Unsurprising: 2015’s Jurassic World took in $1.6 billion at the box office, making it the fifth highest-grossing film of all time.
Quite surprising: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull outranks it on Rotten Tomatoes.
That’s kind of like being the most popular Star Wars prequel. While Rotten Tomatoes is far from the be-all and end-all of cinematic criticism and general audiences did turn out for Jurassic World, I’m here to tell you ahead of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that the 2015 blockbuster tricked you. It takes advantage of our nostalgia to sell a significantly worse version of the movie we fell in love with 25 years ago. And everyone fell for it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with sequels or reboots of beloved properties, as long as the new films add to the legacy of the original rather than leveraging it just to sell tickets—which is what this man-eating drudgery does. Jurassic World is essentially a retelling of Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking Jurassic Park, just without any of the originality, heart or soul; from story structure and marketing to themes and visuals, the former heartlessly swipes everything you loved about the latter, without ever advancing the form.
Jurassic Park genuinely thrilled audiences 25 years ago with groundbreaking visual effects that had never been seen before; there’s a visceral surge in the movie when the first dinosaur, a docile Brachiosaurus, appears on screen to the unbridled wonderment of both Sam Neill, and everyone who enjoys watching Sam Neill undergo unbridled wonderment. It’s an authentic and well-earned “wow!!” moment. But that same feeling is hard to come by in today’s CGI blockbuster franchise era, and the Jurassic World filmmakers seem completely uninterested in shooting for bold new plot directions. So from the start of the promotional campaign, Universal shamelessly crafted a Jurassic Park 2.0 experience to avoid any and all risk-taking.
Why didn’t Jurassic World want to stand on its own? Because tying itself to a beloved property of the past was its best chance for success (admittedly: it worked). But not all franchises demand a continuation.
“There are movies like Total Recall and Robocop and Carrie that just aren’t crying out for a reboot” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore and a fan of Jurassic World, told Observer. “Sometimes, movies shouldn’t be remade because the originals did it best and they did it early. Those are examples where I think it was just purely because the foundation and the blueprint were already there. Reboots and long-awaited sequels are a real mixed bag. It’s one of the most hard to gauge sub-genres because they run the gamut from brilliant and sublime to ridiculous.”
There are many compelling stories you can tell about humans running from hungry dinosaurs, but the 2015 flick’s story structure is confoundingly similar to Jurassic Park‘s. It’s an intentional direction that is meant to sweep you up in warm and fuzzy blast-from-the-past feelings, but the strategy doesn’t hold up under closer inspection.
This basic plot synopsis easily covers either film (never a good sign): While at a theme park that houses cloned dinosaurs, two children and several adults are put in harm’s way when the creatures break free, forcing them all to find a way to survive. That’s not enthralling the second (fourth, really) time around, it’s just an enervating rehash. I love buffalo wings (I’m not a veggie-saurus), but for the sake of my plumbing, I don’t need to have them back-to-back.
In Jurassic Park, our main characters are forced to survive the fallout of human irresponsibility and man-made terrors. In Jurassic World, the same holds true, and just swaps out Sam Neill for Chris Pratt (and please give Bryce Dallas Howard something better to do). In each, a well-meaning eccentric billionaire underestimates the risks of his endeavor, leading to countless deaths. Both movies put a sibling relationship at the core of its story.
Jurassic World even tries to recreate the iconic moment in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex inexplicably sneaks up unnoticed and saves our human characters from a fellow dinosaur before releasing a savage roar. The parallel imagery is momentarily exciting, sure, but each reference offers diminishing returns as the movie trudges along with its blatant call backs.
Tampering with genetic power beyond our understanding, the arrogance of man, the illusion of control—these are all interesting themes! But they were all thoroughly explored in the first three movies to varying degrees of success. Why do we need yet another trilogy to dig into the same material? (I’ve seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and, except for a few beats here and there, it’s pretty much the same. The lesson: Don’t fuck around with dinosaurs, kids.)
Twenty-two years removed from the original and 14 years after Jurassic Park III, audiences would have eaten up any content connected to one of sci-fi’s all-time classics, as elapsed time compounded their appetites like the hungry carnivorous creatures they enjoyed watching on screen way back when. But just because there’s a market for something doesn’t mean that something is going to be, you know, good.
Blurring the line between homage and creation even further are all of the visual cues that Jurassic World takes from its ancestor for both spectacle and exposition as it tries to capture cinematic lightning in a bottle once again.
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“Often times, the nostalgia factor is enough to get people excited,” Dergarabedian explained. “There’s something about the magic of the first one that gives that little extra poof, and many times, the second reboot or the sequel to the reboot often make less money because it’s hard to recapture the thrill of the first.”
Like the mosquito frozen in amber that made all of the Jurassic franchise’s dino-antics possible, Jurassic World‘s story seems to be a relic of the past, carefully preserved for the sole purpose of static recreation. The franchise isn’t the only film series to trade on nostalgia, but it seems to be the franchise most content with coasting on fond memories of the original.
Many fans complained that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was too similar to the 1977 original and, in some ways, they’re right. A desert-dwelling orphan becomes involved in an intergalactic struggle and must help destroy the planet-killing weapon of an oppressive regime while learning about an ancient mystical religion. You can slot Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker or Daisy Ridley’s Rey into both without changing the dynamic of either film very much.
But it’s also important to note that The Force Awakens featured a defecting Stormtrooper in John Boyega’s Finn, an unprecedented character move in the Star Wars saga. The Last Jedi also shifted the series’ focus considerably, toppling the mythos of the Jedi Order and having Rey splinter off into her own faction of Force-user, noticeably detouring from Luke’s arc and 40 years of established in-universe history.
Creed was another “requel” that borrowed the same ebbs and flows of the original Rocky, but made us care about Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed in a different manner than we did for Sylvester Stallone’s hero. The former struggles to accept his lofty family legacy while wanting to become his own man; the latter just wants to prove he’s not your average bum. Creed also put the iconic Rocky in the most vulnerable of positions, giving the character cancer and having him wrestle with his own will to live.
These were new thematic directions for their respective franchises that were built out of a few old wrinkles.
Jurassic World doesn’t do that. Instead, it burrows into your subconscious to remind you of something you once loved, cocooning your rational thought in a haze of warm reminiscence.
And it’s not as if the dinosaur sub-genre has exactly popped elsewhere. Fox’s Terra Nova was cancelled after one season in 2011; Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur remains its lowest-grossing film to date (yet is ranked ahead of Jurassic World by IMDb); and Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost is one of his worst-rated movies. The brand is what matters most in this case, and without it, Jurassic World would have never broken out like it did. Instead, we’d all be sitting here making fun of the illogical character decisions, shoehorned sub-plots and overall ridiculousness while doling out begrudging respect for raptor fight scenes.
Jurassic World can be fun, but it’s mostly soulless.
As we head into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which is bursting with references, Easter eggs and blatant duplication, it’s understandable if you start to get excited. For a time there, Jurassic Park was the biggest film in history and remains a classic to this day. But even if you love these new movies, try to think about them as a book. Would you really want to read the same chapter over and over?