3.5 out of 5 stars.
Rated PG 13. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, Judy Greer. Opens Fri., June 12.
Cinephiles can debate endlessly whether today’s summer tentpole flicks are different from the big-budget movies of decades past, or simply updated versions of the same old thing. What’s indisputable, though, is that in the 14 years since the original Jurassic Park franchise petered out with its lackluster third installment, blockbusters have undergone a drastic change in the lengths they’ll go to capture an ever more sophisticated-slash-jaded audience.
With an old-school producer in Steven Spielberg and a new-line director in Colin Trevorrow (helmer of 2012 cult hit Safety Not Guaranteed), Jurassic World attempts to balance these two disparate generations of high-stakes filmmaking. And despite a few missteps, it largely succeeds.
One complaint lobbed at today’s mainstream movies is a lack of coherent story; luckily, Jurassic World comes with one built in. The audience may be dropping in on Isla Nublar some 20 years after the chaos that sidelined Jurassic Park, to find out the planet’s most ambitious theme park did in fact get built and opened to staggering success, but we’re still on familiar ground. Sure, the curious scientists have moved beyond simply cloning dinosaurs to gene-splicing and tinkering with DNA in the name of producing more exciting attractions, but late technothriller author Michael Crichton’s pet plot engine — the one that involves men thinking they can control forces larger than themselves, only to be proven terribly, lethally wrong — is still grinding away. And unlike the park’s prehistoric featured players, nothing about the movie itself is unpredictable.
You’ve got the rough-around-the-edges hero who knows what’s coming. You’ve got the uptight career woman. You’ve got the siblings in peril who bond over the danger. You’ve got three previous films that showed you exactly what’s going to happen.
It’s wanting to know how it happens, however, that put you in front of the screen, and in that respect Jurassic World is one hell of an exciting experience.
In the midst of some family tension, brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are sent off to spend a week at Jurassic World with their aunt, ops manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who immediately pawns them off on her assistant while she shows the park’s new future star to eccentric billionaire owner Simon Masrani, played with the requisite eccentricity by Irrfan Khan. Masrani orders Dearing to introduce the creature to Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, a Navy veteran and researcher currently engaged in bonding with the park’s velociraptors. The kids ditch their sitter to go off on their own, Grady makes some dire predictions about nature’s uncontrollable, er, nature; glitches happen, and, as Jeff Goldblum says in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, later, there’s running and screaming.
The park’s scope and dinosaur sequences are bigger and better than their predecessors in every way. The action consistently tops itself, building from several false climaxes and delivering some of the best, most meticulously planned uses of 3D yet. This is where the movie announces itself as a product of its time rather than a throwback to Spielberg’s adventure flicks of yore, and Jurassic World can hang with anything from Michael Bay or the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it comes to frenetic, eye-popping scenes. Also exciting and coolly contemporary is the use of fantastic speculative technology throughout the park.
Between all the dino fun and terror (some might find the body count unsettlingly high for a PG-13 rating), the movie is slightly less impressive. It’s ably acted — Vincent D’Onofrio and Jake Johnson (New Girl) stand out as a baddie with an agenda and his geeky technician, and Pratt and Howard nurture a decent chemistry — but the one-dimensionality of many of the characters is a definite disappointment. Still, the comedy is well-timed and often genuinely funny, and director Treverrow lends things a unique feel by alternating between frantic action, overtly Spielbergian panoramas and lingering, indie-fied close-ups of characters.
Like the arguments over the exact nature of modern-day blockbusters, any debate about what specifically makes Jurassic World transcend its cliches is probably moot. In the end, the movie is a good one simply because it fulfills the requirements of one of the oldest and most admirable cinematic cliches of them all: In its best moments, it makes you feel like a kid again.