Previous Jurassic Park sequels really only got half of the equation right. They brought the “Jurassic,” in the form of dinosaurs (not all of them actually from the Jurassic period, but it sounds better as a marketing buzzword). What they lacked was the “park.” Jurassic Ruins-of-Park just isn’t the same thing, when your hook, in full, is “dinosaurs at a theme park.” The Lost World and JPIII were, in essence, snakes without a plane.
Before you say, well, it’d be unrealistic to keep opening the park to the public in every film if the dinosaurs consistently get loose and eat people, let me stop you right there with four words: Camp Motherfuckin’ Crystal Lake. The administrators of that facility reopened it like TEN times, despite conclusive evidence that an enraged zombie-redneck was going to resurface every few Fridays to murder fornicators and druggies. Seems to me that franchise did okay.
A recurrent thought I’ve heard from people who’ve watched the Jurassic World trailer was that they hope the movie would linger in the park a little bit before all hell breaks loose, that we might vicariously enjoy the visit as the fictional tourists are supposed to. Rest assured that this does happen, and in 3D Imax it essentially trumps and renders irrelevant Universal Studios’ actual Jurassic Park ride. We watch tyrannosaurs get fed from inside a gigantic reinforced tree trunk, observe giant aquatic mosasaurs eat sharks, check out trained velociraptors doing tricks and, in perhaps the most irresponsible ride of all time, see free-roaming, guest-controlled gyrospheres go anywhere through a herd of rampaging herbivores.
There’s even a preview of the newest attraction – Indominus Rex, a genetically modified creature that has basically been engineered to be extra-dangerous, evil and insane. It also turns out to be smart and able to trick people, because who knew that would be a side-effect of the process? Needless to say, it gets out, leading to by far the most violent Jurassic Park movie to date. Expect a few parental complaints afterward – not only do the dinos kill and eat people, but they often do so in sprays of blood, and in one particular instance, give a mildly unlikeable side character a massively traumatic death that involves repeated attempts to drown said person before the fatal bite finishes it. Beyond that, we have a handful of dinos who develop personalities, and may even remind you of household pets…before they too are eaten and/or tossed to their deaths. The monster fights are no-holds barred, and the one that ends the movie will make any creature-lovers cheer – just bear in mind that director Colin Trevorrow is ruthless to his characters in a way executive producer Steven Spielberg hasn’t been since Jaws, if ever.
The Safety Not Guaranteed director does score a few Spielbergian moments – a nice fakeout to begin the movie, and a 3D image of dinosaur models through a View-Master as a tease for what’s to come – but the script curiously seems to drop the ball in a couple of areas that the master’s would not. Late in the action, the two young boys who serve as our eyes into the world of the movie – young Gray (Iron Man 3 and Insidious‘ Ty Simpkins) and adolescent big bro Zach (Nick Robinson) – suddenly, conveniently reveal skills and items that will help them in the particular moment. This could have been a good moment had said skills and items been observed AT ANY POINT earlier in the movie. Since the concept of planting and payoff is literally part of Screenwriting 101, I’m going to assume that credited writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Trevorrow himself knew that, and just cut the planting early on to get everyone to the dinosaur island quicker. Especially since the climax of the movie does indeed feature a nice bit of payoff.
Ostensible lead Chris Pratt, as Owen the Raptor Wrangler, still has the charm we’ve enjoyed in other movies, but he takes a slightly scary step towards the generic here – think Ben Affleck in Armageddon as opposed to his prior Kevin Smith movies – saddled with the least interesting and most on-the-nose dialogue. As the aunt of our two kid heroes, and an employee of the park, Bryce Dallas Howard fares better, with more of an actual character arc going from corporate ass-kisser to gritty heroine. Vincent D’Onofrio essentially takes the Wayne Knight-ish role as a head of security for what may as well be the Weyland-Yutani corporation – in a nod to one of many long-since discarded ideas for a Jurassic sequel, he wants to train raptors to fight terrorists in Afghanistan.
Depending on who you ask, the original Jurassic Park only has 14-15 minutes of actual dinosaur footage; I’d wager that in Jurassic World, it’s closer to an hour of the nearly two-hour runtime. As Ian Malcolm might say, we’re done with the oohs and ahhs, and later require more and more running and screaming – ironically, via the Indominus Rex, the theme of Jurassic World is that wanting ever-increasing thrills is a bad impulse, catered to only to boost corporate profits. Well, it does, and you will. But if you like dinosaurs, you won’t feel bad about it – given more expressiveness than ever before, these creatures are a giant stompy step towards making irrelevant the idea that only stop-motion beasts have personality.
The fact that the movie is technically set at Christmas – mentioned briefly at the beginning, then never again in the sunny, southern hemisphere setting – is not incidental, as the whole film feels like the unwrapping of bigger and bigger presents, all while mom (a.k.a. the subtext) tut-tuts at dad (Trevorrow, who cameos as the voice of Mr. DNA) for spoiling you. As a bonus, it gives another arrow to the quiver of smartass film geeks who claim Gremlins and Die Hard are their favorite Christmas movies. I’m not going to follow that example, but I do feel like using another common bit of nerd hyperbole: from now on, if you ask me, I will annoyingly insist that there is only one Jurassic Park sequel, and this is it.