People seem not to understand Jurassic World. Some have complained that it is whining about product placement, while simultaneously indulging in the most ludicrous product placement of all time (squeaky clean new SUVs look just as out of place in the jungle as they do in a zombie apocalypse). Others have said that it is light on frights and the blood is unconvincing, while reflecting that the movie feels like a family-friendly ride at the theme park it depicts. What nobody seems to notice, is that it is an homage, or at times parody, of sequels themselves - not just a continuation of, and love letter to, Spielberg's 1993 original.
There are so many self-aware sequel references, I don't quite understand how everybody has missed them. First, there is the gigantic carnivorous macguffin, the Indominus Rex, explicitly discussed in terms of sequels - that it needs to be bigger, scarier, with more teeth. It is such an allegory for cinema sequels, they explicitly point out that it is genetically spliced with other creatures, like a Hollywood executive greenlighting a film; "Let's do Alien, but combine it with a war film. Or, let's do Predator, but this time in the city! Or even better, let's do Alien AND Predator together!"
Jurassic World is riffing on so many sequels. The fully functional theme park where people are being slowly picked off before a gigantic catastrophe obliterates guests and administration alike, recalls one of my favourite schlocky sequels, Jaws 3D, where Dennis Quaid plays one of Sheriff Brody's grown children, battling an implausibly enormous shark at something like Sea World. The aforementioned Aliens, James Cameron's bombastic action sequel to Ridley Scott's terse science-fiction horror movie, is given a nod early in Jurassic World as soldiers with cameras and heart monitors are devoured, and we watch it all unfold as data on a screen. Terminator 2 is referenced as Chris Pratt enlists Jurassic Park's villains, the velociraptors, as the good guys of Jurassic World, just like Arnie coming back to be a good robot.
The constant throwbacks to the original Jurassic Park are not just nostalgia triggers. Stumbling across the abandoned visitor centre is, in story terms, more ludicrous than any of the CGI nonsense taking place elsewhere in the film, so it must be there for reasons other than to say "yes, for the fifteenth time, this is the same theme park as the Spielberg one." Colin Trevorrow wants us to remember every last moment of the original, not to compare his film unfavourably with it, but to remind us that a sequel does not pave over the original, it is still standing. JJ Abrams does not wipe out Star Trek or Star Wars with his entertaining lens-flare-filled updates, they're still there, completely intact, covered in vines somewhere in the past.
Most importantly, Jurassic World is entertaining! People get eaten by dinosaurs. Lots of people, by lots of dinosaurs. I was applauding every silly kill. This is not a movie where people agonise and cry over every death, they just keep ploughing forward, like a sci-fi movie from the fifties. The love story between the two leads is functional at best, and another nod to sequels past. Bryce Dallas Howard as stuffy boss of the whole park, and maverick naval-officer-cum-dinosaur-trainer Chris Pratt, have the same kind of perfunctory love story you will find in one of the greatest sequels of all time, The Empire Strikes Back, where the loveable rogue melted the heart of the frosty princess over the course of about three brief scenes.
Don't go to the fourth film in a franchise looking for originality and great pathos. This is a blockbuster sequel that knows it is a blockbuster sequel, and it will never get ahead of you or confuse you. Like a ride in a theme park, your seatbelt is safely fastened, and though it is stupid and fun, you are never in danger of falling out.
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