Jurassic World is now on track to beat the box office records of both Avengers films, and it has a shot at beating Avatar. This is terrible, awful news for anybody who loves movies. Not because Jurassic World is a horrible movie—it’s actually pretty fun. But because this means a lot more pandering sequels.
In a nutshell, it has some fun dinosaur action, and director Colin Trevorrow clearly understands some of the mechanics of how to make a big monster movie that actually satisfies the audience. But the characters are weaksauce, the film panders heavily to fans of Jurassic Park, and the story is insultingly flimsy.
Jurassic World is better than Michael Bay’s Transformers sequels, but it borrows from their playbook quite a bit. Everything is built around topping the spectacle in the previous films—to the point where the movie actually comments on this explicitly, a whole bunch—and characters are painstakingly introduced with cliched “character traits” just so they can be thrown into the middle of set piece after set piece. The plot, complete with shadowy corporate maneuverings and loosey-goosey ideas about people and our place in the world, is overexposed and undercooked.
Compared with films like Mad Max Fury Road, which takes actual risks in following up an iconic trilogy—to the point where it’s hard to believe studios even let this happen—Jurassic World feels like it’s serving up predictable comfort food.
In fact, any time something does as well as Jurassic World has, you can expect a slew of films trying to capitalize on its success—and a good rule of thumb is, those films will be considerably worse. (The Dark Knight was an actually good movie, and it gave rise to a flood of mostly drekky imitators, for example.)
So even if you think Jurassic World was a pretty good movie (and lots of smart people do), then you should still brace yourself for an onslaught of worse movies. There’s no way the studios don’t look at this phenomenon and call for a renewed push towards brainless, more-is-better sequels and franchise reboots. They’ll probably ignore the things Jurassic World actually did right, like the few moments where Chris Pratt gets to have some sparkle as a raptor trainer, in favor of “more and bigger scenes of destruction pls.”
And it has to be said: Tomorrowland and Jupiter Ascending, like Oblivion and several other non-franchise movies before them, were also pretty meh. But it’s still sad that the massive audiences who come out for Jurassic weren’t there for something that at least tried to start something new. (And when you get a non-franchise picture that’s actually excellent, like Edge of Tomorrow, it’s a goddamn tragedy that it doesn’t get any support.) I don’t know why any studio head would greenlight another movie like Edge of Tomorrow any time soon, and more’s the pity.
Jurassic World wasn’t a bad movie, but it was kind of a dumb movie. And the fact that it’s now going to be one of the most successful movies in the history of cinema means that we’re going to be getting a lot of much dumber movies than Jurassic World coming down the pike. Because they’ll aim for Jurassic World’s level of dumbness, but they’ll hit somewhere a good deal lower.
Edited to add: A lot of the responses to this piece that I’ve seen seem to be missing part of what I was trying to say—which is probably my fault, since I wrote this piece in a hurry. So let me amplify a few things.
Jurassic World isn’t just a hit movie—it’s one of the biggest movies of all time. It’s joining an exclusive club that includes Avatar, the Avengers films, Titanic and one or two others. And it’s considerably dumber and less ambitious, as a film, than any of those—yep, even Avatar and Age of Ultron, which are both flawed movies that contain a lot of brilliance. Jurassic World feels like a slightly better version of one of Michael Bay’s Transformers sequels. (And I say that as someone who liked his original Transformers a lot.)
I love summer action movies—but I fear a world where everybody is trying to create the next Jurassic World, just as they’ve spent years trying to create the next Dark Knight, the next Avatar and the next Avengers. I suspect in the next year, we’ll see a lot of really shitty projects get greenlit or revamped to try and cash in on the Jurassic money. (Much shittier than Jurassic World, just like Clash of the Titans was much shittier than Avatar.)
In fact, I really liked pretty much all of the big action tentpoles last summer. This time last year, we’d seen a raft of movies that aimed pretty high and avoided gratuitous destruction porn, like X-Men: Days of Future Past. Even the worst movies last summer seemed to be trying. And summer 2014 also happened to be the weakest summer, in terms of box office, that Hollywood had seen since the 1990s. (Although Guardians of the Galaxy came along late and rescued the season, somewhat.)
So yeah, any time a movie breaks all the box office records, it changes the playing field. Remember that Amazing Spider-Man 2 made $708 million worldwide, and apparently still didn’t break even at the box office. Movies on that scale really need to make crazy house-on-fire money, not just regular crazy money.
One final thought: The right lesson to draw from Jurassic World’s success might be to let big series lay fallow for a long time. Arguably, it was the long wait between sequels that made this movie so huge. But I doubt that’s the lesson anyone’s going to learn.