When I first saw Jurassic Park, it was the summer between middle and high school, and I loved it. A year later, towards the end of its run, my mother decided that my younger brother was now old enough to see it. I went along with them, and I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first time. I didn’t really understand why until The Lost World came out at the end of my senior year of high school. As I watched, I realized it was silly, and even stupid in a lot of respects, but I thoroughly enjoyed it because — like the first time I saw Jurassic Park — there was a girl in the next seat clutching my arm for dear life.
Which is basically a long way of saying that Jurassic Park movies are usually silly and often stupid, but they can be great fun. Admittedly, the last two sequels have depended a lot more on the communal experience than the original, but Jurassic World is a fun romp on its own terms, and a fitting homage to what came before: a wild adventure turned into a theme park ride.
Indeed, as in real life it’s been 22 years since the events of the first movie, and Isla Nublar has become the home of “Jurassic World” — less John Hammond’s safari-park vision and closer to a cross between Disney World and Sea World, but with something much larger than Shamu in the tank. Our avenue in is Gray (Ty Simpkins), a kid whose excitement to see real live dinosaurs is infectious, though not to his older brother, Zach (Nick Robinson). They’re going on their own to visit the park, where they’re supposed to meet up with their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who just happens to direct operations at the park.
Claire, of course, is a workaholic who sloughs them off onto an assistant while she tries to close a sponsorship deal for the park’s big new attraction, the hybrid “Indominus rex”. Bigger and smarter than the Tyrannosaurus it’s based on, the research staff (again headed by B.D. Wong) won’t say what else is in the mix, but it’s not hard to guess. Still, the idea of not saying what genes have been spliced in is the single biggest and stupidest hole in the whole story, especially since that’s exactly the problem that led to the infamous disaster at the first park.
I think the justification — and the script isn’t exactly great at explaining this — is that while the park was taken over by a telecom billionaire (Irrfan Khan) with all of Hammond’s idealism, the research arm is still owned by InGen. And they’re less interested in crowd-pleasing and more interested in alternative revenue streams, like military contracting. This isn’t exactly a big secret conspiracy; their head of security (Vincent D’Onofrio) spends basically every line gloating about it, despite the warnings of his staff that actually work with the dinosaurs. Owen (Chris Pratt) and Barry (Omar Sy) may have gotten raptors to respond to basic commands, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for combat.
As a whole, Jurassic World works more or less as a rehash of the original film, from the overall structure down to individual scenes and references. Director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow comes from a more comedic background, and he infuses the movie with a playful sense of humor that improves on the B-movie camp of the previous two sequels. The pair of employees in the control room (Lauren Lapkus and Safety Not Guaranteed alum Jake Johnson) are always fun, and could use some more screen time. And Pratt plays Owen almost as an action-movie version of Parks & Rec‘s Johnny Karate.
On the other hand, this is not the movie to see if you’re looking for depth of character, or plot, or anything really. The characters are more like plot functions than people, and nobody really cares if their interactions make much sense. One story thread after another is introduced without much good reason, and discarded just as casually. Gray and Zach’s parents are evidently getting divorced, but it doesn’t really affect anything on the island. Claire and Owen have a misfired romantic history, again just because someone wanted to throw that in. There’s a pointed shot of Claire’s ridiculous heels, but they never cause her any problems running, even in the jungle; it’s almost as if Trevorrow were trying to highlight how silly and unrealistic this movie is, which I guess he may well be doing.
But if you’re looking for fun dinosaur action you’ve come to the right place. The plot undergoes bizarre contortions to make sure the Indominus not only gets out, but that its rampage sends it through pretty much every other habitat on the island. And anything it doesn’t eat turns against the humans at the first chance. It never rises to the sheer, on-your-feet awesome spectacle of, say, Godzilla, but there’s just something about Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle through the jungle alongside four Velociraptors that I just can’t say no to.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.