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June 15, 2015

Jurassic World: Superbeast



Boy, do I hate being right all the time.

…See?  I can reference twenty-year-old movies, too.

More SPOILERS here than there are cells in the body.  Read at your own risk -- unless you just love dinosaurs that much.  Can’t blame you, in all honesty.  ANKYLOSAURS 4 LYFE.


All right, let me lay everything on the line.  Is Jurassic World a good movie?  No, not really.  Is it the worst thing ever?  In a world where RoboCop ’14 exists, of course not.  Is it better than the original Jurassic Park?  Not even close.  Is it better than the other sequels?  I don’t know either of those intimately enough to judge, so you can decide for yourself.  With that in mind, I feel like at this stage in the game -- in 2015, decades after those disappointments, we’d be farther along by now. 

The guys behind the movie could have time to figure out just what made the original so special, and either reproduce it for this new (presumably big-budget) movie, or better yet, replace it with something of equal or greater value.  Really, that was entirely possible the moment they said “Let’s make another Jurassic Park movie”.  Nostalgia be damned.

But they didn’t replace it with anything.  They didn’t.  Jurassic World is such a nothing movie, I already feel like I’ve forgotten huge swatches of it.


So here’s the setup.  It’s been twenty-ish years since the preemptive closure of the original Jurassic Park -- but in its place stands Jurassic World, a fully-fledged theme park that sees some twenty-thousand visitors daily.  And more importantly, it fulfills the vision left by the late John Hammond (RIP Richard Attenborough): people from all over can gather around and see the dinosaurs in the flesh -- see them, feed them, pet them, and even ride them.  Despite that, the park has started to sag; interest in dinosaurs is waning, and that means a downturn is inevitable.

To fix that, the bigwigs behind the scenes decide to intervene.  They create the indominus rex, a super-dinosaur so powerful that only genetic tomfoolery could birth her -- and despite the genius, craft, and resources that went into her, the bigwigs and the park’s mission control can’t keep her behind metaphorical bars.  So the i-rex engineers an escape and runs amok in the park; as such, the key thrust of the plot is to stop the i-rex before it makes a meal out of the visitors.

…I have a lot of questions.  But let’s focus on some big issues.


First off, this movie really wants you to remember Jurassic Park.  The sheer number of call backs and references to it is absolutely staggering, to the point of being distracting.  Or if not that, then it’s certainly obnoxious.  Off the top of my head there’s…

--Two of the famous songs (you know the ones) used liberally throughout
--The night vision goggles
--The jeeps
--What I’m pretty sure is a copy of Malcolm’s book
--The use of flares
--The dilophosaurus (the spitting one)
--One of the original locations (technically the whole setting is the original location, but semantics)
--A new location that’s nearly a picture-perfect recreation of the old one
--A guy who wears a shirt with the original JP logo throughout the whole movie
--A full discussion of that logo
--Kids getting their vehicle attacked by a t-rex
--Mr. DNA
--Dr. Wu
--The raptors’ honking noises
--The banner from the aftermath of the t-rex’s entrance

There’s even more than that, I’d wager.  But the important thing is that there was a part of me that cringed every time the new movie had to highlight something from the old movie.  “REMEMBER THIS?” it screamed.  “HEY, LOOK AT THIS THING!  IT’S RECOGNIZABLE!”  Movie, I don’t need you to shoehorn in these references.  The original was on at least twice recently thanks to a marketing blitz.  Also, you don’t want me to think about the old movie, because the old movie was a hell of a lot better.  And here’s one reason why:


Jurassic World isn’t even remotely interested in that sense of whimsy and excitement -- of discovery, the awe-inspiring power of nature, or even science in general (unless it’s used as the means to a relatively-stupid end).  That’s established within the first two minutes of the movie, if that; the first film had characters gathered around eggs as they slowly hatched, only to reveal feeble, fledgling creatures that couldn’t chew through a potato chip. 

Meanwhile, Jurassic World has CG eggs that hatch to reveal CG killing machines -- monsters with razor-thin pupils that claw their way out of their yolk-filled cocoons to try and scare the audience.  And then seconds later -- bearing in mind that this is all before the title card -- the scene shifts to a snowy suburbia where some of the main characters are getting ready for a trip to the park. 

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that they didn’t understand the first movie.  Or, based on my best guess?  They did understand the first movie, but decided not to build on that so it could go its own way.  And really, that’s fair; I don’t demand a point-for-point retread, and I hoped from the get-go that JW would offer up something substantial on its own.  I thought it would prove itself using new means, not holdovers from a time when the Fresh Prince walked the earth.


I hope you’ll pardon me for not finding that substance.  I was too busy thinking about how fucking stupid this entire setup is.

I don’t understand how this plot happened.  Okay, so the park is in full swing now -- fine, I can accept that.  They worked out the kinks, delivered on the promise, and fulfilled Hammond’s ambitions.  It’s tempting fate, yes, but it’s acceptable.  But I asked this in the last post, and I have to ask it again: why would making a slightly-different dinosaur suddenly bring in more customers?  Are they using the Activision school of thought where if they toss in a new gun or a dog, they’ll make a billion dollars? 


The in-universe justification is that every time they create a new dinosaur, it does bring in more visitors and national attention -- somehow.  But isn’t it a given that they’re seeing diminishing returns on their investment?  Isn’t it just a matter of time before people get bored of the i-rex, too?    How much money are they willing to waste on stopgap solutions when these people can apparently create any sort of creature they want, up to and including great whites?

It’s bad enough that they went with Super T-Rex 2 Turbo HD Remix, but worse that they created this blatant hell-beast practically designed to break free and wreak havoc as well as do her best impression of Jason Voorhees.  And remarkably, it’s even worse considering that her murderous breeding was the result of bad decisions and blatant oversights.  You’re telling me, movie, that the park’s bigwigs were willing to dump twenty-six million dollars on a nightmare creature (technically two, even if one got killed off -- so that’s maybe double the price), and they couldn’t properly train and condition it so that it wouldn’t go on the rampage it was engineered, in-universe and out of it, to go on?  Is that what you’re seriously telling me?


Everything related to the i-rex is so heavily predicated on nonsense and easily-avoided problems -- which wouldn’t be a problem, except the entire movie is built around the i-rex.  Meaning that if any number of precautions was taken before or during its escape, there would be no movie (or at least a significantly-shorter one).  So, you know what time it is, right?  Yep.  Let’s ask some questions…with the proper music, of course.

--Why would you create a dinosaur with the ability and instinct to camouflage itself when the entire reason for her existence is to be seen?  Further, why would something explicitly stated to be a good fifty feet long opt for camouflage when its stomps alone can shake the earth?  How is it that Dr. Wu, one of the guys who was there for the first park and should know better than to randomly throw in whatever animal attributes slot in, didn’t raise a complaint while they were at the drawing board?


--How did the i-rex successfully delude the park’s mission control into believing that she escaped?  What about security cameras outside the cage?  Wouldn’t they have picked up the dinosaur running wild?  What about the security cameras inside the cage?  Wouldn’t they have picked up the dinosaur as well, given that one shot implies that they cover multiple angles at once?  Is rewinding the footage to find its last known location impossible?

--If the i-rex has a tracking device in her body that can be remotely accessed, why did they wait until after she escaped to activate it, especially since it only took a simple phone call to confirm her location (at least prior to the i-rex tearing it out)?  By extension, how did the i-rex tear the tracking device out in the first place?  The movie says that she remembered where they put it in, but does that imply that she had the dexterity to pull the device -- and plenty of tissue -- out without a problem?  It’s got bigger arms, sure, but how did it accomplish that feat?  Especially if that device was in a secure, deep, or sensitive place?


--Even if the movie (and most people) would rather pretend that the other two movies don’t exist, it’s pretty much confirmed that there are multiple islands nearby that the R&D team could use, right?  So why wasn’t the i-rex raised there instead of on the main island?  Better yet, why was the i-rex raised on the main island in the middle of a busy season?  Did they seriously think that the killer dinosaur would never escape?  Did they not at least plan for a contingency?  Did they not feel like they should wait until there were no people around to get eaten?

--Why is the primary containment strategy “toss in a bunch of mooks with ineffectual guns”?  Why is that the go-to plan after they waste time and lives trying to tranquilize it?  Why is keeping it alive a priority when A) one of the big bosses essentially established that money was no object, only to bring up the price tag about twenty minutes later, B) the i-rex is entirely expendable and replaceable, and C) it killed two people during its escape, and is en route to kill thousands more


This movie’s conflict is more heavily engineered than the i-rex.  Now, I’m not going to say that this movie is dumb and Jurassic Park is brilliant/flawless; holes have been poked, and it’s hard to pretend like there aren’t justifiable faults.  But here’s the thing: like any good story, JP manages to make audiences overlook that in plenty of was -- with thoughtful discourse and themes, with charismatic characters, with an unmistakable style and spirit, and yes, even some action.  Comparatively, JW doesn’t have that -- at least not to such a high degree.  Stuff happens, and people get eaten, but it’s all so…nothing.

But there’s a bigger issue, though.  We all know that this movie wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the entertainment zeitgeist being so hellbent on mining the past for present-day profits.  That’s a given, but it’s not a death knell.  What’s important to note is this: even beyond being terrible, the absolute worst thing a bad remake/reboot/sequel can do is make people question how good the original movie was.  If New Movie X makes people suspect that Old Movie Y had big plot holes, or nonsense, or goofiness, or just plain doesn’t live up to the hype, then that’s a problem.  It takes a real aptitude for failure to pull something like that off.

And despite my complaints, I don’t think JW crosses that line.  It comes close, sure, but there are some saving graces.  So at long last, let’s talk about the characters -- and with it, the good stuff.


Gray is easily my favorite character in the whole movie.  Setting aside the fact that he’s the only character by default who gives a shit about dinosaurs (and at least tries to bring back the first movie’s sense of discovery), he’s able to earn a couple of laughs and bring in some emotional moments.  It’s revealed early in that his parents are getting a divorce, and in a sense his trip to Jurassic World -- something he’s looked forward to for ages, to the point of obsessively spouting dino-facts -- is a last hurrah for his family…even though the parents skip out on the trip to meet with divorce lawyers.  It’s an interesting wrinkle, if nothing else.

By the same token, I can’t help but like his big brother Zach.  I was kind of down on him at first, because he’s the disaffected teenager who wants to play Casanova and would rather stare at his phone than dinosaurs (the hell is wrong with him?), but ends up showing his true colors well before movie’s end.  He not only wakes up to the excitement of the world around him, but does his best to comfort his little brother even before it’s time for the doomasaurus rex to start stomping around.  So all things considered, JW’s greatest advantage over its ancestor is that its two kids are better than JP’s two kids.





Gray and Zach might be two of the movie’s best characters, but in terms of development they don’t go quite as far as the average arc would demand.  The tradeoff?  Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire actually does get an arc, one that more or less runs from start to finish.  As one of the park’s core curators, she’s the one behind mission control, meetings and more, all at the expense of A) her personal life, family or otherwise, B) the dinosaurs she’s supposed to care about, but treats them more like numbers on a spreadsheet, and C) having a human personality.  She gets asked at one point “who brings an itinerary on a date”; my silent answer to that was “one born and raised in the big book of Hollywood clichés”.

Claire’s arc -- from cold workaholic to passionate risk-taker, as is the standard -- is delivered with the subtlety of a jackhammer to the liver.  She starts out dressed in a prim white suit and heels (add that to the list of JP references, thanks to Hammond’s outfit of choice), but the further the movie goes, the less clothes she wears.  I’m not even joking; every time there’s progression in her arc, she feels the need to strip down a little bit more -- the first instance of which has her tearing her jacket wide open.  There was a part of me that wondered if she’d be nude by movie’s end.



I know it sounds like I’m being harsh on her, but even if she’s pretty stock, I can’t say I hate Claire.  She may have a basic arc, but at least it’s an arc.  She’s in a unique position in terms of the plot.  She does do stuff, irrespective of her ability to shoot dinosaurs (though she does get in a point-blank shot at one point).  She even gets in some good jokes here and there.  And it’s thanks to her that the movie gets one of its best scenes.

When the i-rex starts its rampage through the park, Claire actually gets to see the carnage left behind up close and personal.  She finds a brachiosaurus struggling to survive, and caresses it gently -- and it’s arguable that that’s one of her first experiences with dinosaurs despite effectively being their overseer.  Naturally, the experience shakes her; not only does the brachiosaurus die, but she learns firsthand just what sort of nightmare she’s wrought upon nature -- and more importantly, she likely realizes just how much she’s lost her way.  She’s forgotten that it was never about the profits or the maintenance; it was about showing people the majesty of nature.  It’s the movie’s strongest moment, and her strongest moment as well.  I would’ve loved seeing more of that.

Instead, we get Owen Grady.


I knew this character would be a problem from the second he’s introduced.  In his very first scene, he’s not just someone who walks into a room, or someone the camera cuts to; there’s a pan to him standing on a catwalk for the raptors’ pen, and he’s wreathed in sunlight like some angel from on high.  (To be fair, there’s a slow pan up Claire’s body from head to toe in her intro, but something tells me that one had a different objective.)  You could sum up virtually everything about Owen in two words: “alpha male”.  That’s literally his role -- or what he tries to be -- as the tamer of four rowdy raptors…and it extends to the entirety of his character.

Nearly every scene he’s in feels geared so as to impress the audience.  He works on motorcycles!  He was in the Navy!  He dated Claire (once) but still tries to make the moves on her for some uncomfortable reason!  The raptors respect him, I guess!  He’s a quick thinker who always knows what to do! He knows that making a murderous ultrasaur is a bad idea!  He’s smart enough to understand animal rearing on a level that not even top engineers could consider beforehand despite the $26 million price tag!  He’s literally called a badass by others!  He earns the raptors’ respect!  He’s…really dull when you get down to it.  Anyone expecting another Star-Lord should lower their expectations now.  Lower.  No, lower, though.  Make them super-low.


Owen is emblematic of one of the movie’s big problems: it’s built on contrivances, and not just because the bigwigs decided to make a killing machine.  From the moment Owen and Claire have their first scene together, you can practically count the seconds before Claire becomes overcome by Owen’s manliness and goes in for a kiss.  Lo and behold, it happens -- and it’s as out-of-nowhere as you’d expect.  Let’s see how much she wants a relationship with him when, to quote a Zero Punctuation video, “the adrenaline wears off and she realizes they have fuck all in common”.

But that’s not the only instance.  Question: why do Gray and Zach decide to go off into the wilderness when Claire (their aunt) calls them in a panic, and the ride has closed for reasons unexplained to them (i.e. the superbeast running around)?  Well, obviously it’s so they can have an encounter with the i-rex, put their lives in danger, and start up an action scene.  Why is their transport vehicle a futuristic hamster ball?  So they can have a set piece where they get knocked between ankylosaurs like a pinball. 


Why are there still classified details about the i-rex when it’s long since started its rampage?  So they can have a big reveal that doesn’t really change the game too extensively (besides delay the inevitable climactic battle).  Why do Gray and Zach head to the abandoned, overgrowth-filled lobby from the first movie?  That’s because JW hasn’t finished holding up JP as our lord and savior.  Why are Gray and Zach the only ones that have the idea to hide inside when the flying dinosaurs run amok?  So the flying dinosaurs can raise the body count (and make a cool trailer shot).  And by extension, those flying dinosaurs are only set free so that there can be more devastation -- which they immediately opt for, because it’s not as if animals whipped into a panic would have the instinct to scatter instead of eating every human they see.

That feeds into yet another problem with this movie: even if it does have more action, the stakes aren’t high enough to justify it.  In movies past, the characters were in danger from any number of angles -- from dinosaurs all over the island, itself made dangerous because the humans couldn’t exert control over it (power and systems went offline in JP, for example).  In this movie, before the flying dinos get loose, there’s only one dangerous dinosaur out and about -- and even if it’s out of their control, the island isn’t.  Even in the climax, they’re able to operate the systems at their leisure.  In the meantime, their best strategy is “throw more redshirts at it”.  Riveting stuff, for sure.


It’s amazing how many times the movie manages to deflate itself.  Expecting wall-to-wall violence via the i-rex?  Don’t.  Redshirts die and dinos die, but it loses its impact halfway through -- and bear in mind that it still takes a while for its trek to even begin.  Expecting Chris Pratt to ride a motorcycle alongside his raptor comrades so they can save the day?  Don’t.  That scene shows up pretty late, and the raptors temporarily turn on the humans because -- being part-raptor itself -- the i-rex convinces them to join her side. 

Really, it’s hard to expect anything from this movie and be satisfied; I’m speaking personally, of course, but even then it’s hard to see JW’s appeal outside of a few choice moments.  It’s an action movie where the action is present, but doesn’t do much to get the pulse pounding.  And do I even need to tell you that it’s not the most thoughtful of movies?

Okay, let’s be real here.  Again, it’s not as if JP was the perfect movie.  It’s not like it was untouchable, or brilliant, or, as some have argued, all that smart when taken under the microscope.  But at least it could get people thinking.  At least it had a lesson to impart.  Here, the lesson has not only been imparted already, but the other stuff that’s offered is done without a shred of self-awareness.  The utter contrivances of the movie completely destroy any chance of having something meaningful or substantial to offer -- and that’s if you accept that the movie has anything substantial to offer at all.


Every time these people had a discussion in the movie, I came close to tuning them out -- because whatever point they’re trying to make is invalidated by the fact that they made a killing machine.  Claire thinks that the i-rex can be safely contained and controlled, even though they made a killing machine.  Then there’s her boss, Simon Maserati Masrani -- he thinks that they’re making Hammond’s dream come true because they made a killing machine.  And then he thinks that the situation can be resolved with ease and no (more) casualties and no harm to the park’s reputation, despite the fact that they made a killing machine.

And then there’s Military Asshole B (his friends call him Hopkins) who wants to turn dinosaurs -- raptors, for one -- into trained soldiers, and thinks that these things can be controlled 100%, even though they made a killing machine.  And he genuinely believes that things will be better for everyone if they go through with the dino-soldier plan, and everything will go smoothly despite no conceivable evidence…save for the fact that they made a killing machine.  Then it turns out that he and Dr. Wu were in cahoots this whole time, and all of the i-rex’s abilities were geared for deployment in the field…but they could barely make it past the prototype stage because they made a killing machine.        

Can you see how that might be a problem?


It didn’t have to be this way.  They had ample time to come up with a plot that wasn’t based on contrivances.  They could have taken Gray and Zach and a few other characters get shipwrecked on the remains of Jurassic Park (the abandoned remains, not this new theme park).  That way, they could engage with the dinos in their natural habitat and experience everything firsthand along with some greater tension.  Greater threats.  They could even include the i-rex as some kind of horrible mutation -- a perversion of Malcolm’s prophetic “life finds a way.”  There.  Done.

I mean, what really would have been lost?  Jurassic World?  Okay, sure, it’s cool that the dream was realized and there’s a park for people (in-universe and out of it) to enjoy.  But I thought that the entire point of this movie was to make dinosaurs cool again…well, cooler.  And the movie confuses that, again and again.  It would sooner play the famous themes over pans of buildings and crowds than of dinosaurs; hell, there’s even a moment where the two brothers are riding along and seeing the dinos and enjoying them, but the scene comes to an abrupt halt to go back to nothing mode.


It's not as exciting as it looks.

The one thing this movie had to do, more than anything else, was prove why this park (and the genetic tomfoolery connected to it) was a good idea -- and if anything, they disproved it even harder.  At least the first time around, there was a body count of, what, four?  It was an isolated incident that showed just how far of the rails things could go -- a lesson that Hammond learned first-hand when his grandchildren were put in danger.  So that lesson ended up being completely ignored (along with all the others), and others paid for it.  Hard.

I’ll give the movie this much, though: it’s pretty much a given that they can never ever go back to this island or this park -- the latter especially.  It’s discussed that any dino crises that pop up in the park will pretty much shut it down in an instant, and that’s in the best-case scenario.  Given that untold hundreds of people are killed or injured (including big boss Masrani) and there are still likely thousands of survivors, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next movie had a government that wanted everything even remotely related to lizards -- terrible or otherwise -- to be shut down.  And there is going to be a “next movie”, because Dr. Wu escapes so he can do…I don’t know, more dumbass science.

Also, this movie’s probably on the fast track to a jillion dollarsPerfect.


I should take time out to say that even if I don’t like JW, it’s not the worst thing ever.  It doesn’t reach RoboCop ’14 levels of awfulness.  Really, I’m not as mad as I sound -- mostly because there are some good things about it.  Again, I like the two kids, and Claire’s not all that bad either.  Some of the jokes are pretty good.  There are actually colors in this movie, and plenty of them.  And the final battle is, to put it bluntly, pretty amazing.  I wish there was more like it throughout the movie, but I’ll say this: it almost feels like they decided to turn JW into a Platinum game for a few minutes.  That’s pretty cool.  (Let the records show that I’m not so impassionate and calculating that I can’t enjoy a good fight.)

I’m more disappointed with JW than I am angry.  All it had to do to win my favor, at a bare minimum, was be Pacific Rim with dinosaurs.  It couldn’t even do that -- because the fatal flaw of this movie is that, in my eyes, it’s boring.  There’s no point in getting worked up about it, because the movie itself doesn’t do enough to work me up.  It’s not smart enough, it’s not bold enough, it’s not cool enough, it’s not exciting enough, and despite its modern-day release date, it’s not new enough.  I don’t know how you take a movie full of dinosaurs and make it so bland, but somehow they did it.  That’s cause for fanfare.

And that’s exactly why I’m putting it right around HERE on my SmartChart™:


There you have it.  If you’re feeling brave, see the movie and judge for yourself; don’t let my needlessly-long post be the final word on the movie’s quality.  I’ve made my peace with the movie, and I’m ready to move on.  So if you think you can find something substantial in JW, by all means go.  I can at least see why others enjoyed it, even if I didn’t.  So let’s leave it at that, and I’ll be on my merry way.

Now it’s back to the sweet, loving embrace of Kamen Rider and its myriad flamboyant suits.  Such is my way.


Now that's perfect.  Well, perfect-ish.

2 comments:

  1. I might have missed your talk on it, but did you go over Age of Ultron? It has the same problem that dogged me (and you) on this one.

    I-Rex and Ultron are villains made solely for the purpose of kickstarting the movie. They have no compelling reason to exist in-universe. They are physical manifestations of the Idiot Plot.

    Since they drive two-thirds of their respective movies, that's a huge problem. Can't there be even a half-assed reason to create these deathbots?

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  2. I'm kind of ashamed to admit it, but I didn't go over Age of Ultron -- mostly because I haven't seen it yet. I planned to at one point, but the friend I was going to see it with had an ear infection, so that went out the door. And then my brother wanted to see Mad Max instead...but then ended up going to see the new Poltergeist movie. I "politely" declined. I hope I can see it at some point before it bows out of theaters, but I guess it won't be THAT big of a loss if I don't. Although if there's one thing I WOULD like to see, it's how Black Widow was handled. There was a big controversy surrounding her a while back, but who knows how justified it really was?


    Anyway, the Idiot Plots. I can't say much about Ultron (maybe there's some better justification for him in the comics?), but when it comes to the I-Rex? It was just a terrible idea, in-universe and out of it. I guess you could argue that it's a way to connect to the first movie's idea of not messing around with nature, but it's handled in such a stupid way. (I'd at least hope that Age of Ultron has enough going for it -- characters, spectacle, good laughs -- to distract from the obvious stupidity.)


    I don't know the timeframe for this movie's production, but they had to have enough time to come up with a better plot than this one, right? Like, the one I came up with might not be perfect, but I did that in a couple of minutes. There are better possibilities out there, and possibilities that should have been tapped when there are hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.


    Then again, it's apparently doing well enough to set box office records all over the place -- so I guess all that matters is nostalgia-baiting and recognizable names.


    Nope. I'm not salty at all. Not one bit.

    ReplyDelete