Twenty-two years after Jurassic Park recast the mold for the summer blockbuster, and 14 years after the disappointing Jurassic Park III, we return to Isla Nublar, site of the original, for a sequel aimed at reviving the dormant franchise. Welcome to Jurassic World.”
Those time periods are important. In the intervening 22 years between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, the target demographic has matured into adults and now have children of their own. The landscape of the summer movie season has changed too, with it no longer being possible to dominate the summer in the same way as Jurassic Park did in 1993. That film spent 16 weeks in the Top 10 in the US, and an unprecedented 71 weeks in the box office charts. How to follow an icon? In the film the solution to declining revenue streams is to introduce something “bigger, cooler, and scarier” than before, and that is exactly what Jurassic World attempts.
Essentially retconning the second and third films in the series, Jurassic World takes us back to Isla Nublar, where, 22 years after the events of the first film, we have a fully established and operational theme park, which attracts upwards of 20,000 visitors per day. Having fulfilled John Hammond’s vision, the task now is to keep an increasingly-jaded world interested in the park, and to ensure that sponsors and corporate interests retain their investments. If it sounds a lot like the tax talk of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace never fear, as the newest attraction, the genetic hybrid Indominus Rex is about to break out of his cage. Cue mayhem…
Ticking off a Spielberg trope on his handy checklist, director Colin Trevorrow packs target audience proxies, kids Zack and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins respectively), off to spend time with their aunt at the park, while their parents stay at home to work on their marital issues. Said aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard) is too busy running the park to possibly have time for these or any other children, and so entrusts the safety of the kids with her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath). Meanwhile ex-Navy man Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Barry (Omar Sy) are working on taming a pack of velociraptors, which has drawn the attention of InGen security chief Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has nefarious plans of his own. Meanwhile, billionaire park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and returning geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) have cooked up the newest attraction. These are all of the key players, and to varying degrees they all work well at their given parts.
Robinson and Simpkins have a believable fraternal relationship, although the former spends so long alienating the audience with his general disregard for anything other than his phone and the opposite sex, that when he is needed as the big brother the audience is not unduly concerned with his survival. Simpkins on the other hand is a loveable presence. Like Joseph Mazzello’s Tim in Jurassic Park he is obsessed with dinosaurs, but having established his vast knowledge of the creatures and his obvious intelligence the script does neither him or this information any service, save for one line near the end. The script gives more time to developing the ‘heroes’ of the story, albeit not much more. Following the Jurassic Park roadmap, Howard’s Claire wears white like John Hammond, but when the kids are in danger turns on Dr. Ellie Sattler mode and gets to work. The transition from cold business woman to action-hero is admirably performed by Howard, but it is written as a misogynistic depiction of a modern woman. She is constantly implored to find maternal instincts, with work interfering in her apparent true calling as a mother. This reading of the character is not helped by the 50’s B-movie archetype that is Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady. To his credit, Pratt imbues Grady with his own likeability and charm, which allows the audience to invest in him. Irish actress Katie McGrath is British in the film, seemingly for the sake of one throwaway line. She is sadly a one-note character, but hopefully this exposure will get her more work in Hollywood. Similarly Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins is a southerner, forcing the native New Yorker to adopt an accent that never convinces. He is also cast in as broad a villain role as the series has had to date, part Denis Nedry, part Dick Dasterdly, which does not allow him to show his ability as an actor. In the years between films, Dr. Wu appears to have sold his soul, and as much as it is great to see a familiar face in the franchise in B.D. Wong, this is not the same character. Stepping into the John Hammond template, and adding a little Richard Branson for good measure, Khan is solid as the head honcho whose hubris causes so much chaos.
Jurassic World is a flawed film. Much of these flaws can be found in the script, which is credited to Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, and Trevorrow. the film spent years in development hell, going through numerous drafts from numerous writers. What emerged from this process is a hotchpotch of ideas, which do not coalesce into a structured plot. That said, the CGI here is on another level entirely, with the Indominus Rex a masterpiece of computer effects. Whereas the original broke new ground for CGI, which forced it to use the technology sparingly, this uses the ability to create anything for everything, and as a result feels less real, less tangible. The one moment of practical effects is a highlight, and it would have been nice to see it used more. Michael Giacchino does fine work on a new soundtrack, although he falls into the trap of over-utilising John Williams’ main theme. Despite the many flaws, the film manages to be an entertaining experience as Trevorrow follows the Jurassic Park playbook to a tee. That includes countless shots, cues, and even set-pieces from the original, a liberal sprinkling of the iconic theme and playful, if on-the-nose, call-backs to the first film. It seems as though the director is afraid to stamp his own authority on the film and instead settles for Spielbergian. Generally speaking, audiences like Spielbergian, and the nostalgia and gloriously designed new dinosaurs will entertain. The end set-piece in particular is an escalating sequence that manages to out-Godzilla Godzilla, and delivers spectacular dino-on-dino action. However thanks to those script issues they will not evoke the same sense of wonder or hold the same long-lasting legacy of Jurassic Park.
Jurassic World is an enjoyable time at the cinema, an action spectacular that does not skimp on the action. It is bigger, perhaps not cooler, and definitely scarier. Sure, none of the sequences are iconic, none of the dialogue is quotable, and it wouldn’t be anything without the original, but as an installment in a franchise, and as a piece of escapist cinema you could do a lot worse. And if you want all of those, there’s always Mad Max: Fury Road…