It may not be a coincidence that co-writer/director Colin Trevorrow, whose first feature film Safety Not Guaranteed captured the #1 spot in the Indiana Film Journalists Association's Top 10 in 2012, finds himself tackling yet another unsafe journey as he takes us back to Isla Nublar twenty-three years after the events that unfolded in Jurassic Park. Following the dream of John Hammond, Isla Nublar does, indeed, now possess a dinosaur-themed park, Jurassic World, that has been open and successful for ten years.
Stop. Before we go any further, suspend belief.
Seriously. Before you put on those 3-D shades, check your jadedness at the door or the just over two hours that you'll spend watching Jurassic World will be a seriously miserable couple of hours.
Are you ready?
Here we go.
In Jurassic World, the movie and the park, you can roam amongst the Stegosauruses in a gyrosphere that is cool enough that you can't help but wonder why Dean Kamen hasn't invented one yet.
Or has he?
In Jurassic World, you can ride a tame Triceratops or watch an intimidating mosasaurus feast upon a shark in true Sea World style. There's even an aviary filled with Pteranadons and other flying creatures.
After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Of course, we all know that something will go wrong. Wildly wrong. It usually happens when egos get in the way, whether that ego belongs to a profit-motivated administrator named Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a narcissistic billionaire with a God complex (Irrfan Khan), a scientist who buys into said billionaire's greedy vision (BD Wong, the only returning cast member from the original), or a power hungry military guy who is convinced that the best way to use the ability to control the Velociraptors is to turn them into millitary style killing machines.
Oh yeah, nothing could go wrong.
While Jurassic World has multiple story threads flowing through it, the film's heart and soul centers around two brothers, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson), who've reluctantly taken the trip to Jurassic World together under the not so close supervision of the aforementioned Claire while their parents, played by Judy Greer and Andy Buckley, are likely working out the nasty details of their divorce.
Unbeknownst to the boys, Jurassic World is struggling despite still attracting 20,000 visitors a day. The crowds are dwindling, while the park's expenses are not and society's fascination with dinosaurs is dissolving in favor of bigger and better and scarier things. Convinced that the only option is to up the "bad" factor in their park, the research lab has created Indominus Rex, a hybrid creature designed to be the biggest and baddest of them all. Unfortunately, the scientists quickly learn that this Indominus Rex is bigger and badder and far more intelligent than they ever expected, early on turning a designated sibling into lunch and becoming so ferocious that he (CRITIC'S NOTE: Have you ever noticed that when a creature is truly ferocious, we almost always call it a "he?") ends up isolated in a maximum security paddock in an isolated area of the island.
Oh yeah, this is going to work out. Ya know?
To make sure everything is truly secure, our billionaire baddie has Claire call in Owen (Pratt), an animal trainer of sorts whose specialty would be those pack-attacking Velociraptors who are now affectionately identified with such names as Charlie and Blue. The term "Raptor Whisperer" has already been used to describe Owen, a semi-swashbuckling sort of action guy who seems to be the only one to realize that the dinosaurs may have been born in a test-tube but they don't realize that. When he realizes that Indominus Rex has been raised in isolated captivity, he becomes the only one who realizes that Jurassic World may very well have a problem.
There are several lessons you can easily take away from Jurassic World. I have no idea if any of them are intentional, but it's nearly impossible to watch the film without asking yourself the questions "Are people really this stupid?," "Are people really this greedy?," and "Are people really guided this much by a quest for power?" Then, I pick up a newspaper (Remember those?) and realize that it's all not that far-fetched. As I watched the film, I couldn't help but reflect upon a recent interview with Lion Ark director and Animal Defenders International co-founder Tim Phillips, whose discussions about the treatment of animals in captivity are still fresh in my mind. Jurassic World is, indeed, a world where entertainment leads to profit and profit leads ordinary people to make extraordinarily stupid decisions. Again and again.
I suppose that Phillips will take some consolation in the fact that no dinosaurs were used in the filming of Jurassic World.
Jurassic World pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating. Timid children will likely cower on more than one occasion, but Trevorrow gives the film a Spielbergian flavor even if it doesn't really come close to reaching Spielbergian heights. The action sequences are exciting, but in a cheesy and fun sort of way that defies reality and demands escapism. The characters are intelligent people, but with the exception of Pratt's Owen they very seldom make intelligent choices.
It's all fun to watch. Difficult to believe.
I will admit to having had my concerns about Pratt, a perfectly likable guy whose perfectly likable persona plays well in certain scenarios. I wasn't sure that he could actually pull off a weaving together of likability with swashbuckling heroics, light romanticism, and convincing dino-wrangler. For the most part, he makes it work even when it doesn't make a lick of sense. While Claire's chemistry with Owen remains more than a bit suspect even after it's supposed to be growing, Bryce Dallas Howard maintains the film's retro vibe and manages to make us like her even when she's clearly part of the problem.
New Girl's Jake Johnson gives the film a sort of innocent spirit as an earnest control room employee whose Airplane-like observations are both spot-on insights and typically quite funny. Irrfan Khan and BD Wong both are given moments to shine, while Lauren Lapkus plays off Johnson quite nicely. The weakest link here is D'Onofrio, a mostly character actor whose excursions into comedy have mostly resulted in sneering, smirky performances and it feels particularly out of place here. D'Onofrio isn't helped by light character development, especially when everything starts to shift in ways that feel far too absurd even in this intellectually light in the loafers kind of film.
Despite its flaws, Jurassic World won me over with a combination of silly exuberance and this overwhelming sense that Trevorrow himself was having a lot of fun here. There are subtle times when Trevorrow seems to project out "I get that it's a bit hypocritical for a $100 million 3-D film to call out society for demanding bigger and better." In some ways, Jurassic World reminded me of the recent Disney bomb Tomorrowland, a film that failed where Jurassic World has for the most part succeeded.
Michael Giacchino's original score, or mostly original score, is respectfully tipping the hat to John Williams' original while updating the sound to match up with this bigger and badder Jurassic pic. Trevorrow and Derek Connolly wrote the script, along with Apes' co-scribes Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, with a clear vision for creation known as Jurassic World and all its strengths and weaknesses. The 3-D imagery worked better than it usually does for me, though the film will still no doubt be perfectly enjoyable without the extra expense.
Jurassic World isn't a perfect film. It's easily the best of the sequels, but it certainly falls short of the original's sense of surprise and spontaneity that marked the original, itself a well remembered yet flawed film.
If you check your expectations at the door, not so much lower them but merely surrender them, Jurassic World is a better film than you expected it to be and it's likely to be another notch in Pratt's cinematic belt of successes. Jurassic World is silly and enjoyable fun, a hybrid of its Jurassic ancestors and films as diverse as the teen action flicks of the 80s to Indiana Jones to others I probably shouldn't identify.
After all, what could go wrong?
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic