In 2014, Warner Bros. and director Gareth Edwards relaunched “Godzilla,” arguably giving it a Nolan-esque approach: not dark and gritty mind you, but grounded, realistic and rooted in emotional and dramatic stakes. “Godzilla” had a terrific set-up with affecting emotional consequence, but lost its way with a risky point of view shift and a new protagonist (Aaron Taylor Johnson) who felt bland and less consequential to the story.
Universal’s“Jurassic World” arguably takes a somewhat similar approach and adjusts accordingly, employing a believable setting anchored in real world infrastructure, emotional family dynamics, and authentic consequences. But the new ‘Jurassic’ movie discards the moodiness, adds a lighter Amblin-esque touch, and unlike “Godzilla,” never fumbles the narrative. The result is an exciting, effective and largely satisfying belated sequel that should roar through the box-office and please most blockbuster enthusiasts.
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Impressively crafted by writer/director Colin Trevorrow—who makes a massive leap considering his last film was the modest, tiny-budgeted Sundance indie “Safety Not Guaranteed,” and sticks the landing—“Jurassic World” takes the sensibilities of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park,” the sense of wonder, the awe, the thrills, and transports them into the 21st century with ease, plausibility and storytelling clarity.
Picking up some 20 years after the events of “Jurassic Park,” (but not wholly discounting the events of the follow-up sequels), “Jurassic World” fully realizes the potential of the original film. If “Jurassic Park” was in a beta stage and never fully launched to the public, in “Jurassic World,” the biological preserve is now a fully operational state-of-the-art theme park (and luxury resort) that has been running successfully for ten years. But with sly meta-like commentary (which is thankfully rather subtle), “Jurassic World” toys with the notions and inherent problems of topping yourself by constructing something bigger, better and badder.
In present day “Jurassic World,” which feels all too accurate, shareholder concern, corporate interest and consumer demands are paramount. In this convincing milieu, dinosaurs have been around for a decade, the wow factor is waning and indifference is the greatest threat to the extinction of spectacle (there’s a terrific cunning shot of a kid engrossed in his iPhone while a Tyrannosaurus Rex stands right before him; dinosaurs have become passé). Park attendance and membership has plateaued, and park organizers—manifest by the fastidious Senior operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard)—are anxious about qualifying consumer satisfaction, the bottom dollar and keeping brand equity healthy. Unfortunately, they don’t have the same regard for their prehistoric marvels.
Led by Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong, the only returning member of the original ‘JP’ series), the park’s in-house geneticists are innovating a new future: genetically modified dinosaurs that didn’t exist during the Mesozoic Era. Their mongrelized creation, the Indominus Rex, is a 50ft behemoth, extremely dangerous and cunning super-hybrid crossbred with a T-Rex and god knows what else (this is classified information). As The I-Rex is unpredictable and not ready for prime time, though due to make its first public appearance in a matter of tick tock-ing weeks, organizers look to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an animal behaviorist, former marine and contractor working with Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), InGen’s private security force conducting private-facing Raptor experiments on the other side of Costa Rica’s fictional Isla Nublar. Meanwhile, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), the nephews of Dearing who haven’t seen her in seven years, have come to spend quality time with their workaholic aunt too busy running the day in, day out operations of this gigantic facility to tend to their needs.
“Jurassic World” then rather seamlessly weaves three narratives together: the story of self-absorbed careerist Claire, her park and her scientists—including the guru-like mastermind of it all, the more spiritual and eccentric CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan); Owen, the marine turned Raptor trainer, and the two neglected boys wandering around “Jurassic World” unaware of the chaos that’s about to ensue. Inevitably, with playing god and breeding creations that aren’t fully understood, the resourceful Indominus Rex breaks free of its impenetrable pen and all hell breaks loose. But pandemonium is craftily written and staged like ripples of a tentative earthquake; the first wave of which hints at great peril to come, the aftershocks coming with increasing tension, violence and then explosiveness with extreme heart-palpitating stakes.
While seemingly chockablock with backstory, Trevorrow’s script, co-written with Derek Connolly — but also credited to story engineers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver—moves with quick efficiency. And at the heart of it all is a simple and effective tale of children in peril—an Amblin touchstone that Trevorrow has great affinity for—and adults who must put their differences aside to save them. Many of the vestiges of “Jurassic Park” are faintly present, but very few of them feel like fan-service. In fact, most references are in passing like the mention of bioenginneering InGen founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough from ‘JP1’), whose company is now swallowed up by Masrani Global Corporation. History is important to “Jurassic World,” but it’s not beholden to it (viewers who may have never seen the initial trilogy will be fine).
On top of being thrilling, incredibly suspenseful, scary, and even at times horrific, “Jurassic World” has strong thematic concerns including the consequences of corporate greed, the ramifications of the god complex, cautionary notes of weaponization (texture that could launch another sequel) and the cost of treating animals like assets to spike NASDAQ numbers. In fact, soullessness vs. humanity is the film’s strongest motif that colors the movie with not only an understated environmental message, but an emotional consistency as well.
And as a blockbuster? Well, ‘JP4’ delivers there too. And if dying is easy and comedy and hard, there should be a similar adage about orchestrating action while maintaining a heart and soul. That is to say, the set pieces in “Jurassic World” are intense, visceral and nail bitingly good (Michael Giacchino’s terrific score helps here), but they are nothing without characters to care about and this is where the Spielberg-ian premium on humanity is best utilized.
Co-starring Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, Judy Greer and Lauren Lapkus, “Jurassic World” has its share of light touches, laughs and gags too, but it’s also quite dark at times and arguably tests the boundaries of PG-13. Upping the ante, when the shit truly hits the fan, there are sequences in this film that take on terrorized, disaster-film dimensions; hundreds of desperate people (women and children no less) running in horror for their lives which is truly frightening.
Perhaps the greatest feat Trevorrow’s movie pulls off—other than successfully capturing the colossal magnificence of dinosaurs and the grand scale of blockbusters—is careful juggling all its four-quadrant prerequisites. Much like the genetically contrived animals in the film, “Jurassic World” feels engineered to tick off many boxes—laughs, thrills, scares, tears, discord, action beats, etc.—but never gives a hollow impression in doing so.
Character-wise, none of these archetypes are layers deep, but they’re certainly enough for this framework and just as dimensional as the first film. Refreshingly, Chris Pratt doesn’t play an Indiana Jones interpretation or a version of his “Guardians Of The Galaxy” character. In fact, his charm offensive is toned way down in favor of a hardnosed, almost humorless jarhead whose respect and apprehensions about the dinosaurs go a long way in communicating their awe-inspiring strengths and terrors. Every character needs an arc, and the strongest of the bunch goes to Bryce Dallas Howard whose humanity and protective instincts are invoked when her nephews are placed in life-threatening danger. If movies like “Jurassic World” need just a little bit of depth, Trevorrow follows the recipe and gives each of them the exact right amount of contour.
If there’s a pandering concession in “Jurassic World,” it’s in its somewhat silly, rock-‘em-sock-‘em conclusion which is essentially like a Kaiju big battle of some classic dinosaurs. It should be said this elaborate sequence will kill with audiences, so in that regard it’s fitting for blockbuster expectations. But ultimately “Jurassic World” is an engaging, entertaining and worthy successor to “Jurassic Park” and Steven Spielberg’s franchise. And as a vehicle that hopes to propel a new series forward, it’s arguably one of the rare reboots (like “Mad Max: Fury Road”) that earns its right to continue and will undoubtedly receive the crucial approval rating that launches the series into a new blockbuster age. [B+]