When Jurassic World came out last year, I was not particularly interested. I really like Jurassic Park, despite the fact that it totally scared me when I was a kid, as I had not quite yet become the bloodthirsty woman you see before you today–and because, embarrassingly enough, I felt bad for the blood-sucking lawyer. I know. Really, I know, but I’ve held a long-standing belief that nobody, not even greedy, cowardly bastards, should be killed in the bathroom. That’s a safe space, goddamn it.
Regardless. I had a fairly meh reaction to The Lost World and found little to enjoy in Jurassic Park III. (And can I just say, this franchise needs some serious work when it comes to titling? Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III, and Jurassic World? How does that make sense? Who is responsible for this?) So, I couldn’t seem to work up much interest in a franchise that hasn’t been much good since 1993, even if Star-Lord and Ivy Walker were in it.
But finally, finally I got around to watching the movie after all, partially because Mekaela wanted to see it, and partially because I really wanted to know where I fell on the High Heels Controversy of 2015.
I’ll discuss the high heels further below, but as far as the movie itself goes . . . yeah, ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t waste the money to watch this one in theater.
Twenty-something years after the events of Jurassic Park, a new dino theme park has been built on its predecessor’s corpse, proving that humanity never learns anything ever, ever, ever. But it’s all going swimmingly until their newest planned attraction, the Indominus rex, breaks free and starts killing everything in sight. Now it’s up to Velociraptor Trainer and Manly Man Owen (Chris Pratt) to help Workaholic Park Director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) save her nephews and stop the Indominus rex once and for all!
1. I have a number of problems with this movie, but I want to be clear: the high heels really aren’t one of them.
I, personally, do not do well in high heels. I have zero sense of balance. Possibly less than zero. If top tier yoga masters are the pinnacle of the balance scale at 100%, let’s say I’m somewhere roughly around -7. I walked straight into a chair last week and left a considerable bruise that wraps around my thigh and still hurts five days later, and that was wearing flats with no obstacles of any kind in my way. If I had to run from dinosaurs through a forest in high heels, I would promptly break my ankle and die. Taking off the heels would be a matter of necessity for me.
However, let’s not pretend that I would be a whole lot better off in bare feet. It’s not like Claire is running across a field of soft grass and daisies here. The ground is hard and full of
terrors sharp rocks, thorns, poisonous plants, dinosaur poop, broken branches, and bugs; for all I know, those bugs are actually vicious dinosaur-insects who can sting and poison you to death in a matter of seconds. (Hush, you: dinosaur-insects is a perfectly legitimate science term!) And since Claire is clearly used to her high heels and obviously has far better balance than I ever would, staying in them while running for her life might actually be a better option.
I can understand why the high heels might throw some audience members out of a story–although I’d be remiss if I did not point out that this is hardly a new problem, like, I’m not entirely sure why Jurassic World got so singled out for something that comes up time and again with women in action movies–but I don’t know that I thought they were so utterly ridiculous, myself, and I do feel like there were a lot of other, far more problematic aspects to both Claire’s character and the film in general that were buried under this controversy.
2. Because here’s the thing: this movie has kind of a screwy plot, incredibly stupid antagonists, a fairly slow start and, really, all sorts of things wrong with it, but I could have forgiven a lot of them because, you know, DINOSAURS. Despite not having the best track record with the franchise, I really did hope to enjoy this movie for some silly fun times.
But I just cannot forgive Jurassic World for how godamn judgy it is.
So, this is Claire. She is an intelligent, professional, well-dressed executive with an impressive job and bazillion things to oversee. She has allowed her duties to keep her from spending much time with her nephews. She has also clearly chosen her career over starting a family of her own, assuming she ever wanted children to begin with.
And for two hours and four minutes, Claire is judged for these choices by virtually every character in the film. Seriously, she gets called on her numbers first, feelings later approach by her sister, her nephews, Owen, and even the company’s CEO, Masrani (Irrfan Khan), who you’d think would care about the numbers at least a little, but apparently doesn’t, at least not when he’s in scenes with Claire and needs to reinforce the message that PEOPLE MATTER TOO.
And it’s not like I’m a particularly anti-people myself, but all the moralizing gets relentless. It doesn’t help that I fully believe that Claire would have been treated differently if she was a male character, say, Clark. Clark could have really gone one of two ways. It’s true that he could’ve been a thin, villainous character, in which case he absolutely would’ve been eaten by the Indominus rex (who will, henceforth, be known as Super Dinosaur). But the movie wouldn’t have spent two hours lecturing at him, either, and likely his inability to deal with children would have been played off as funny rather than as a serious character flaw–much like Sam Neil in the first Jurassic Park–because men aren’t actually expected to like or want kids.
Clark could also have remained a redemptive character who would’ve gone through an emotional, dinosaur-fueled journey to realize that he wasn’t paying enough attention to his family. But I just don’t believe that he would have been as repeatedly condemned as Claire is throughout the film. Think of all those many, many Deadbeat Daddy Redemption stories that Hollywood loves to produce. The Deadbeat Daddy is always the hero of the piece, and while someone probably criticizes him in the beginning of the film (the petulant adolescent child, for instance, or a shrill ex-wife), we’re still encouraged to sympathize with the dad, to understand that he’s just trying his best and probably had very hard circumstances to deal. I suspect Clark, despite being a Deadbeat Uncle, would have been more of the same: his teenage nephew would have given him the stink eye and his sister would have yelled at him for not picking up her kids, but that probably would have been the end of it. There wouldn’t have been jabs about his priorities every other minute, not to mention his heroics in the film would completely negate his absence in the past, which should also happen with Claire, but . . . doesn’t quite seem to.
3. It doesn’t help that Owen and Claire’s UST relationship never moves past tired tropes (Manly Man and the Ice Queen), and that Owen comes off as more than a little condescending towards his love interest.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Chris Pratt’s acting, but his character itself is so boring. He’s such a quintessential American hero that I’m a little surprised he’s not wearing a T-shirt that has a flag, some apple pie, a bottle of beer, and the words “I Love Jesus” on the back. He’s a casual guy’s guy, likes board shorts and drinking tequila. He was in the Navy because of course he was. He has a Southern accent because of course he does. (He also appears to be some kind of velociraptor expert, but I assume he didn’t have any fancy schooling for that. He’s not a nerd, after all! He probably just had dogs as a kid, or something, and learned how to extrapolate.) And there’s nothing in the script that suggests he has any kind of flaw; his failed date with Claire is laid pretty much entirely at her feet, with all the usual implications that he’s just being a dude and she needs to be less frigid and soften up like a woman should.
And again, the insult-flirting banter between the two of them might seem more sexy and less annoying if this film didn’t seem hellbent on showing how wrong Claire’s been all the time. But there is no equality here: Owen is obviously supposed to be Awesome, while Claire just needs to Learn Something. What’s particularly interesting about this is that Owen is simply not nearly as Awesome as the script desperately wants him to be: one moment, in particular, has the nephews geeking out over how badass he is, despite the fact that Claire, moments previously, did something far more badass. I’ll discuss it further in the Spoiler Section, but it’s kind of ridiculous.
4. My other issue with Jurassic World when it comes to being preachy is how it deals with scientific progress.
Of course, the whole franchise is built on the idea that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, science needs to be responsible, etc. etc. And I don’t disagree with those ideas, necessarily, but It’s Not Evil, It’s Science! is a very tired trope, and I’m not wild about cheap, lazy lines like, “Maybe progress should lose for once.”
Part of the problem too, I think, is that I never fully buy InGen’s need to build this Super Dinosaur in the first place. The movie argues that the idea of creating dinosaurs was new twenty years ago, but now it’s old and people lose interest quickly. Specifically, comparisons to NASA are brought up, and how the generic public lost interest in going to the moon. On the surface, I see how all this could be true, but looking at it closer, I’m not entirely convinced.
The NASA thing, for instance. You know what the huge difference between Jurassic World and the moon missions are? The general public doesn’t get to walk on the moon. Trust me, if there was an amusement park on the moon that normal people could purchase tickets to like they were going to Disneyland? Yeah, interest would ratchet right back up. (I mean, I wouldn’t go. But less claustrophobic people who wouldn’t panic in a space suit? Yeah, they’d be there with bells on.) In Jurassic World, though, kids actually get to ride on dinosaurs. Must more be said? Moon missions and Dino Land so aren’t equivalent things. Hell, people still go to Sea World, and whales are old as shit. (Admittedly, Sea World’s attendance has plummeted in the past few years, but that seems to be primarily because of that documentary that exposed the whales’ shitty living conditions, not because kids have gotten tired of giant sea creatures or sitting in splash zones.) And unless I missed a line of exposition somewhere, there are no other competing dinosaur theme parks with actual live dinosaurs anywhere else, right? This is literally the only place you can go in the entire world if you want to see a dinosaur up close and personal.
That people are dumb and greedy and make stupid decisions, sure, obviously, that’s true. It’s not like I can’t imagine people being idiotic enough to make Super Dinosaurs. But Jurassic World, in its great, preachy fever, works so hard to tie in its CAPITALISTIC GREED IS BAD message that I can’t help poking at the flaws in its argument.
5. On the upside, the park itself is honestly kind of awesome.
I remember watching the trailer for Jurassic World and thinking, “Holy shit, don’t you people learn anything?” After the events of the first, second, and third film, I wasn’t sure why anyone sane would ever willingly go near this place, much less pay money for it. However, when I actually watched the film itself–and especially when I saw the dinosaur petting zoo, for some reason–I will admit to feeling this sense of wonder that I don’t think the franchise has really had since the first movie. And despite knowing all the terrible things that have happened in the previous movies (and were shortly about to come in this one), I really wanted to go to this park. I wanted to pet the baby dinos. I wanted to be there.
6. I was also happy with some of the smaller roles. BD Wong coming back as Dr. Wu, for instance–I was excited about this, maybe especially because Gotham just came back, and while my interest in that crazypants show has dipped yet again, BD Wong as Hugo Strange entirely delights me. I’m also always excited to see Judy Greer, who is criminally underused but manages to give a fairly flat and almost entirely worthless role some much-needed depth. (Also, I loved seeing Judy Greer and Bryce Dallas Howard as sisters again. I really need to watch a film with them that’s actually worthy of their talent.)
7. And then there’s Vincent D’Onofrio.
Performance-wise, D’Onofrio is fine. I mean, he’s working that smirk like’s trying to outdo Wentworth Miller on either Legends of Tomorrow OR Resident Evil: Afterlife, but he’s perfectly fine in the role of Super Smarmy Antagonist. But his whole plan is just so immensely dumb that it’s like I can’t even with this. And, honestly, everything about what his character brings to the story feels like an unnecessary plot complication. I’m just not convinced he’s necessary at all, and I think this film would have been stronger if it had been rewritten without him.
If you want more details on that or anything else, follow below.
First an additional disclaimer: I can’t seem to stop comparing this movie to Deep Blue Sea, so considered yourself warned for SPOILERS on that score, too.
Now. It appears Hoskins (D’Onofrio) has been secretly working with Dr. Wu to turn the dinosaurs into weapons for the military. It’s a little disappointing that Dr. Wu is a bad guy, but not entirely surprising; he is, after all, wearing a black turtleneck.
Still, I was kind of bummed, mostly because I liked that moment when Dr. Wu calmly tells Masrani that you can’t ask people to create monsters and then get pissed off when their creations act monstrous. I didn’t actually think there needed to be a Bigger Secret Conspiracy at play; if you already have corporate greed as the instigator of this disaster, you don’t also need a shadowy military plot. Especially if it’s going to be this dumb.
Look, I’m not gonna lie: a dinosaur army sounds kind of awesome. Especially if it was, like, a dinosaur-rider army, like each soldier has one particular dinosaur that she bonds with. (I’m basically thinking the Temeraire series, only in present day and substituting dinosaurs for dragons.) But Hoskins’s plan here is monumentally stupid. He goes from seeing Owen do a few small raptor tricks to assuming that they can be easily trained and controlled for battle by anyone, and not just someday but now. He is absurdly confident than they can use the raptors to defeat the Super Dinosaur, and I just have zero idea why.
Even more bizarrely, it kind of works? Like, sure, at first it totally fails because it turns out that the Super Dinosaur also has raptor in its DNA cocktail and quickly becomes head of the raptor pack. But later Owen manages to sway a few of his raptors back to the Light Side (including Blue, clearly the only one who matters) and they (along with a T-Rex, and a big assist by the mosasaurus) eventually help defeat the Super Dinosaur. So. Maybe Hoskins’s plan to weaponize raptors isn’t so crazy after all, except it totally is? I don’t know, the whole thing is just dumb.
What’s really important: Judy Greer and BD Wong live!
I mean, Greer doesn’t step foot on the island, so her living wasn’t really in question, but I like the actress, so I’m still happy about it. BD Wong’s survival is far more surprising, but presumably he lives so that he can come back for some more mad science shenanigans in the inevitable sequel. (Also, Blue makes it too, because the T-Rex he allied with ultimately decides not to attack him once the Super Dinosaur is dead, which I think we all know is bullshit. Honor among dinosaurs? Yeah, I’m not buying it, guys.)
Claire, Owen, and the kids survive, too, which isn’t surprising, although I suppose they could have killed off Claire if they decided that two hours of crapping on her wasn’t enough punishment and felt that she needed to die as well. That pretty obviously wasn’t going to happen; the only reason it even occurred to me is because of that time that Deep Blue Sea surprisingly killed off Saffron Burrows, even though she’s the scrappy hero’s primary love interest. In that case, Saffron Burrows bites it because the “This Is All My Fault, Thus I Must Die” trope wins out over the more standard scenario where the hero and his love interest always make it. But as much as Claire is judged for her type A-personality, neglecting her family, and fully failing to see the dinosaurs as sentient, feeling creatures, she’s never really blamed for the deaths at Jurassic World. Maybe that’s why Hoskins exists, after all, to make sure that all this terror can be blamed on one person?
Hm, by discussing the ending, I’ve actually skipped past several things I had planned to talk about. Let’s just wrap the rest of this review with a bunch of more random notes.
8. Masrani is sort of an odd character.
As I said, he’s the CEO of Jurassic World (although while watching, I misheard and initially thought he was just a big financial investor) and in certain scenes–his helicopter ride with Claire, for instance–he has an odd, hippie, not-terribly-CEO vibe to him, presumably because that scene really only serves two purposes: a) foreshadowing his not-quite piloting skills and explosive demise, and b) making sure we all really, really understand that Claire is out of touch with her humanity. In other scenes, like when he’s in the control room and refusing to kill the Super Dinosaur, he seems more like the profits-first CEO guy we all expect him to be. And his death is a little disappointing because it feels like a gigantic throwaway; it mostly just happens so that Vincent D’Onofrio can take charge. Irrfan Khan’s acting is totally fine, but I’m a bit dissatisfied with the role itself.
9. Masrani’s death serves one other purpose: it releases the pterodactyls on the general public. The pterodactyls appear to kill far, far more of the tourists than the Super Dinosaur ever does; regardless, no one seems particularly concerned that these guys–who, you know, are not limited to this island because, like, WINGS AND STUFF–are on the loose. They basically just kill a bunch of people and take off, and we never really mention them again. It seems like a problem.
10. We also need to discuss Claire’s assistant, Zara.
I’m bringing Zara up for two reasons: A) she’s played by Merlin’s Katie McGrath, and B) she has the most ridiculously cartoonish death since Stellan Skarsgard in Deep Blue Sea, who lost his arm to a shark bite, fell hundreds of feet from a helicopter into the ocean (whilst strapped to a stretcher), and was finally thrown into a giant pane of glass by a mega-shark.
By comparison, Zara dies when she is grabbed by one pterodactyl, flown up hundreds of feet into the air, dropped, picked up by another pterodactyl before she can hit the ground, dropped into the ocean, caught by another pterodactyl who dives into the water to capture her with its mouth, and then finally is eaten when the mosasaurus comes up to chomp down both her and the pterodactyl who’s still trying to bite her in half.
It’s such insane overkill that it’s obviously meant to be funny, but giving Zara what appears to be a comedic karmic death feels kind of weird and more than a little sexist to me, considering that her worst crime is losing the kids at the park because they decide to ditch her while she’s too busy working on her cell phone to notice. Of course, she’s the grown up here, so she is the one responsible for the kids . . . but a) one of the kids is maybe 16 or 17, so let’s not pretend she left two infants in a bathtub next to a powered up blow dryer or something, and b) she probably didn’t apply to this job to play babysitter, you know? Not to mention, Zara does search for the kids and is doing her best to get them to safety when she suffers her needlessly horrific death.
Look, I’m sure someone’s going to say I’m overthinking this and maybe I am, but . . . it really feels like director Colin Trevorrow felt Zara deserved a karmic death simply because she’s a young woman who’s on her cell phone a lot, and honestly, that kind of grosses me out. It reminds me too strongly of how people lose their godamn minds when women take selfies because oh my God, vanity, SIN OF SINS. If Zara had just been killed like any other person in this movie, I wouldn’t have cared; I mean, it’s not like I ever expected her to live. Mek and I had her marked for death pretty much the instant we saw her. But to give this young woman–who is no way responsible for the total shitshow that goes down–a worse death than Hoskins and Masrani combined? Yeah, I’m not crazy about that.
11. The kids themselves are okay, I guess.
The little one, Gray, is played by Ty Simpkins, who I primarily know from Iron Man 3. He’s a nerd who’s super excited by dinosaurs, and I generally enjoy his enthusiasm. Though the editing doesn’t exactly do him any favors: for instance, we get a scene with him bouncing up and down, all happy, and then the next scene he’s suddenly depressed because his parents are getting divorced, and then the next scene after that he’s happy again, like the previous scene never happened. Obviously, moods can swing up and down in a day, or even in an hour, but the lack of transition between these scenes leaves Gray feeling a little unbalanced.
Zach (Nick Robinson), meanwhile, is a moody teenager with not much to flesh him out as a character. He is sullen and girl-obsessed, and that seems to be about the extent of him. Zach does have one or two semi-nice moments with his little brother, but mostly he’s pretty flat, and there is a totally weird moment in the beginning of the movie where he’s super not into his girlfriend, who meanwhile is very into him for no real reason I can tell. I was sure that this was going to come back into the story later, like, say Zach reveals that he’s distancing himself because they’re going to different colleges next year or something, but nope, it’s just there because teenage boys being assholes to their girlfriends is funny, I guess?
Also, their parents are getting divorced, which I guess is important because it gives them a reason to be on the island without their mom or dad?
But there’s so little to it, and I can definitely think of other ways to get the kids on the island without their parents, so the whole divorce storyline feels a little like unnecessary drama to me. Judy Greer manages to make it work, particularly in that scene pictured above, but there’s something about the whole subplot that, while not terrible or anything, just feels a little silly and underwritten.
12. Here’s where I really take issue with the kids, or more seriously, the script: Claire decides that, damn the danger, she’s going out to search for her nephews herself and enlists Owen’s help. They go looking, but the kids manage to make their way back to the other tourists on their own. Danger is not quite averted yet, though, because that’s when those pesky pterodactyls strike. One pterodactyl is trying to chomp Owen’s face off; the only reason it doesn’t is because Claire cold cocks it with a gun before shooting it. It’s a nice moment. Her nephews see her do this, and seem somewhat impressed for five seconds . . . until approximately the next scene, when they all jump in a Jeep to get away from a pterodactyl, and Gray’s like, “Can we stay with you?” and Claire’s like, “I’m never leaving you again,” and both boys are like, “No, no, him.” Him, of course, being Owen.
And I’m like . . . but . . . you just saw your aunt take down a dinosaur. I know it’s not the Super Dinosaur or anything, but pterodactyls are still totally killing people. Owen’s ass would be dead right now if it wasn’t for Claire. Faces are kind of important. It’s a problem when something eats yours, especially while you’re still wearing it. Meanwhile, the only thing these kids have seen Owen do is put a car in reverse, but they’re already discounting Claire as the kickass hero? Come on, movie. I know you want me to think Owen is the Most Badass Badass of All Badasses Who Ever Lived, but this is just getting ridiculous.
13. A couple of more Claire moments:
GOOD: When Owen criticizes Claire’s attire, Claire gets into Action Mode by rolling up her sleeves, unbuttoning her shirt, tying it into a little knot, and putting her hands on her hips, which just totally and legitimately confuses Owen. It’s the rare bit of comedy here that actually works for me because it’s one of the only times that the movie pokes fun at Claire without being an entirely condescending ass about it. Altering her business casual attire into a vaguely outdoorsy look is both such an earnest and clueless response that I find it entirely endearing, and it doesn’t feel out of character at all. Would there were a few more moments like this, and less moments where people tell Claire that of course she’ll have kids someday. Ugh.
BAD: While searching for the kids, Owen and Claire comes across a dying . . . brachiosaurus? No, it’s an apatosaurus, right? Well, whatever: Owen and Claire comes across grown-up Little Foot and take the time to sit with the poor creature while it dies. It’d be a nice moment except for two things: a) the kids are still missing at this point (in fact, they’re currently being menaced by the Super Dinosaur) and finding them feels like it should probably take priority here, and b) this is yet another teaching moment for Claire, who finally understands that the dinosaurs feel things too. I swear, I feel like I’d get subtler sermons at church than in this movie.
14. Oh, I totally forgot to mention Barry (Omar Sy), Owen’s raptor-training partner. I’m not surprised I forgot about him, considering how irrelevant he really is to the story, but I am relieved that he didn’t die, so there’s that.
15. Finally, a few things to bring up about Lowery (Jake Johnson), the nerdy comic relief who works in the Control Room.
A. His dinosaur toys gave me Firefly flashbacks. Sadly, there’s no “this land” homage.
B. He decides to stay behind and help when the other employees evacuate, which is a brave decision that I never, ever would have made. He also tries to do the whole sweeping heroic kiss thing with his co-worker, Vivian (Lauren Lapkus), who immediately backs up and is like, “Oh, no, I have a boyfriend.” It’s kind of hilarious and also a little bit surprising, given this script, so I was not surprised to discover that it was an ad-lib by the actress. (Also, I would have paid good money to see Claire have this reaction when Owen kissed her earlier in the film. That would have cracked me up so hard.)
C. I can’t remember exactly what it is that Lowery doesn’t want to do–open the T-Rex door, maybe–but Claire responds, “Damn it, Lowery, be a man and do something for once in your life!” Lowery’s wounded, “Why’d you have to make it personal?” totally made me laugh, but I feel obligated to point out that he totally already did do something by staying in the Control Room instead of getting the hell off the island like everyone else. Like I said, I know this movie wants me to believe that Owen is the finest specimen of manly manhood to ever walk this earth, but there is more than one way to be a man and more than one way to be a hero.
Masrani: “Who authorized you to do this?”
Dr. Wu: “You did. Bigger. Scarier? Um, cooler, I believe is the word you used in your memo. You cannot have an animal with exaggerated predator features without the corresponding behavioral traits.”
Masrani: “You created a monster!”
Dr. Wu: “Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”
Masrani: “It’s killed people, Henry.”
Dr. Wu: “That’s unfortunate.”
Karen: “Well, a promise tomorrow is worth a lot less than trying today.”
Claire: “Ugh, you’re using Mom’s lines now?”
Karen: “God, I am using Mom’s lines.”
Hoskins: “Millions of years of evolution, what we did learn? Nature is the gift that–oh SHIT!”
(Lowery, totally misreading the situation, sweeps in for the kiss.)
Vivian: “Oh, no, I have a boyfriend.”
Owen: “What kind of diet doesn’t allow tequila?”
Claire: “All of them, actually.”
Owen: “What is that supposed to mean?”
Claire: “. . . it means I’m ready to go.”
I mean, it’s watchable. I know I just spent 5,000 words complaining about Jurassic World, but it’s not, like, the worst movie I’ve ever seen. The action is pretty enjoyable, once it really gets started. The acting is decent, and the dinosaurs look cool. But the preachy and often dumb script coupled with the cliched character dynamics really prevented me from enjoying this even as a silly action movie.
Bryce Dallas Howard. It’s not her fault the script undermines her performance at every turn.
C. Which maybe I’ll change with time (I was, after all, initially hovering between a C+ and a B-), but I’m not sure I can grade a film higher than a C when 4700 words of a 5000-word review turn out to be overwhelmingly negative.
Women, get off your phones, stop worrying about your jobs, and focus on the one thing that really matters: having babies.