord riding his motorcycle alongside them. (Cover shot!) This might not be the worst movie of 2015, but it is the most re-goddamn-diculious. And anti-climactic. Especially since Raptor Squad turns on humanity after all of one conversation with the I-Rex. Because it wouldn’t be a stealth-remake if we didn’t have a bit where raptors take out a whole bunch of humans, near the end. You see, it’s like poetry – they rhyme.
And like all hack poetry, it contradicts itself as soon as it can. Once the massacre’s concluded and they’re face-to-face with Chris Pratt, Raptor Squad switches sides again, precipitating the climactic battle. Just like the first movie, said battle involves our T-Rex…but this time, she teams up with Raptor Squad, and this is Jurassic Park’s version of “fan service”: the “bad” dinosaurs of the first two films uniting to fight the “bad” dinosaur of this one in the hope they might blow past “good” and reach the magical land of being “badass.” And congratulations, Jurassic World: for about three minutes…when the movie was almost over, I almost cared.
A complete hack might compare this to any number of Godzilla’s movies, but fuck that – even the worst of them contains at least one memorable character. Saeko, Queen of the Jungle? Miki Saegusa?Lt. Akani? Dr. Serizawa-no-not-that-one-the-other-one? Agent Philippe Roache, DGSE? Anybody? No…? Well, regardless, keep Godzilla’s name out of your mouth.
Evil Me: You know it’s too late, don’t you? This was the second-highest grossing film of 2015. People loved it by the only objective metric: numbers. And they’re loving its sequel even more.
It’s never too late for the truth. And the truth is, people love dinosaurs, which is all the box-office results prove. Problem is, we dinosaur-lovers are starved for choices in this Brave New World of corporate monopolies. The monopolies the run Hollywood have decided, thanks to their numbers, that we don’t actually love dinosaurs, or Jurassic Park. It’s worse than that – they’ve decided we love the Jurassic Park logo, ringed in trademarks…and that’s all. Because dinosaur movies are expensive, and no one has the guts to greenlight the expense unless they can slap a recognizable brand logo onto it. And once they do, they’re still too paranoid to do anything other than what’s already been done, creating exactly the kind of 20-year-after-the-fact sequel I was afraid Blade Runner 2049 would be – Jurassic Park’s own Alien: Resurrection. Instead of “bigger, louder, more teeth,” we get “shorter, dumber, less bite.” So welcome to Jurassic World. It’s their world and we’re just living it.
Evil Me: Well…that was dramatic.
Been awhile since I’ve talked a movie I could really, righteously shit on. Feels good to work out the anger issues, ya know?
Evil Me: Well, then…you’re going to love what’s next.