During the climax of Jurassic World, two dinosaurs tear into each other with ferocity and menace. The movie builds to this moment, capturing its CGI spectacle in loving wide shots with Michael Giacchino’s nostalgia-tinged score pumping in the background. But for a few seconds, the camera pans to the movie’s three main characters, who are darting in between the dinosaurs’ legs, scrambling to get out of the way.
I wish they had. Human characters are a necessary component of any movie in which dinosaurs terrorize a theme park full of unsuspecting vacationers. But Jurassic World makes a convincing argument that future installments (of which there will undoubtedly be many) ought to do away with them entirely. The movie squanders good actors and does bad no ones no favors. It seems confident that its characterizations have one or two more dimensions than they actually do. And it’s hard to build up a dino-fueled head of steam when the action periodically pauses for another round of unconvincing dialogue.
The main characters are the raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) – I’ll call him Dino Whisperer – and the Jurassic World theme park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). They come together when Claire’s bosses ask her to bring Dino Whisperer in for an inspection of their latest creation, a mammoth hybrid dino dubbed the indominus rex. Plot-wise, here’s what you need to know: the indominus rex breaks loose, followed closely by hell, but not by Claire’s heels.
Dino Whisperer represents Chris Pratt’s surprisingly paltry audition for Indiana Jones. It’s a testament to how much goodwill Pratt has built up in the last two years that his character here hasn’t offended or at least irritated more of this movie’s dino-sized paying audience. Owen is a condescending know-it-all who treats women like mindless fools. Claire, as written, is a mindless fool, inept at both managing the park and taking care of children. And yet the movie asks us to appreciate their toxic exchanges as playful repartee rather than mean-spirited nastiness. I resisted.
The other characters aren’t much better. Claire’s two nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins, also the kid who hangs out with Tony Stark in Iron Man 3), visiting the park at a convenient time for setting up action sequences but not for their concerned and imminently divorcing parents, are comrades one minute, enemies the next. They’re plucked straight out of The Goonies – the younger one has a squeaky, high-pitched voice, the older one a sardonic, detached affect. They also have character traits that seem important in one scene only to be discarded in the next – Gray (Gray?!) is briefly afraid of heights, Zach sometimes makes passes at pretty girls he sees in the park. Nothing pays off.
There’s also the control board operator (Jake Johnson), the park owner (Irrfan Khan) and the biologist (B.D. Wong). All three of those performances are both good and underutilized. Modern Hollywood blockbusters have a way of squandering the talented actors there for the paycheck but willing to play in the sandbox. This one is no exception.
But no one goes to Jurassic World to see people talk. They go to see dinosaurs attack people, and each other. Trevorrow captures some nifty moments of each, peaking in a sequence that recalls Hitchcock’s The Birds for the sheer discomfort of seeing hordes of people holding their heads and screaming for cover. There’s also a fun romp between the indominus rex and a floating mechanical sphere occupied by the two young brothers.
But I wish this movie had more fun and more romp. It’s one thing to give up on human characters entirely, but Jurassic World doesn’t do that exactly. It presents characters as if they’re appealing variations on an archetype, when really they’re just basic distillations of that archetype’s least appealing qualities. I’m disappointed not that the characters aren’t interesting, but that the movie wants us to believe they are.
By now it’s probably clear that this movie wasn’t made for people like me, who have seen and enjoyed the first Jurassic Park but felt no particular desire to see that movie’s many appealing qualities roughly and haphazardly translated back to the screen twenty years later. A better, less distracted and more coherent script might have made the dinosaur moments feel triumphant. Instead, they’re a respite from the rest of the movie’s mind-numbing chaos. For the purposes of this movie, and the future of Hollywood, dinosaurs are alive and well. People, on the other hand, might be another story.