Of the dozen-plus name brands displayed in Jurassic World, none are as ubiquitous as the logo from Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park—having, in the world of Colin Trevorrow’s sequel, proliferated and mutated across two decades’ worth of signage, ball caps, ID badges, and other crude merchandising. Never-ending corporate expansion is very much the bailiwick of Jurassic World, whose screenplay is attributed to two separate teams of writers. It’s a detail worth remembering each and every time Trevorrow’s film betrays its own conglomerated-product anxiety.
Two brothers, Zach and Bray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), are shuttled off to the revitalized Jurassic World theme park on Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica, as a distraction from their parents’ crumbling marriage; their aunt, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), is one of the park’s administrators, so obsessed with her work that she barely remembers the boys are visiting. Meanwhile, a rugged ex-military velociraptor whisperer, Grady (Chris Pratt), is called in by the park’s freewheeling, helicopter-piloting CEO, Simon (Irrfan Khan), to “evaluate the pattern of vulnerabilities” surrounding a new dinosaur: a crossbreed of tyrannosaurus and raptor known as the Indominus Rex, genetically engineered by the park’s parent company, InGen. Seeing his scaly charges for the misunderstood animals they are, Grady opposes these experimentations, chiding Claire that “maybe progress should lose for once.”
It’s no surprise that Jurassic World falls victim to the same overelaborate plotting that’s become de rigueur for its summer-blockbuster contemporaries. Everything goes calamitously wrong thanks to the usual shenanigans: the paddock door that can’t close fast enough, the mysterious off-screen phone call, and a sneering security contractor, Hoskins (Vincent D’onofrio), obsessed with deploying dinosaurs in otherwise human-led combat missions. (Observing a pack of Grady’s raptors in concert, he muses breathlessly: “Just imagine if we had these puppies in Tora Bora!”) But the film also chases a handful of theoretically admirable subtexts: There’s a running gag about today’s kids being too distracted to be wowed by mere in-the-flesh dinosaurs, and the park’s boardroom doublespeak—with execs calling the reptiles “assets” instead of animals—verges on Verhoeven-level ridiculous. The case could be made that, stripped of its action scenes and near-death encounters (of which every major character survives at least three), Jurassic World is a goofy workplace comedy, centering on Claire’s bizarre mix of klutziness and cold professionalism.
None of this should count for much once the dinosaurs are front and center, but that’s where Jurassic World is truly depressing: The thrill of seeing these prehistoric beasts is subordinated to that of seeing them awkwardly airbrushed into the same frame as 21st-century humans. Grady and Claire’s screwball romance plays out against painfully cheap-looking jungle backdrops closer to the tourist-corralling wait rooms of Universal Studios than a real live tropical island—and whenever Grady needs to run, jump, or roll out of the path of an incoming dinosaur, the disjunction between tangible footage and the pixelated filling enmeshing him is impossible to ignore. Action scenes are drawn in impossible swoops and pans, with artificial dolly shots and rack focuses often starting or ending long before perspective has managed to cut elsewhere; the meagerest sense of spatial plausibility evaporates whenever the camera needs to move. Even the most basic camera angles around the park see the actors green-screened against bogus panoramic vistas, cushioned by eerie under-rendered digital halos. Every third shot looks more like an early promotional still than a scene from an actual film.
Jurassic World can’t tell whether it wants to be junk food or not, lovingly poking fun at some Hollywood tropes while shamelessly indulging others. Claire’s compassion and pluck come to the fore in a series of close shaves that see her saving her nephews’ lives (if barely), while also losing more and more of her heretofore wardrobe. At a budget of 260 times that of Trevorrow’s debut (Safety Not Guaranteed), Jurassic World’s aspirations to cautionary cynicism are bound from both sides by its franchise prerogatives; the end result can’t satisfy either sensibility in full. For the umpteenth time, moviegoers will be left with that magical Spielbergian appreciation for a fear of death strong enough that it can keep a family together—but that won’t stop them from also wishing the kids had gotten eaten.