Can a beloved film still have life as a franchise after more than two decades and a history of disappointing sequels? Director Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World shows that the Jurassic Park franchise is alive much like the dinosaurs that inhabit it – modified into something not quite natural, but still thrilling and exciting.
Jurassic World picks up 22 years after the events of the original Jurassic Park, with late founder Richard Hammond’s vision for the island of Isla Nublar coming to fruition in the form of a booming dinosaur park. But the minds behind Jurassic World genetically engineer a brand new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, and their tampering results in disaster on a humongous scale. Now, Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) have to scramble to save as many lives as possible.
While the central conceit of a dinosaur park being opened and then having things go terribly wrong may not be fresh territory in the franchise, it is fertile ground for reinvigorating a film series that has lain dormant for more than a decade. They even make the ideas of Jurassic World appealing as a theme park. Who wouldn’t want to pet baby triceratops and see a T-Rex up close when no one has been hurt in years? Exploring the idea of what a modern day Jurassic World would be allows for the series to examine the effects of present day consumerism and corporate greed. When the wonder has worn off dinosaurs being reborn today, consumers will want something bigger and wilder. As long as it means more money, companies will be happy to oblige. And that’s what results in the creation of the Indominus Rex – an unnatural killing machine that exemplifies the effects of greed.
That being said, these themes mostly play second fiddle to the thrills and chills of Jurassic World, which is, at its core, a monster movie. There is far less wonder and awe to be found here and far more screaming and dying. After all, there’s a highly intelligent, incredibly deadly, camouflage-capable beast running around an island looking to kill everything it can get its massive talons around. Where Jurassic Park managed to strike an amazing balance between the terrifying and the awe-inspiring, Jurassic World is far more of a thrill ride that isn’t afraid to shed buckets of blood throughout its runtime. It’s not that it doesn’t fit within the context of the movie, it just means it is a different beast than the film that started it all. And a beast that is far less family friendly.
Pratt and Howard do a fantastic job as the film’s two central protagonists, with their hunt for the hybrid dino bringing laughs, scares, and plenty of charisma. While they may be saddled with some clunky dialogue at points, they truly give it their all, which is what makes the movie work in the end. Pratt in particular shows that his star making turn in Guardians of the Galaxy was no fluke. He has the charisma to carry a movie as oftentimes unwieldy as this.
However, when Jurassic World takes its focus off the leads, the results are a mixed bag. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson play Gray and Zach Mitchell, two brothers and nephews of Claire who manage to come to the park at the worst possible moment ever. While they work well together, their scenes often end up being the slowest and are at their worst in the first act, where their lack of danger and casual exploration of the park can’t help but feel like wasted time when there are far more interesting things happening with other characters. Thankfully, their plot and the movie as a whole pick up steam once the danger really kicks in. Vincent D’onofrio turns in a solid performance as the film’s clear antagonist, but it’s fairly one note, like many of the characters here. The good guys and good and the bad guys (and dinos) are bad. In fact, the only characters with shades of gray end up being the pack of velociraptors being trained by Grady. They have a tenuous relationship that could turn violent at any moment, which makes the idea of them being trained more interesting and believable than it could have been otherwise.
After more than two decades, the critical reappraisal of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park has led to huge praise for not only the story and acting, but the visual effects. Combining animatronics with then-cutting-edge CGI, the crew behind the original film were able to bring dinosaurs to life in a fashion that blew audiences away. With such adoration still heaped on the original film today, the effects used in Jurassic World can’t help but be compared to the original. While computer graphics have advanced light years in the time since, CGI still cannot bring every living and breathing creature to complete and compelling life. With this greater capability, Jurassic World is chocked full of CGI dinosaurs that convince for the most part, but still can’t quite pack the heft of what was accomplished in the original.
However, once the action kicks in and the scares start to pour on, the dinosaurs seem far more real and terrifying. Specifically, the Indominus Rex feels tangible and incredibly scary. Perhaps it is because of the heightened nature of the creature or its often obscured presence, but it is thankfully one of the film’s most convincing creations.
Overall, the pace of Jurassic World feels like a boulder slowly picking up speed. The beginning steps feel plodding, but the movie only gets exponentially faster, bigger, and crazier. By the end, the events have become so huge that you can’t help but feel as if the film has turned into Pacific Rim with numerous dinosaurs doing battle over the fate of Isla Nublar. One can’t help but wonder if the instinctual animals from the franchise have been bred with the DNA of professional wrestlers at some point prior to this film. It’s still incredibly fun, but suspension of disbelief is put through a rigorous test in the film’s final act.
Those looking for a direct modern update of the original will not find what they are looking for here. However, there are plenty of nods to Steven Spielberg’s film that feel natural for the most part. To have a new film take place on Isla Nublar and not tie in to some degree would be a waste. Combined with the return of John Williams’ classic score (now interpreted by Michael Giacchino) and the nostalgia is palpable. But the magic can never be as strong as the original. Knowing this, Jurassic World focuses on going bigger and scarier. There are also several thematic and relationship dynamics that pay homage to the original, which also work for the most part. Once again, man’s unwise dabbling in the gene pool leads to chaos. But rather than bringing dinosaurs back to life, it is in the form of trying to exert more control than ever for the sake of profit. In the overall scope of the franchise, Jurassic World is more focused than The Lost World and better than Jurassic Park III in every way.
Where Jurassic World does go wrong is when it dabbles in clichés, which happens throughout the story, even until the very end. While no film is devoid of these storytelling gimmicks, they can’t help but feel somewhat groan worthy. Additionally, the clichés often play vital roles in pivotal plot points, often progress the story forward at the sake of believability. Inevitably, someone will go somewhere that no one in their right mind would go or put themselves in danger for no real reason. This of course leads to disaster and propels the action. Replacing these clichés with something less obvious would likely make the narrative stronger, but would require extensive changes in certain areas. But when the end result is unashamed fun and genuine scares, you can’t fault the decisions too much.
If the Jurassic franchise were to end with Jurassic World, it would be far more fitting than ending with III. The ideas come full circle and fans are given what they’ve been craving since the original ended. But where will the franchise go from here? Nostalgia can’t propel an entire franchise, but it can clearly do the trick when it comes to revisting Isla Nublar one last time. But never again. Who in their right mind would return now?