Film Review: Jurassic World

As advertised, the park is open. John Hammond could scarcely have dreamed of this gleaming, sprawling facility, which takes the form of a futuristic resort and functions as a zoo for the most exciting (forget “extinct”) species ever to walk the earth, but its gates have opened and the crowds have come.

Among the multitudes are teenage Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson) and his little brother Gray (Ty Simpkins), on vacation to see the dinosaurs and visit their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s manager of operations.

But Claire, who refers to the animals as park “assets” and is practically the living embodiment of stone-cold bureaucracy, has her hands full with touring investors, a hands-on CEO (Irrfan Khan), and velociraptor handler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), with whom she has a personal history as conspicuous as Pratt’s cresting international hunk factor.

Jurassic World
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Directed by Colin Trevorrow.
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, B.D. Wong.

No sooner is Owen introduced to an enormous new predator species, Indominus rex (meaning “untamable king” and appropriately containing the syllables “ominous”), than the beast escapes captivity, just as Claire’s nephews lose their chaperone and disappear into the park.

Broadly speaking, Jurassic World is at pains to replicate the experience of Jurassic Park while distinguishing itself to the minimum necessary degree. More than twenty years later, the challenge is to come up with something fresh – for the film’s writers and crew as much as for the fictional park staff, since a movie’s corporate overlords and overriding financial interests are akin to those of a theme park.

With Tyrannosaurus rex already surpassed, first through duplication (in The Lost World) and then by Spinosaurus (in Jurassic Park III), the time came to take the lid off genetic modification; Jurassic World, even though it seems to disavow the previous sequels, sees a theme park that has dabbled in the hybridization and customization of dinosaurs – for bigger, scarier attractions – to the point where an employee cheekily suggests the next logical step is to name new species after corporate sponsors.

The product of this initiative is Indominus rex (or more properly, “Verizon Wireless presents Indominus rex,” in an indecorous attempt to satirize product placement with nothing other than the earnest showcasing of real-world mega-brands). And to a predator like that, a theme park is really just a buffet by another name.

Although director Colin Trevorrow was an unexpected choice for such a project, his only previous credit being 2012’s promising but notably low-budget comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, he handles the multi-million-dollar reins with aplomb, keeping things moving along at the pace of a hunting carnivore. 

But where the earlier movies, like Michael Crichton’s books, seized every opportunity to present scientific fact and cutting-edge theory – from DNA extraction and cloning to motion-based vision and eventually feathered velociraptors – Jurassic World tilts its science-fiction decidedly in favour of the fiction, subordinating all else to thrills.

The sight of Chris Pratt leading a hunting raptor pack was contentious as soon as it was revealed in trailers, but in context, it works, even if the film’s cartoonishly articulated ideas of animal hierarchies have less to do with paleontology than with their apparent source of inspiration in How To Train Your Dragon 2.

And while Pratt plays a more straightforward heroic lead than usual, his performance and the film’s mosasaur-size box-office debut leave no doubt as to the cementing of his A-list status.

Scenes with geneticist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), the only returning character, fill in details but hit the wrong notes. And the human antagonist, a one-note InGen schemer named Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) who seemingly entered the plot as a box to be checked, tends to make even brief scenes tedious.

But the dinosaurs, convincingly rendered, pull their weight, from the beastly Indominus to herds of ankylosaurs, flocking pterosaurs, and the series’ first look at the enormous underwater predators of the antediluvian age.

If it doesn’t quite recapture the enduring sense of wonder in Spielberg’s original film, Jurassic World undeniably treats dinosaurs with the proper reverence, even as it occasionally resorts clumsily to obvious tropes, from the tell-tale drip of blood to the timing of a kiss.

And if monster-movie clichés eclipse any possible value on the academic front this time around, the door has by no means been shut on further sequels.