Jurassic World (2015)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas-Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio
Any film in the Jurassic Park franchise has the unenviable burden of living in the monstrous shadow of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic. Still, Jurassic World knows exactly what it’s getting into, unlike the many employees and visitors of its now fully operational park. It draws heavily from the original, from the revival of John Williams’ iconic score to the liberal use of references throughout, but tempers its ambitions with a healthy dose of self awareness. Jurassic World fully embraces its role as a summer blockbuster sequel, and the result is a fun and entertaining (albeit not particularly groundbreaking) film.
Twenty-two years after the failed first park, billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) has taken up John Hammond’s vision and spared no expense in creating Jurassic World, a veritable dinosaur Disney World. Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Claire Dearing, the uptight and overworked manager who oversees all of the park’s operations. Where the original focused mostly on humanity’s hubristic sense of control over nature, Jurassic World adds a thick layer of corporate, profit-driven tunnel vision to the proceedings. Attendance continues to flag unless they introduce new attractions (as any player of Rollercoaster Tycoon could tell you), and Claire is busy securing corporate sponsorship for their latest dinosaur, a hybrid genetically engineered to be more vicious and terrifying, with predictably disastrous results. The newly dubbed Indominus Rex is unmatched in its ferocity and intellect, and it inevitably escapes to wreak havoc on the island.
The park’s resident ranger/trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is the tough, cool foil to Claire, and serves as the film’s persistent admonishment to those who don’t respect the power and tenacity of wild animals. He’s attempting to train the park’s highly intelligent velociraptors, a prospect that the InGen representative Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is keen to capitalize on for military applications. Meanwhile, Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) serve as the film’s obligatory youth in harm’s way. Their characterization is uneven at best, but still manages the occasional touching moment of sibling bonding. Jake Johnson rounds out the cast as Lowery, a wise cracking control room operator and fan of the original “park.” Like a harmless and more likable Dennis Nedry, he serves as the film’s comic relief and offers up much of the self-aware humor and sarcasm.
The film leans a little too heavily on nostalgia and self-aware humor, lamenting the hyper-commercialized state of the new park and the necessity of drawing visitors with different, more exciting dinosaurs. It very nearly crosses the line into self-parody, but none of it matters much once the Indominus Rex begins to run amok in the prehistoric menagerie. Though there are plenty of callbacks to iconic scenes from the original, the action never quite achieves the carefully orchestrated tension that Steven Spielberg does best. It’s all action and spectacle without the suspense, and the film therefore lacks any sense of real danger. The freshly trained raptors maintain their coolness but lose most of their menace, a far cry from the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park or the grass field from The Lost World.
The finale is action-packed and completely over-the-top, but suffers from the same issue of spectacle over substance. Jurassic World simultaneously embraces and pokes fun at the obsession with “bigger, meaner, and more teeth,” but the film overall lacks any real bite. Still, it’s difficult to be too cynical about these things–a theater full of children gasping and cheering is evidence enough that Jurassic World manages to capture at least some of the awe and magic that made the original so great.