A killer cast, striking effects, and arm tickling nostalgia make Jurassic World well worth heading back to the park.
It’s been 14 years since the last Jurassic Park film, and 22 years since Steven Spielberg changed everything with the original. Even so, many of us still hold a special place for that monumental original film — one of the first to successfully meld CGI with animatronics for an adventure unlike anything before it. In fact, long before I sat down to watch Jurassic World, I couldn’t stop calling it Jurassic Park. And I’m not alone — I heard others do the same following the Jurassic World screening, and no one batted an eye.
That hallowed history, along with some epic trailers (and red-hot star, Chris Pratt), has made Jurassic World one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the summer. These days, though, if you’re looking for classic Amblin entertainment (Spielberg’s production company) you’re more likely to get it from an upstart director who grow up watching the master than the man himself (See Super 8, produced by Spielberg, and directed by a young turk named JJ Abrams).
It’s clear in the first five minutes of Jurassic World that director and Amblin newcomer, Colin Trevorrow, is very much in that camp. And while the new film only has the bones of the original film to carbon date it, it retains many of Spielberg/Crichton’s charms. From the second the camera rises to reveal this fully operational dinosaur theme park in all its glory – set to John Williams’ classic theme (who’s also absent aside from his musical legacy) -- the hook is set, and we’re ready for another ride.
The movie is set 20 years after the catastrophe that befell Jurassic Park, built by the lovable but arrogant John Hammond. In its new evolution as Jurassic World, the theme park has become a roaring success under the command of eccentric billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Utilizing state-of-the-art technology, and several new dinosaurs created by the original park’s bioengineer, Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), the new park has fulfilled Hammond’s dream, becoming a magnificent thrill ride that hosts 10s of thousands of guests at a time.
Incredibly, however, the park is struggling to keep up with an incessant demand for increasing profits. In a world where a trip to a dinosaur theme park has become nearly as unremarkable as a jaunt to the zoo, regular attractions are becoming old hat, particularly for teens who’d rather text than watch a mighty T-Rex devour a sacrificial goat, or kayak amid herds of herbivores.
Enter our heroine, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a stiff business woman bordering on robotic, whose job it is to continually find new ways to keep cash pouring in for shareholders. She’s so consumed by that job, in fact, that she has no time for her visiting nephews, brilliant 11 year-old Gray (Ty Simpkins), and indifferent 16 year-old Zach (Nick Robinson), who’s one of the park’s many bored teens, more interested in girls than monstrous reptiles from the past.
To keep the park raking in piles of cash, Claire’s team has created a new frontier in dino-engineering: A super-predator called the Indominus Rex (it’s a dumb name, but that’s acknowledged in the film), designed to garner corporate sponsorship, keep eyes wide with amazement, and ensure dollars roll in at an ever-faster pace.
Wouldn’t you know it, the plan doesn’t turn out so well.
Even beyond the inherent nostalgia of the original, there’s enough emotional gravity here to hang your hat on.
As the story unfolds, we see Claire struggling to keep the new hyper-dinosaur - which she refers to as "the asset," secure. For assistance, she reluctantly recruits Owen (Chris Pratt), an ex-Navy vet on the island who has the extraordinary job of training a young pack of Velociraptors. Owen is, by all accounts, a badass. He’s the alpha of his pack, though his raptors are still wild, evidenced by the fact that they almost rip him to shreds when he goes after an intern who falls into the raptors’ pen early on. As Owen starts picking apart the security of the I-Rex’s domicile, this new predator of mysterious makeup gets free -- and that’s when all hell breaks loose.
There's no escaping the similarities of Jurassic World’s plot and the footing of the film itself. The movie enters the summer blockbuster race in an age when tsunami tidal waves make cruise ships look like bath toys in San Andreas, and the liftoff of an entire city floating through the air under the command of a fully robotic villain barely warrants the bat of an eye in Avengers: Age of Ultron. There is no doubt that both inside Jurassic World's alternate universe of living dinosaurs, and here in the real world, the film had to be bigger, and the new dinosaurs, absolutely monstrous.
“No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” as Claire says.
There's also no doubt that Jurassic World is up to the challenge. In virtually every way, the film ups the ante over its predecessors. These new monsters are breathtaking in both their scope and their realism. And, despite the assault of wave after wave of massive blockbusters in the last two decades, there are several moments of true marvel, and even a touch of terror. More than once, I glanced over at the five-year-old a few seats over wondering how he was handling the reptilian chomp fest. Suffice it to say, you shouldn’t get too close to any characters in this movie – they may not last long.
Still, while epic action translates into big cash overseas, here in the United States, films seem to require a deeper human connection to strike a chord with fickle audiences. Luckily for us, for the most part, the film succeeds in that effort.
Even beyond the inherent nostalgia of the original, there’s enough emotional gravity here to hang your hat on. Bryce’s android persona finally gives way when her character’s nephews are in trouble, and while she teeters toward full-on sex symbol near the end, she does so with aplomb and strength.
For Pratt’s part, his goofball antics are suppressed much more here than in his stepping-stone film, Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, at a press conference, Pratt said Trevorrow was set on limiting his character’s comedic interaction to his scenes with Claire. He’s asked to play the full-on action hero, and for fans of Parks and Recreation (myself included) it’s less engaging than his lighthearted turn as Star Lord. After all, you don’t have to be serious to be a hero -- no one ever told Indiana Jones to quit cracking wise back in the day. Still, Pratt eventually pulls off the hero bit, and strikes enough chemistry with Bryce along the way to keep things interesting.
There’s some believable writing and performances elsewhere in the film, as well, which help carry the flick beyond its splashy scenes of CGI carnage, and soften the blow of the occasional moments of all out disbelief in which dinosaurs seem to show near human-level intelligence. Sibling relationships, in particular, are drawn with some real dimension here. That includes the relationship between the two boys -- which is vital, as they’re tasked with leading a lot of the plot -- as well as the interaction between Claire and her sister (the boys’ mother), played by the brilliant Judy Greer. Both interactions ring true, recalling moments I’ve shared with my own siblings.
Vince D’Onofrio brings an affable performance to his trope-laced bad guy (you knew he’d play the bad guy) Hoskins, which is pretty two-dimensional, and could’ve easily gone south with another actor. And, though Pratt leaves a lot of his usual antics at home, the job is filled brilliantly by Jake Johnson (New Girl, Safety Not Guranteed), who cracks wise with enough skill to lighten the load.
With a formidable cast and storyline, striking effects, and just enough nostalgia to tickle your arm hairs, Jurassic World is just as fun as you’d hoped it would. Nobody’s winning any Oscars, and the movie won’t rewrite special effects like the original, but behind all the hype, Jurassic World is a well-crafted addition to the franchise (I’d argue the best since the original) and well worth your money in what will be a haze of summer blockbusters.