“Yeah, but John, when the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” — Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park
Those words come to full, glorious life in Jurassic World when a flurry of liberated pteranodons dive-bomb the patrons of the now open dinosaur theme park after they’ve all been corralled to the “main street” of the park because the new attraction decided to outsmart its human captors and run amok across Isla Nublar, the island where John Hammond originally established his original Jurassic park. And like the hundreds of guests who ooh and aah the exhibits before becoming lunch, I was engrossed by everything director Colin Trevorrow had to offer in representing Ian Malcolm’s eloquent warnings.
The film centers on Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the haughty, steely-eyed director of Jurassic World who’s attempting to acquire additional funding from investors with the reveal of their new “product,” the indominus rex, a hybrid dinosaur that she promises will be faster, meaner and scarier than anything anyone’s ever seen, all in an effort to boost tourism and keep those who have already visited the park coming back for more. She’s extremely calculating with a no-nonsense bravura and can’t see above the bottom line in anything in her life, not even when her nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), arrive for a visit. She hasn’t the time to deal with this new distraction, so she pawns them off on her annoyed assistant (Katie McGrath), who of course loses track of the kids when she, too, is busy working.
Meanwhile, on another part of the island, Owen (Chris Pratt), a highly-respected animal trainer, is reaching a pinnacle moment in his attempts to train the velociraptors at the behest of the (*evil*) InGen representative, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). Based on past films in the franchise, anything having to do with InGen is going to turn out poorly, and that doesn’t change one bit here. However, Pratt brings his A-game charm once again, wrapping his quirky, quick-witted charisma under the guise of a serious, intelligent character who’s set up from the jump as the most logical character in the movie. He’s the Ian Malcolm to Howard’s John Hammond, and this dynamic works wonders when the obvious romantic tension comes into play.
Howard and Pratt work very well together, producing enough electricity to keep us believing that they have a flirtatious, in some ways romantic past that has been neutered by the inability to see past their own egos. When they team up to look for Zach and Gray (who have conveniently decided to go off-roading in one of the awesome gyro-spheres), the conflicting personality types share a compassion that neither want to embrace. It’s only when they stop to help a dying apatosaurus do they allow themselves to show any vulnerability in front of the other. It’s at this moment that they finally find common ground on a deeper, emotional level, connecting them for the second half of the film, where she becomes more motherly (though still a bit too uptight for her own good) and he becomes more reliable.
Of course the humans are only secondary to the main attraction, which of course is the dinosaurs. And this shows in the writing of several subplots that are used to help us connect to the characters, but go absolutely nowhere. This includes the possibility of the kids’ parents (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) getting a divorce and the seemingly wandering eye of Zach, who has a stalkerish girlfriend back home waiting for him. These ideas are supposed to develop the characters and give us some extra dramatic moments, but neither is handled with any sense of logic and must have been eaten by a pteranodon halfway through the film, because by the end, it’s as if the issues never existed. Then again, the entire story arc involving Hoskins and his need to test the training of the raptors so that he can eventually militarize them is done very well, especially when BD Wong (as Dr. Henry Wu, the only returning character from the original film) plays a major role that helps lead into a very new and different sequel.
And Wong isn’t the only easter egg or reference that reminds us we are in the same timeline as the original film. Hear that, Internet — this is NOT a reboot! The best come in the form of Jake Johnson as tech-nerd, Lowry, who not only sports a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt, but believes that Hammond’s original park was so much cooler. His character adds most of the comic-relief when Pratt isn’t around and does his best to match Samuel L. Jackson’s tech-nerd (which, really, I don’t think is possible). Some other references include a return to the Jurassic Park visitor’s center and nods to some of the sequences in the original film. But nothing is more delightful than getting to see that the mother of all dinosaurs, the tyrannosaurus rex herself, is still very interested and susceptible to flares, so much so that the team uses them to feed her her signature goat.
The film would be nothing, though, without the raptors, which are much more defined here than they ever were in any of the Jurassic films thus far. They are each given a clear personality that makes each one dynamic and interesting, none so much more than Blue, Owen’s favorite and the one raptor that shows the most compassion (and the most fight). Watching them bond with a human in a way that we’ve never seen before (leading to a terrific climax) makes you root for them in hopes they will all survive the Indominus terror.
Jurassic World may not live up to the original’s ability for true wonder and magic (what can nowadays?), but that doesn’t stop the film from delivering on the goods it promises, which helps it outmatch the first two sequels in its glorious retro state while giving us a glimpse into the future of evolution that very well may kill us all if we’re not careful.
My Grade: A-
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