Note: the following review does not contain spoilers beyond what you can see in the trailers.
Before getting into Jurassic World, I’d like to direct you to a piece I posted the other day on my experience growing up with the franchise (click here). I do this not to generate a couple extra hits, but to remind you that it is simply impossible for someone in my shoes to assess this film objectively, given how personally close I am to it. With that being said, here are my wholly subjective thoughts on Jurassic World:
The very idea of Jurassic World is ridiculous. Set on Isla Nublar 22 years after the events of the original, the park is now a fully functioning attraction that entertains over 20,000 daily visitors. It includes a luxurious hotel, a Jamba Juice, and –oh yeah- a genetically engineered dinosaur called Indominus Rex constructed for the sole purpose of being the deadliest creature on the planet. What could possibly go wrong? How anyone –the board of directors, the government, or the general public- could think this is a good idea is beyond reasonable thought.
But it doesn’t matter, because Jurassic World is well aware of all this. Rather than wasting time/expository dialogue convincing us as to how this scenario could happen, the film openly mocks itself and subtly mocks the blockbuster machine as a whole. The product placement is so in-your-face that it’s funny rather than annoying. When Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager, explains the need for “bigger, faster, and deadlier entertainment; upping the wow factor” to Owen (Chris Pratt), he responds with “They’re dinosaurs, wow enough”. Almost immediately, the film asks you to not take it too seriously, and to do so would be your own fault. Jurassic World is just as much about itself as it is about dinosaurs, if that makes sense. It’s extremely meta in a 22 Jump Street sort of way.
That’s not to say Jurassic World should be completely void of criticism because it isn’t self-serious. Even by monster movie standards, there is plenty of bad to go around. But it’s important to throw praise on what the film does right first, because there are more positives than negatives in play here. The first fifteen or so minutes of the film, when brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) travel to and explore the park, are truly spectacular. The set pieces are incredibly detailed and the camera routinely cuts between birds-eye and up-close views of everything, allowing viewers to experience the park with the wide-eyed look of a child, the same look that Ty Simpkins pulls off very well. While The Lost World and Jurassic Park III were “here we go again” type movies, Jurassic World brings something new to the table and actually manages to evoke the sense of wonder one would expect.
These set pieces and camera work are especially important, seeing as, in 2015, it’s essentially impossible to impress people with CGI. Not to say the effects here aren’t state-of-the-art, because they are, the dinos look just as good as you’d expect, but CGI cannot carry a film anymore in a world filled with so many capable visual artists working in Hollywood. The raptors specifically are better than ever. They move fluidly an even have facial expressions. It’s actually shock to learn that no motion capture was used for them, though some animatronics were. The talented men and women at Legacy Effects and ILM deserve all the credit in the world for their work in pre-production, during filming, and afterwards. This is the type of film that requires visual effects to be planned in storyboarding before the script is actually finalized. If the effects fall flat, so does the entire film. Luckily for all of us, they don’t.
One thing that surprised me about Jurassic World is that Chris Pratt isn’t REALLY the star of the movie. I’d have to watch it again with a stopwatch, but I’m pretty sure he’s fourth in screentime after Howard and the two kids. This is both a relief and a problem. Chris Pratt’s Owen is basically just Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) from the original except with more muscles and a motorcycle. All of Pratt’s observations and warnings prove correct. He’s the perfect hero. He doesn’t change, he doesn’t struggle, and he doesn’t really do anything on a character level. This isn’t Pratt’s fault; he does everything he can to inject this bland character with charisma, but his effort falls flat in most cases. Pratt is signed on for more Jurassic films, and if he’s really going to be the actor they build this franchise around moving forward, they need to give him more to chew on.
Bryce Dallas Howard does a fine job as Claire, the true lead in the film. While she starts out as a rather clichéd career woman with little free time, she experiences a believable change of heart as things get out of control. Her romance with Pratt’s character feels forced, but Howard does a decent enough job of making it convincing. She’s very good with her eyes in this film, whether it be coldly staring down Pratt or looking in terror upon a dinosaur. The great Irrfan Khan does a nice job as the CEO and owner of the park, and the Jake Johnson/Laura Lapkus combo provides some funny control-room banter, a key element in the success of both this film and the original Jurassic Park. There’s enough talent on display to help hide some of problems with the way the script treats its characters.
The action sequences work thanks to director Colin Trevorrow and DP John Schwartzman’s sense of space. Whether closed in a building or out in the forest, we always have perspective. We’re force-fed the map of the island enough to know where everything is in relation to our characters and the masses of guests. This is something that Spielberg did very well in the first two films, and it’s nice to see that a talent as young as Trevorrow understands what works and what doesn’t in regards to action. It’ll be interesting to see what he does next; he’s already announced it won’t be another Jurassic film, but he’s certainly proved himself capable of handling big-budget action.
The most horrifying moment in Jurassic World, and therefore the best, comes when the Pterosaurs (flying dinosaurs, yay!) break free and attack the congregation of guests from above. It’s the first time in the franchise where we’ve really seen a massive slaughter. The finale is also quite a treat despite the fact that it’s a completely bullshit, almost too-unbelievable cop out. I won’t go into anymore detail here, go see the film.
The effort that Jurassic World makes to be Spielbergian causes some problems. Gray and Zach, the kids, are visiting the island so their parents can finalize the details of their divorce. Spielberg has always used kids from a broken home, but here, that story is completely forgotten once the Indominus Rex breaks free and begins to terrorize the park. In fact, the entire plot is all over the place. Once things kick into gear, there’s no down time or reflection. Every scene tries so hard to be climactic that once the climax ultimately hits it feels like just another scene shot with the trailers in mind.
However, any gripes with the script can be forgiven and any complaints come off as facetious because Jurassic World delivers on everything that it promises. There are new dinos, many nods to the original, and plenty of quality one-liners. You shouldn’t buy a ticket to Jurassic World to see great character work; if you do, that’s on you.
Jurassic World is set to open at around $204M domestically, the second biggest U.S. opening of all-time after 2012’s The Avengers. Universal is happy, audiences are happy, and Chris Pratt’s stock is certainly happy. Who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to complain?
Jurassic World deserves credit for being a childish film that isn’t ashamed of being childish. In an era where the summer season seems to be all about superheroes and Melissa McCarthy comedies, it’s a breathe of fresh air. If you walk into the theatre expecting to see brilliant storytelling, you’re bound to be disappointed. But if you buy your damn ticket, shut your damn brain off for a couple hours, and allow yourself to be captivated by the sheer preposterousness of it all; Jurassic World will be the best time you’ll have at the movies this summer.