The park is open. This we knew from the trailers for “Jurassic World”. But would we enjoy our visits? After an iconic first trip and two disastrous follow-ups, this fourth journey in the world of “Jurassic Park” could have gone either way.
I’m happy to announce that director Colin Trevorrow pulled it off. The film and the park it constructs exceeded every expectation I had, and my expectations were pretty damn high.
The newest installment in the world’s most famous dinosaur saga is the most fun and exciting film I have seen in a very, very long time. “Jurassic World” is what “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III” never could be: a distinct sequel that pays homage to its predecessors while differentiating itself in new, fresh, and inevitably iconic ways.
The new film takes place 22 years after the now famous disaster at the unopened Jurassic Park. We learn that original park visionary John Hammond, with his adorable inability to see reason, requested with his dying wish that a true dinosaur park open for people to enjoy, and thus came Jurassic World, a fully operational park straight out of a wacky dream. Opening the park is perhaps the most important decision the filmmakers made. It unlocks limitless potential for interesting visuals and fun moments. We see that guests can kayak down a river lined by stegosaurus, ride a triceratops (if they’re under the height limit) and choose whether or not to sit in the splash zone at a mosasaurs show. The framework of a theme park John Hammond created in the original movie was fun, but Jurassic World is so vibrant and exciting that I almost wish I could visit, even after everything terrible that happens to the park’s occupants in the film’s second act.
For major occupants, we have Chris Pratt’s Owen, an infinitely charismatic ex-Navy man who has managed to train a group of velociraptor, but still respects them as powerful and free creatures. Because he’s perfect. And charismatic. Did I mention charismatic? That’s basically the professional reporter way of saying really distractingly hot. We also have Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the fierce but aloof park director whose nephews, teen Zach and his younger brother Grey, come to visit. When the park’s newest attraction, the genetically modified Indominus Rex, created by scheming but dynamic returning character Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), tricks its way out of its cage, the fun theme park quickly devolves into a war zone between dinosaurs and people. Vincent D’Onofrio plays Vic, whom I’m choosing to nickname almost-as-unlikable-as-Dennis-Nedry. Because humans have not grown smart in the last 22 years, almost-as-unlikable-as-Dennis-Nedry decides that Indominus’ break-out is the perfect time to test his infallible plan to use raptors in the US military.
The general plot has similarities to the others in the trilogy, with the main dino picking off red shirts as Claire and Owen try to locate the missing kids and get them (and the rest of the park attendees) to safety. But what differentiates “Jurassic World” and, I believe, will give it the staying power of “Jurassic Park”, is how it uses the dinosaurs. In a clever twist on the original set-up, the raptors and T-rex that traumatized everyone in the ’90s become almost heroic forces, with dinosaurs picking sides in the battle again Indominus. It all culminates in the single best moment of the film, where Claire does something so brave and wild to save everyone from Indominus that the audience in my theater broke into applause for her badassery.
I like to include both positives and negatives in any review, but I’m struggling to find anything legitimate to criticize here. The characters were all kind of stupid people, but aren’t humans kind of stupid under pressure? There are moments that rehash themes and motifs from the original, but with enough twists that they don’t seem lazy or repetitive. I just truly love everything about this movie. I love the heavy reliance on John William’s classic themes. I love the on-point theme park mockery (the Sea World parallels are particularly accurate). I love that it’s set on Isla Nublar instead of Isla Sorna, because the former is clearly a superior setting. All the little details in the movie come together into something smooth and enjoyable.
Perhaps my only complaint is not a criticism at all, but just a personal opinion. There’s so much secrecy in the film surround Indominus Rex’s DNA make-up, leading to a (spoilers!) final reveal that it’s part raptor. But with all the intrigue around the reveal, did anyone else think Indominus had (gulp) human DNA? I’m not denying that that’s a dumb or over-the-top idea, because it is, and maybe they made the right call steering clear of it, but once your mind goes to the human-dinosaur hybrid place, it’s hard to go back and be thrilled by a raptor-other dinosaur hybrid. I think they should have gone for it. But it’s a testament to how smart and interesting the film is that I’m analyzing it that much.
One note to parents: while they do manage to avoid the total R-rated blood bath that seemed inevitable if the park ever opened, I would say this entry is more violent than the original. If your kid can handle “Jurassic Park”, they can probably handle this, but expect a bit more blood and death.
This film could have gone either way. There was a potential here for an Indiana Jones reboot-level disappointment, particularly after the “Jurassic Park” series failed so thoroughly with its second and third installments. However, a little time and some fresh blood was just what the franchise needed, and it came back with the kind of fun and roaring excitement fans haven’t felt in 22 years, since a certain raptor opened a certain door into the Jurassic Park kitchen.