Over twenty years after the tragic events at Isla Nublar (The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 never occurred in this version of the story), the mysterious enclave off the coast of Costa Rica has officially opened for business and become re-branded as Jurassic World. A place where long thought extinct dinosaurs roam freely among amusement park patrons who are probably paying through the nose for attractions already sponsored by the likes of Verizon and Samsung, the park has remained incident free for quite some time thanks to a dedicated staff that have trained for most “eventualities.” But in an effort to keep increasing park attendance – after twenty years the sight of dinosaurs has actually become commonplace and boring to some – a team of researchers and marketing people have created a genetically modified dinosaur that never existed before. Naturally, they have created a new form of apex predator that will finally cause the park some major issues.
Much better and far more entertaining than it probably has any right to be, Jurassic World is the sequel to the former highest grossing movie of all time that audiences deserve. It’s a well constructed thrill ride with more than enough self-referential in-jokes to keep cynics watching and plenty of great callbacks to appease fan service. There might be a bit too much going on at times, but every element of the story works in director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow’s new take on Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg’s original concepts.
The effects and action sequences naturally take centre stage, and thanks to some jaw-droppingly impressive and ambitious cinematography from John Schwartzman there’s a real fluidity to the film once the chaos starts. The script certainly bears the fingerprints of multiple writers, but Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) keeps things remarkably under control. The stakes are constantly being raised from scene to scene in a logical manner. The subplots are well spaced out, and with the exception of one involving a parental divorce, they all come to some kind of resolution. The banter is witty and snappy, there’s a lot of Gremlins 2 styled digs at corporate culture, and it bears a subtle message about race and class when talking about the newly born badass dino, Indominous Rex. And when the carnage finally comes, it never skimps. It’s sometimes shockingly violent, but Trevorrow always finds ways of making even the most disposable of victims seem empathetic. It also does what any great scary movie should do: it feels like anyone can die at any time.
The actual plot threads are hard to really talk about without spoiling too much, but the focus on togetherness and human ingenuity in the face of science run amok that comprised the first film comes back here almost perfectly. Park marketing and operations stooge Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, who’s fine despite having a dreadfully underwritten character arc that makes her seem subservient to most of the macho and witty dudes around her) is tasked with watching her nephews (Nick Robinson as the bratty older one, and Ty Simpkins as the sweetly naive younger brother) while their parents (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) stay home to get a divorce over the Christmas holiday. Chris Pratt takes on the role of Owen, a sarcastic, but brilliant ex-military guy who has somewhat successfully trained Raptors to believe he’s the alpha of their pack. This training has raised the interest of a loathsome “private security” stooge (Vincent D’Onofrio, doing precisely everything you would want to hire him to do) who seeks to weaponize (!) dinosaurs. It will all come together by the halfway point in ways that you can most likely already guess.
Pratt continues his successful bid for leading man status, going the full Harrison Ford here, and he pairs well against anyone put in front of him. There are also some great smaller parts for the likes of international superstar Irrfan Khan (as the real head of the park and the person entrusted with John Hammond’s vision) and Jake Johnson (who essentially gets to play the nerdy cross between Jeff Goldblum and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in the first film).
It’s just deep enough to feel a slight cut above disposable blockbuster entertainment. It’s better than both sequels by a wide margin. It’s just stuffed enough to not seem overly convoluted. It proves Trevorrow can work on a grander stage than his indie roots suggested. Most importantly, it delivers the goods in every way that it needs to.