It took 22 years, but Universal finally found a way to make a worthy sequel to Jurassic Park.
It does not match the original in terms of freshness. It would be nearly impossible for any dino flick to top Alan Grant’s first look at a Brachiosaurus, a T-Rex flipping over and standing on a Ford Explorer, or pretty much anything the Velociraptors did. But after having to endure not so golden moments such as the gymnastics feat near the end of 1997’s The Lost Word or that really stupid ending in Jurassic Park III where everyone is saved by Dr. Sattler making a phone call, fans finally get to return to Isla Nublar. Good riddance site B, Jurassic Park is open again (with a different name so not to offend the families of Dennis Nedry, Robert Muldoon, and the “blood-sucking lawyer”).
But this is 2015, not 1993, and in a meta-parallel to how audiences are less accepting of visual effects and CGI, the tourists of Jurassic World are no longer impressed by your run of the mill T-Rex or being able to let their children ride baby dinosaurs (perhaps the film’s biggest stretch of plausibility is the lack of PETA members protesting outside the park). Whereas The Lost World and Jurassic Park III failed to include any reason to be on SITE B besides photographing dinosaurs or getting stuck there due to a boating accident, respectively, Jurassic World tries to continue debating some of the ethical issues raised by Ian Malcolm in the first film. You know, how filling in gaps in genetic codes is dangerous and severely screws with natural selection?
Well, the folks at InGen are slow learners and have decided that it would be a good idea to come up with the Indominus Rex, a beast so fierce the recipe is classified. This seems like exactly the type of thing that will increase revenue at the park. As you would expect and probably hope, the park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), and countless unfortunate victims soon realize that blending a secret list of prehistoric carnivores is a terrible idea.
Adding to the fun of this film is Owen’s recent breakthrough with training the velociraptors. It does not take long for the head of InGen’s security force (Vincent D’Onofrio) to start drooling of the possibility of using raptors as the military’s next great weapon. Unlike men, he argues, their loyalty can not be bought.
The film gets going quickly. The previous Jurassic films all opened with a brief, intense incident to get the audience primed. This one tricks you by departing from that formula. Just when you’re feeling disappointed that you didn’t even get teased by some carnage in the first five minutes, this resort goes to hell and stays there for 90 minutes. An early scene with the Indominus Rex features a higher body count than the entire first film. But carnage alone does not a great popcorn flick make, and director Colin Trevorrow and his fellow screenwriters get that.
The plot, though shallow, is just interesting enough. There are also just the right amount of instances of homage to the first film (nobody cares about site B) to please people who grew up with the earlier films and just the right amount of laughs to please the more cynical people who have grown up with the people who grew up with the earlier films. Jurassic Park movies always had their moments of humor (even Jurassic Park III tried), but the style of humor here is more self-aware. The other sequels took themselves too seriously, which just made them more cheesy. Jurassic World mostly avoids that trap and there is, consequently, a smaller quotient of bad dialogue.
This is a Jurassic Park film that feels more like a Spielberg than even the one sequel that he actually directed; The Lost World. That is mostly a good thing, but the script has a couple ugly moments when it ventures into Spielberg’s recurring and not at all subtle everyone-must-adore-children trope.
Some have called Claire’s story arc, in which she goes from not having much to do with her nephews (or children) to really learning to appreciate them, sexist. It is, but less so when you consider the powers that be did the same thing to Alan Grant in the first film, and spent a lot more time on it. Ugh. On top of being sexist this time around, it is just lazy.
The writers missed a real opportunity here. One of the best things about Jurassic Park was how Dr. Sattler was rugged and intelligent and it was never suggested that those qualities were a problem. She was the one who went nearly shoulder deep digging for clues in Triceratops droppings while the guys stood way back so as not to get their clothes all stinky. Then again, Dr. Sattler wanted kids.
Something Hollywood (and society) has not come to understand yet is that some people want children while some people don’t, and there is nothing wrong with either of those groups of people. Instead of constantly lecturing audiences on how wonderful it is to have children, which it no doubt is for many people, it would be nice occasionally if a blockbuster film could have a strong, likeable, and heroic protagonist who does not want to have kids. This does not mean they have to hate kids or just stand by and do nothing while they are in harm’s way. But Claire’s change of heart about spending time with her nephews is forced and not at all believable. The way her sister uses the cliché about “you’ll understand when you have children of your own” is included only to draw a response of “maybe” from Claire; apparently an attempt by the screenwriters to set up her transformation. It would have been so much better if Claire stood her ground and told her sister it’s not going to happen. Better yet, the writers could have just come up with something else to round out her character. Howard deserved more, and her scenes with Chris Pratt are not much better.
Fortunately, all of this poorly written personal life B.S. takes up very little screen time. When Claire is in horror movie mode, outrunning raptors or leading a T-rex to a larger opponent, she demonstrates some strong action movie chops. The same can be said about Chris Pine, who is probably second only to Ian Malcolm among this series’ protagonists as far as being interesting is concerned. Vincent D’Onofrio is also a decent villain. I’d still rank Dennis Nedry higher; he was easier to hate and even his computer was annoying. “Ah ah ah, you didn’t say the magic word!”
I can’t say Jurassic World is the best pure action flick of the summer. Mad Max: Fury Road give its female characters more to do than discover they have maternal instincts. But it is still a lot of fun. The references to the original film are clever and fun without being annoying. The action is epic, even if the CGI is a bit obvious at times. The cinematography is gorgeous and Michael Giacchino’s score is fantastic. I even jumped out of my seat once or twice and a couple scenes were sick in all the right ways. The film even manages to pause, if briefly, to allow viewers to appreciate the beauty amongst all the chaos. There was even room for an appearance by Mr. DNA.
I just hope whoever pens the inevitable fifth installment crafts a better female lead.
Jurassic World (2015) Directed by Colin Trevorrow Screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, and Irrfan Khan 124 minutes Rated PG-13 Distributed by Universal Pictures United States