It may not invoke the same sweeping sense of awe and majesty that the original Steven Spielberg-helmed classic Jurassic Park did when it first bowed in theaters over two decades ago, but Jurassic World, the latest film to carry on the saga of the ill-fated dinosaur theme park, brings enough fun and thrills to stand proudly with the rest of the series and potentially carry it forward. It’s a summer blockbuster through and through — light on character development and plot, heavy on action, chases, and “wow factor” — but in all fairness, so were its predecessors, and it’s best to keep that mind when you head to out to see it.
Or better yet, don’t keep it — or anything else — in mind at all. Just sit back, turn off your brain, put on those 3D glasses, and enjoy the ride.
Twenty-two years after billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond (played by the late Sir Richard Attenborough) attempted to open his original Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Jurassic World stands proudly on the island as the spiritual successor to his vision. A fully-functioning luxury resort a la Walt Disney World, complete with hotels, a Downtown Disney-like main street, monorails connecting all parts of the island, petting zoos and other interactive exhibits, the park hosts 20,000 tourists a day, and has made the scandal of the first park’s failure to open all but a bad memory. Owned by yet another somewhat eccentric billionaire, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi), who earnestly believes himself and everyone he employs at Jurassic World as caretakers of Hammond’s dream, the park, now in operation for a decade, is a success, but is beset by the same primary challenge that faces other modern theme parks and resorts: how to keep attendance up, crowds cheering, and vacation packages selling.
That challenge, as well as the responsibility of overseeing just about all of the park’s day-to-day operations, falls to Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the capable and career-minded administrator of Jurassic World. Because she’s tasked with tracking daily attendance numbers, year-to-year profitability reports, potential corporate sponsorships of new attractions and other high-level paper-pusher tasks, she has little time for things that fall outside of her job description, like entertaining family when it shows up on her doorstep. Her nephews, moody Zach (Nick Robinson), 16, and dinosaur enthusiast Gray (Ty Simpkins), 11, children of Claire’s soon-to-be-divorced sister Karen (Judy Greer), get shipped off to the park for a week-long vacation, and no sooner have they arrived that Claire sends them off into the park with VIP passes in the care of an uninterested assistant.
Claire’s more pressing crisis of the day is dealing with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an ex-Navy animal behavior specialist studying the potential for forming and maintaining working relationships with velociraptors in a remote area of the island. Masrani wants Grady to assess the safety and security of the paddock for the park’s latest upcoming attraction, the impressively-named “Indominus Rex”, the park’s first genetically-modified hybrid dinosaur. That security, of course, proves to be woefully lacking, as ol’ Indominus proves to be exactly what he was designed to be and more: an alpha-predator with intelligence and capabilities far more lethal than what was anticipated. The Frankenstein Beastie’s escape sets off a chain reaction of catastrophes across the island as it closes in on the park’s densely-populated areas, while Owen, Claire, and the park’s “Asset Containment Unit” (lots of paramilitary security types in body armor with big guns that you know won’t make a darned bit of difference) attempt to trap the monster and keep Zach, Gray, and the thousands of other tourists on the island from becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet 65,000,000 years in the making.
In many ways, what director Colin Trevorrow (2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed) endeavors to achieve with Jurassic World the film mirrors what the film’s character Masrani hopes to accomplish with Jurassic World the resort: to honor the vision that sparked its creation and to properly care for and carry forth its legacy. Give Trevorrow (who also co-wrote the final draft of the film’s screenplay) a great deal of credit, as he’s able for the most part to craft a fun thrill ride of a film that avoids recycling and repackaging the scares of its predecessors while still utilizing enough of the iconic images that came before to evoke just the right amount of nostalgia.
Yes, the film’s script follows a fairly predictable disaster-film formula, complete with requisite first act character introductions and establishment of the potential threat. But woven into just about every shot in that first half-hour or so are a multitude of visual cues taken from Spielberg’s 1993 film, all with John Williams’ unforgettable theme music in the background, that audiences who fondly recall that first adventure will instantly recognize. Reminders of Hammond and other characters from Jurassic Park pop up in places both expected and unexpected, and together they bring a “wow factor” of their own, a genuine feeling of excitement at returning to that place and seeing it be even more incredible than even its original creator conceived. That nostalgia-fueled excitement only adds to the sense of dread audiences should feel as the film foreshadows it all going wrong. In their own ways, Masrani, Claire, and everyone else at Jurassic World who believe they’re in control are repeating the same mistake audiences saw Hammond make all those years ago. Every time you hear one of the characters refer to a dinosaur as an “asset”, you know that character is most likely going to pay for it, along with everyone else on the island.
As for those characters themselves, well, just as they were in Spielberg’s film, they’re relatively static and archetypal. Chris Pratt brings credible intensity and testosterone to his performance as Owen, but if you’re a fan of his comedic work or even his Marvel Studios work in Guardians of the Galaxy, you may find yourself wishing he’d crack a little more wise throughout the film to lighten things up a bit. Bryce Dallas Howard also stands out here, as she delivers a solid turn as the one character in the film given any real development in terms of where she is emotionally and philosophically from the film’s start to finish, and also a female lead not relegated at any time in the film to “damsel in distress” status. Vincent D’Onofrio, who has been popping up in heavy roles a great deal as of late — Marvel’s “Daredevil” series on Netflix and Run All Night with Liam Neeson earlier this year, just to name a few — is capably despicable here as the film’s primary non-dinosaur antagonist; and BD Wong, playing the only returning character from the original film, gets a chance to chew a little scenery as well as play an instrumental role in pointing out where the franchise might be headed next.
But let’s be honest here for a moment. Just as Godzilla last summer and Pacific Rim the summer before that, Jurassic World isn’t being eagerly anticipated for its human characters — if anything, audiences are there to see those characters get chased, stepped on, and/or eaten. What folks are really coming to see are the dinosaurs, and the film does certainly provide lots and lots of shots of those. Special effects technology has certainly come a long way since the 90’s, and while the original Jurassic Park‘s landmark dinosaur effects still hold up under scrutiny and inspire the proper sense of awe, the advantage of motion capture technology simply lends this production a great deal more flexibility in terms of the action they can deliver on screen. Is it all as impressive as it was 20+ years ago? For most who know the previous films and all that’s come down since, probably not — we’ve all just seen too much in the intervening years, and too much done really well.
But while you may not be blown away by what you see in terms of the prehistoric animals on screen, that does not mean you won’t enjoy it, especially when it comes time to see the series’ most familiar ones take center stage in the action. Put it another way: if you’re there to see T-Rex roar, velociraptors tear through the jungle in search of prey, and flights of pteranondons swoop out of the sky and gobble up screaming, fleeing tourists, you won’t leave Jurassic World disappointed.
In fact, you’ll most likely come away looking forward to more.
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong and Irrfan Khan. Directed by Colin Trevorrow.
Running Time: 124 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.