Jurassic World is a movie about itself. It tells a story about the difficulty of making special effects exciting when it seems like audiences have already seen it all. In the movie, the titular theme park has been built on the same island that hosted the old Jurassic Park back in the day when people would gasp upon seeing a realistic-looking T. rex—just as many of the same multiplexes that are showing Jurassic World showed Jurassic Park 22 years ago. Alas, complains park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the dinosaurs that scared and thrilled people two decades ago just don’t have the kick they once did. So what’s needed is more height, more roar, more teeth.
Cowriter/director Colin Trevorrow has followed the same principle. He decided that the only way to please the crowd that once made Jurassic Park the most successful movie ever made (up to that time) would be to have lots and lots and lots of dinosaurs—and then turn them loose on lots and lots of people.
How is Jurassic World? Well, it’s really not very good. But then, neither is the original Jurassic Park, aside from two astonishing set pieces conceived of and directed by Steven Spielberg—one in which a Tyrannosaurus rex sets upon a car caravan, and the climactic assault by a group of small but vicious velociraptors who hunt our heroes with terrifyingly strategic intelligence.
There’s been an effort in some precincts to treat Jurassic Park as though it is some kind of classic, but it’s not, in any way. The screenplay is a mess, a sentimentally souped-up and poorly paced version of Michael Crichton’s far more tough-minded pulp novel, and its characters are alternately dumb and lumpy. Consider the difference between Jurassic Park and Spielberg’s 1975 breakthrough, Jaws. The latter, with its sharply observed characters and rich evocation of life in a summer beach town giving emotional resonance to the battle against the great white shark, is one of the screen’s definitive thrillers. Jurassic Park is nothing but a Luddite dinosaur movie. Still, no one had ever seen anything quite like those computer-generated creatures, and the execution of those two key sequences was so dazzling that they caused crowds to return again and again.
In classic disaster-movie fashion, Jurassic World tells much of the story through the eyes of a couple of kids who are clear stand-ins for its target audience—and who could not have been more boring if they had spent the entire two hours reading aloud from manuals on how to repair laser printers. When they are menaced, you root for the carnivore.
There’s a jumbled plotline involving some bonkers corporation that apparently wants to use dinosaurs to hunt terrorists in Tora Bora—I’m not kidding—and Trevorrow can’t decide whether the park’s multibillionaire Indian owner (played by the absolutely wonderful Irrfan Khan) is a hero or a villain. At one point, he talks about protecting the Earth and the glory of creation; at the next, he seems to care more about having invested $26 million in a dinosaur prototype than the fact that people are being eaten right and left.
Two actors save the movie. Bryce Dallas Howard gets a really nice Barbara Stanwyck/Rosalind Russell vibe going as a comically Type-A careerist who has to crack her perfect shell to save herself and her family from the calamity that befalls her theme park. And then there is Chris Pratt, who plays—oh, who cares: He’s in the movie, and he’s fantastic. Whenever he’s on screen, Jurassic World crackles.
Pratt became a movie star last year with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, in which he combined first-class comic chops with action-hero grace in an entirely new way. If he evoked Harrison Ford in Guardians, here he seems to be channeling the glamour males of the Hollywood Golden Age—a little Bogart here, a soupçon of Jimmy Stewart there, a trace of William Holden, and a dash of Henry Fonda. We haven’t seen a male movie star bust out like this since Will Smith in the mid-1990s. Now that’s exciting, and no special effects were required.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.