Plot-wise, the film only generically lives up to its consumerist admonishment: after 22 years, Jurassic Park is now the full-fledged Jurassic World, a glistening island theme park replete with Starbucks, a goddamn Baked By Melissa, and a “Samsung Innovation Center.” (Lucky for the studio, “commenting on consumerism” also entails all the benefits of excessive product placement). The park’s ambitious CEO (played by Irrfan Khan) — backed by his operations manager, Claire (Howard) — is worried, perhaps in the same way as the real-life filmmakers, that what the park’s been offering for so long just isn’t enough anymore. And so he/they have created a prehistoric Munsanto soybean of a dinosaur to wow the public: the aforementioned Indominus Rex, who happens to like to murder “for sport” and of course escapes, threatening the 20,000 people on vacation in the park, as well as all the kindly herbivorous wildlife (sadly, the film’s vegetarians do not fare well). There’s also a subplot about a warmonger (Vincent D’Onofrio) plotting to militarize the dinos to replace troops in battle — to be fair, the film’s meatheads don’t fare well, either.
Claire’s two nephews are visiting on the weekend of the mishap, which adds to the chaos and also to the stakes — especially since Claire is notoriously chilly, and this is her chance to connect to her family. The nephews, it seems, are sent as a test by her sister (the underutilized Judy Greer) to open Claire up to her professionalism-stifled maternal side. And then there’s Chris Pratt’s Owen — the one character who desires quality over quantity — who saves the day: he’s the caring Velociraptor trainer who just wants to ensure happy lifestyles for the oversized reptiles.
What emerges is a panoply of exhilarating action scenes, mired in exhausted tropes. The visuals are stunning, and some of the most emotionally complex moments come from the dinosaurs (a dying Brontosaurus gives the best, most nuanced performance in the film). But when it comes to the humans, you can almost imagine the panel of screenwriters working in a control center akin to that of the theme park, pressing “insert character arc” and “insert character attraction” buttons.
The strangest thing is that beneath Jurassic World‘s formulaic romance and saccharine score lies true horror: there are scenes, towards the end, where the traumatized masses have gathered in a building reminiscent of the Superdome during Katrina. The film has a difficult time reconciling the fact that it’s depicting a larger-scale threat (and tragedy) than its previous films with its tone, which is, purely: fun and awe! And it is fun, until the moments in which it gives way to the uncomfortable dissonance of seeming like Zero Dark Thirty directed by Chris Columbus, and until you realize how much the movie is, itself, aiming no higher than trying to emulate the theme park environment it depicts and allegedly critiques.