Who knew one of the pop artistic masterpieces of our time would be about Bryce Dallas Howard running through a jungle in high heels?
If you don’t know what to watch next, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World (2015) is available on Amazon Prime. The filmmaker cowrote the science fiction adventure film, the closest to authorship one is apt to come across in the blockbuster landscape.
Indeed, it ranks among the top ten highest-grossing pictures of all time.
Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson) and his brother, Gray (Ty Simpkins), travel to Isla Nublar to visit their aunt, Claire Dearing (Howard), the overworked operations manager for Jurassic World who foists them off onto her assistant, Zara (Katie McGrath).
During their visit, a genetically engineered dinosaur called the Indominus rex makes its escape and terrorizes the theme park. Together with her ex-lover, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the Velociraptor handler, Claire must find her nephews before the Indominus rex does.
Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) is to its respective series what Jurassic World is to its own. In a world where we grow up knowing Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, how is a director to subvert our expectations again?
Correspondingly, for a generation raised on Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993), is it possible to feel what it’s like to lay eyes on dinosaurs for the first time again, as contemporaneous viewers did?
In the eyes of audience surrogate Zach, a bored teenager stuck babysitting his brother, more interested in the girls around him (even though he has an offscreen girlfriend) than he is in the dinosaurs, Jurassic World is old news.
As a result of such indifference, the park modifies a never-before-seen attraction, the Indominus rex. But, as always with Jurassic Park, playing God and exploiting nature for capital come at a devastating price.
The Indominus rex is as postmodern a villain as Catherine Tramell, Ghostface, and Heath Ledger’s Joker, killing for the sake of itself, creating conflict because life would be a static, existential purgatory without it.
Doctor Henry Wu (franchise alum B.D. Wong) designs a predator to kill not for survival, but because it can, to entertain an overstimulated public. To quote Ghostface himself, “Motives are incidental.”
And in a Tarantinoesque gesture, Trevorrow incorporates his product placement into his world-building. Brand names from our popular culture have plastered their logos throughout the storefronts of Jurassic World, despite the tragedies of the past, or even because of them.
In other words, the text knows it’s a text, and the Indominus rex exists because all watchable cinema has need of an Indominus rex, and Jurassic World the subject and Jurassic World the representation are both in the business of turning a profit.
As self-referential as the movie is, its storytelling still leaves a lot to be desired. Zach and Gray off-handedly introduce a divorce plot thread between their parents, Scott Mitchell (Andy Buckley) and Karen Dearing (Judy Greer), amounting to exactly nothing.
In addition to Howard’s infamously impractical shoes, it would have been more feministic if Claire’s relationship with Owen were platonic, as an alternative to the male-gaze wish fulfillment of the patriarchal hero getting the damsel in distress at the end.
These offenses are nowhere near as egregious as the fate of Zara. It is a gratuitous sequence, and worse, played for laughs. As unsympathetic a character as Zara is, she doesn’t deserve to be “punished” as women too often are in media.
Still, part of this popcorn flick’s wizardry is that it isn’t so much “style over substance” as the style IS the substance, and, if mainstream Hollywood fetishizes violence, then Jurassic World is only giving the people what they want.