Monday, April 15, 2024


 by Patrick Bromley

This is the second best Jurassic Park movie.

I started writing these "Take Two" columns, in which I revisit a movie I previously disliked, over a decade ago. I haven't written one in a long time because they started to all feel the same: I'd rewatch something I used to not like and would discover, most often, that I still didn't like it. There wasn't a whole lot of insight to be found, as is my special way. Then a few weeks ago Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire was released and I tweeted out something comparing that franchise to the Jurassic Park franchise, both perfect one-and-done movies with a whole host of sequels and re-quels that were better left unmade. Side note: don't ever say anything negative about Ghostbusters on Twitter unless you want a bunch of bros coming after you. Same goes for Last Action Hero, but that's a story for another day.

The whole thing got me thinking about Jurassic World, a movie I vocally disliked when I saw it in 2015. Aside from some good effects and the opportunity to spend two hours in the company of Bryce Dallas Howard, I couldn't really find anything about the movie that worked for me. Then a funny thing happened: they made two more of these fucking things, each worse than the one before it, and suddenly Jurassic World stopped looking so bad. In fact, I revisited it (on 4K UHD, which I will admit helped its case) in the run up to Jurassic World: Dominion a few years ago and actually found myself kind of enjoying it. I know. I'm as surprised as you are. Something in me is broken.
Keep in mind, nothing about the movie has changed. It's still mostly brainless, crassly corporate blockbuster IP filmmaking. No, it's me that's changed. Well, me and the entire cinema landscape. It's gotten pretty dire out there, kids, and while Jurassic World certainly contributed to The Way Things Are, it comes from early enough in the modern blockbuster cycle that there's still a real movie in there that's at least functional. At least one of the characters has an arc, even. I suspect my turnaround on the movie is the result of my standards changing, too; what seemed stupid and cynical in 2015 now seems almost quaint after a decade of lesser efforts. Once you've sat through a dozen Jurassic World: Dominions and the like, you start to appreciate the craft and invention of an OG Jurassic World.

I know there are readers who will bristle at my opening declaration that this is the best of the Jurassic Park sequels, because everyone has a different favorite. While the best sequel is probably "no sequel," I'll fully admit that some of them have value. I find The Lost World to be a dogshit retread of the first film -- the premise is literally "What if we went back?" -- but at least it's dogshit directed by Steven Spielberg. Jurassic Park III is fun in a stripped down, Roger Corman sort of way, though the premise is basically "What if we went back again?". I think the reason I now like Jurassic World the best of all the follow-ups is because it's the first one to actually deliver on the premise of "theme park with dinosaurs" in a satisfying way -- that is, a functioning theme park that's open and has thousands of visitors. That small amount of novelty matters in a franchise this bent on repetition.
There are other welcome additions, too, like a pretty new theme from Michael Giacchino or the idea of "trained" velociraptors or the way the movie leans more into science fiction than in any entry before or after. It's never hard sci-fi, of course, but there's an element of futurism running through the film, from the designer dinosaurs to the giant hamster ball the park uses to go on safari. The gyrosphere sequence, in which young boys Zach (Nick Robinson of The Kings of Summer) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are attacked by dinosaurs while trapped inside of a giant plastic bubble, is one of the movie's best set pieces, even if it is a retread of the "kids in the jeep" sequence from the first movie. Therein lies one of the biggest problems of Jurassic World: it does the standard re-quel thing in that it's more "re"(make) than (se)"quel." At least the movie knows that it's a copy and even incorporates that self-awareness into its metatext, at one point stopping so characters can dust off some old props they discover from the original movie including the aforementioned jeep, which they get running in a commentary on how there's still gas in the Jurassic Park tank. There's commentary on how Jurassic World needs to go bigger and meaner, too, as audiences these days demand bigger monsters with bigger teeth. We've already seen dinosaurs brought back from extinction. Show us something new.

I do wish Jurassic World was more willing to take chances and do something new, but director (and co-writer) Colin Trevorrow seems afraid of fixing what isn't broken. He was always an unusual choice to helm the film, having made a small, character-driven indie (the excellent Safety Not Guaranteed) before being handed the keys to a massive summer franchise like Jurassic Park. His career path has become the standard in Hollywood, with everyone from Gareth Edwards and Chloe Zhao to Jon Watts and Nia DaCosta making similar leaps in budget and scale. Trevorrow has a decent eye in Jurassic World, conjuring up some memorable images and moving things along at a nice clip. That he's working in the shadow of Steven Spielberg means he pales in comparison, because that's unfair because no living filmmaker does it better or makes it look easier. With the exception of some embarrassing glamour shots of cars -- reminding us that he is, at the end of the day, a corporate Yes Man -- Trevorrow acquits himself pretty well with Jurassic World. His biggest mistake was coming back to direct Dominion, easily the shittiest of the Jurassic Park movies, which called both his taste and his abilities into question. I say this having not seen his third feature The Book of Henry, a movie reportedly so catastrophic that it basically lost him the gig directing the third Star Wars. I mean, he couldn't have done worse than J.J. Abrams on that one.
Now that he's apparently the only actor considered for tentpole movies, I'm as sick of Chris Pratt as anyone, but he's totally serviceable in Jurassic World. I wish he had more of a character to play than Action Guy in Vest, but there's room for this particular archetype in the story that's being told. Faring better is Bryce Dallas Howard, in part because she's Bryce Dallas Howard and can do no wrong (he said, about to press "play" on Argylle) and in part because she has more of an actual character to play. She's still a cliche archetype: the icy corporate woman who defrosts with the help of her nephews, and while I know "learning to care about other human beings" hardly counts as character growth, at least it's something. She's functional, and that goes a long way in this sort of IP blockbuster. What ruins their performances is the sequels, in which both Pratt and Howard have no change, no growth, no arc whatsoever. They are sentient khaki.  

This is a weird piece to write, because I feel like I'm in a position where I'm defending a movie I find to be just on the "good" side of "ok." My problems with it are still my problems, whether it's the mean-spirited literal overkill of the assistant's fate or the slow motion raptor run or the general devolution of the movie's plotting and pacing in the second half. There's enough I've come around to liking in it that I'm still comfortable putting it behind the original in my ranking of the sequels, but that's with the understanding that there's a giant dropoff after the first. Ultimately, Jurassic World doesn't want to reinvent the wheel. It merely wants to reboot the franchise after more than a decade dormant. In this, I think it could have been successful had the films that followed had been more The Last Jedi and less Rise of Skywalker. Instead, Jurassic World became the first movie in the new reboot trilogy that's even serviceable. I'll admit that I like it now, even when part of me thinks I should know better.


  1. For a long time, I was embarrassed for liking this movie. But I always have, for many of the reasons you mentioned. I've had those feelings validated since then, particularly after the disastrous sequels.

  2. I've always liked this movie. The scene with Owen in the raptor pen, IMO, is fantastic.

    And I'd like to give a shout-out World as a rare legacy sequel to not ruin the lives of classic characters. To recap:

    - Leia and Han's only son (and Luke's only nephew) became a school shooter, and the Empire built another, even bigger and deadlier Death Star. Oh, and Lando's daughter got kidnapped and became a stormtrooper.
    - Professor Xavier lost his mind and accidentally killed the X-Men (and now mutants are almost extinct).
    - Mutt Williams, the quintessential rebel, developed such friction with Indy that he did the most un-Mutt thing imaginable: enlist to fight in the Vietnam War - which killed him, leading to Indy and Marion's separation.
    - Dr. Crusher had a son with Picard, but never told him, and indeed ghosted him, because she was afraid the child would be murdered by Picard's enemies. (In the utopia that is the United Federation of Planets!) Also, Picard was so devastated by Data's death that he never really got over it, and Riker and Troi's first kid died of disease.
    - Laurie Strode never moved on from Haddonfield, and became a paranoid prepper for Michael Meyer's return, thereby alienating her daughter.
    - John Connor got terminated as a child, and Sarah became a bitter, miserable lone fugitive.
    - None of Egon's fellow Ghostbusters believed that Ivo Shandor was still a threat, so he, too, died alone and estranged from his friends family.
    - Despite crime in Gotham being just about resolved, Bruce Wayne became a hermit in his decaying manor until Barry Allen shows up (this is an iffy one as it's not necessarily the same Wayne Keaton played before, but, close enough).
    - After the Independence Day counter-attack, Captain Hiller died in a plane crash, President Whitmore's mind was scrambled, and Dr. Okun spent 20 years in a coma.

    Heck, even one of my favorite movies ever, The Mask of Zorro, is kind of a legacy sequel (despite featuring an all-new cast, and inventing the specific character of Don Diego's wife) that begins with the hero's life being utterly ruined.

    All we learn from JW of the classic characters (not counting Wu as one, as he was only in one scene of the original), however, is that John Hammond evidently reneged on his disavowal of completing a dino theme park, though one can easily speculate the CEO Simon Masrani may not have been truthful about that. And, when Fallen Kingdom brings Ian Malcolm back for a Congressional hearing, he seems to be doing fine. (The less said about Dominion, the better.)

    Perhaps one of the few other legacy sequels not to wreak havoc on its protagonist's life for easy drama is Top Gun: Maverick?