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The Jurassic Park franchise is one with an odd legacy. While Steven Spielberg’s original is a bona-fide classic that will be passed down from generation to generation, the two sequels that followed largely underwhelmed and failed to capture the magic of their brilliant predecessor. As such, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World sits in the strange position of both trying to live up to the landmark 1993 cinematic film, while also just needing to function better than The Lost World or Jurassic Park III did. This turns out to be a bar that works out just fine for the new movie, because it’s an entertaining and thrilling dinosaur-fueled adventure, despite the fact it’s never actually mind-blowing.
Set 22 years after the events of the first film, Jurassic World answers the big question of what would happen if Jurassic Park were to become an actual theme park - and spends approximately two hours depicting the horrors that would come as a result. Capturing themes of our own arrogance when it comes to advancement of technology, as well as our capacity as a culture to become quickly bored by it, the movie begins with the 20,000-plus daily attendance numbers to the famed island of Isla Nublar being considered too small, and the owners of the business feeling the need to keep the tourist destination ever-growing. This expansion is accomplished with the creation of the Indominus rex, a dangerous, carnivorous creature designed to be bigger, smarter, faster and scarier than the legendary Tyrannosaurus rex -- but it turns out this science experiment is a bit more than the staff is actually ready to handle.
Obviously, everyone finds themselves in extreme danger once this ferocious beast manages to escape from containment, but thrust into the center of the drama is a Velociraptor trainer named Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) -- who seems to be one of the few in Jurassic World who know how dinosaurs really think -- and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a career-driven operations manager who must not only come to terms with the fact that she helped create a monster, but also try to find and rescue her two nephews (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins) who are visiting the park. Together, these two must try to both track and stop the Indominus before it manages to take out every living thing on the island.
Unlike its sequel predecessors, which rested heavily on characters from the original returning to relive all their worst dinosaur-related nightmares, Jurassic World rejuvenates the series with a new couple of leads driving the story, and it proves to be a spark that the series desperately needed. Chris Pratt once again proves himself to be a capable and ever-affable leading man, and while the role of Owen doesn’t provide a great deal of quipping opportunities, the guy can really sell being a motorcycle-riding hero who rolls as the alpha of a pack of Velociraptors. At his best, Owen stands up against anyone convinced that the park’s attractions are simply “beings” created for exploitation.
The film’s real surprise, however, is Bryce Dallas Howard, who is given the plot’s most solid character arc, and really delivers a transformative performance. Claire legitimately starts off s one of Jurassic World’s antagonists, sharing the overall corporation’s bottom-line driven mentality and hubris. But she sets off on a legitimate journey of redemption and ultimately finds the strength to become a hero. In their respective roles, both actors deliver fantastic turns, and are well-suited to continue on to be the new faces of the franchise.
Strong as the movie’s character game is, it’s the narrative that winds up taking Jurassic World down a few pegs. Because while the story I’ve laid out certainly functions, it also doesn’t come with very many surprises. The script by Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver is structurally sound, and overall tells a worthy self-contained story. But any and all surprises it has to throw out are predictable, and it never deviates from the story that you expect it to tell. This creates some awkward moments in the third act when obvious villains rise to power and anticipated “twist” info drops are attempted. None of this is enough to entirely derail the blockbuster, but it also leaves you wishing that the film was as smart as it thinks it is.
Despite its lack of big surprises, the strong structure lends Jurassic World the opportunity for some big dino-centric action, and gasps are guaranteed from any audience watching the Indominus rex tear her way through her section of Isla Nublar (where she was kept in isolation) and get ever closer to the main section of the amusement park. There is a touch of CGI overload – which prevents the film from fully creating the magical feeling of the first Jurassic Park – but Trevorrow, making his first big studio tentpole, also creates a number of exhilarating set pieces, from the I. rex’s initial escape (assisted by some neat biological features), to the aforementioned nephews’ encounter with the creature while riding around in a Gyrosphere. It all steadily builds to the big final climactic battle, and while it does get a bit silly at times, it doesn’t undercut the entertainment value.
Jurassic World is the film that it needs to be, but it’s not really much more than that. It’s not exceptional in any specific way, but it satisfies as a fun summer blockbuster that will get audiences excited to see dinosaurs on the big screen again. For what it’s worth, it’s one of the best Jurassic Park movies we’ve seen.