The Jurassic Park franchise has struggled to nail its sequel. After the legendary and ground-breaking original premiered in 1993, the two follow-ups received mixed to negative responses from critics and fans alike. After being stuck in development hell for near a decade, the franchise returns in 2015 with the long awaited sequel: Jurassic World. Calling upon a rising star in Chris Pratt to lead Colin Trevorrow’s sophomore effort, the movie aims to expand the world of Jurassic Park while staying true to the original. It asks the question: “What if the park opened?” and as you would expect, then asks “What if the dinosaurs got loose?” Anyone who has played the old Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis video games knows the answer to that (chaos) but this time we get to see the experiment played out on the big screen, with a new big time addition to the park.
The story is fairly standard affair. It doesn’t deviate far from what you would expect and there are constant parallels to Jurassic Park, to the point it follows many of the same beats. It could be seen as an allusion to ‘history repeating itself’, which given the themes of both the original and ‘World’ would make sense, but it is different enough to stand on its own. Hammond has entrusted his vision for the park to Simon Masrani, and the movie takes place after it has been running for quite some time. The token kids are Zach and Gray Mitchell, who go to the Park in part to visit their aunt Clare Dearing, who manages the day to day operations. When Clare calls upon raptor expert Owen Grady to inspect the enclosure for their new attraction, things start to go wrong, and soon the 20 000 attendants are in danger as, like always happens, dinosaurs get loose.
Many of the themes from the original movie return here. The chase of the dollar and exploitation of science feature heavily, as well as family bond and survival. It is also far cheesier than the originals. While Jurassic Park wasn’t shy to drop some trailer worthy one liners, it is ramped up here, and some of the staging directions feel as though the actors were told to stand in front of the audience like they would in a theatre performance. They had reasons to do so sure, like looking out of a window or at a screen, but it came across as staged when it did.
Trevorrow is at his best here when he builds to the tension. While nothing matches the first time the T-Rex appears in the original, there are some key moments in ‘World’ where the suspense is dialed up. Whether it is a slow burn of a frantic fight these action sequences are as good as any we’ve seen in the series, and you feel the continual loss of control as the crisis on the island goes from bad to worse. It feels like some iconic action movies, from Predator to Godzilla, are paid homage to, as well as a nod or two at certain sequences from Jurassic Park. It helps that the CGI is executed well for the most part.
The controversial new ‘hybrid’ dinosaur, Indominus Rex, is well suited for the role of lead antagonist. While some complained about news of a hybrid being included in the mix, it suits the tone of the movie well, and lines up with debates in both the original and ‘World’ on whether just because we can do something does it mean we actually should. It feels like a realistic scenario that would occur if something like Jurassic Park were to exist. All of the dinosaurs on the park are technically hybrids after all, which is also addressed. Indominus Rex feels better executed than that of the Spinosaurus in III. It is big, genuinely scary and has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. It does feel more monster than dinosaur, but the topic is well handled in universe, and lines up with what you have come to expect from the minds behind the park.
Speaking of the sequels, their impact here is practically non-existent, though not necessarily retconned out of existence. There is no reference to the San Diego incident and Spinosaurs are nowhere to be seen. The first is clearly still canon, and there are some great throwback moments to both the film and the in-universe establishment which helps to ground this movie in with the original. Those with fond memories of the first will feel a nice tug of nostalgia at several points in the movie. The only ‘cameo’ from the originals is Doctor Henry Wu, and his role is more than just a universe tying cameo but an actual role.
The main cast is serviceable, although there are no real standouts. Chris Pratt does a good job as Owen Grady, and is well and truly coming into his own as an action star. Bryce Dallas Howard does her role well as park manager Clare Dearing, but she like a lot of the characters suffer from being oversimplified. Most are given one or two key characteristics and hold onto those for dear life as their calling cards. Clare is work obsessed, this guy is relaxed and geeky, and another person is clearly power hungry. There isn’t much depth offered up even to key characters, and none are as charming as an Alan Grant, Ian Malcolm, Ellie Sattler or John Hammond. Obviously Jurassic World isn’t meant to be a character study, but it would have been nice to see some stronger characters built up, especially since Jurassic World is meant to span a new trilogy. As it is most are more or less replaceable.
Anyone who is attached to the franchise has a special connection to the Velociraptor, and there were fears that by ‘taming’ them that they would lose part of their edge. Despite the Tyrannosaur being the big guy, the raptors were often the scariest part of the originals, and they are done justice here. They are not domesticated house cats, but like a pack of wolves. There is a respect between their ‘alpha’ Grady and the four raptors, and the relationship constantly feels like it is at a knife’s edge. While the scene where Grady is on a bike tearing through the jungle with them at his side is definite ‘rule of cool’ in effect, the Velociraptors are still done justice here.
Jurassic World has already begun to exceed expectations, with a worldwide opening of $511 million, the largest worldwide opening for a movie ever, putting it ahead of Age of Ultron in early success for the year. Like Age of Ultron, it is a fun and action packed movie that isn’t perfectly executed. While The Lost World took the franchise in a new direction, Jurassic World follows in the footsteps of its father. And while it doesn’t best the 1993 classic, it is arguably the best of the sequels. It looks great on the big screen, and ticks the kinds of boxes you would expect to be ticked for a ‘Hollywood Summer Blockbuster’. Don’t go expecting a cinematic masterpiece but instead a fun ride. It might be worth it just to hear the iconic John Williams score blasted through cinema speakers one more time.