As I sat in the theater, waiting for Jurassic World to start, I began to suffer a very slight anxiety attack. I love Jurassic Park and The Lost World, regardless of what other people think of it. And as bad as Jurassic Park III is, I still find myself watching it when I come across it on cable. There is just something great about dinosaurs that takes me back to being a kid in all the best ways. So ever since Jurassic World was announced and the filmmakers made it clear they had abandoned the ridiculous premise of dino-human hybrid soldiers, I had been eagerly awaiting the moment I could see it. I was all aboard the Hype Train.
But as the trailers for movies I didn’t really care about started to play, I began to get anxious. The problem with hype is the almost certain letdown of expectations. Remember Prometheus? I certainly try not to. Did I set Jurassic World up to fail? Will I go home disappointed? Is my life going to remain as empty as it’s always been?
The good news is that Jurassic World did not fail. I really enjoyed it. It made me feel like a kid again, sitting in the theater watching the spectacle. But let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: this is not Jurassic Park. The superior original (and even its first sequel) were able to generate genuine moments of suspense and terror. World has no such ambitions and is really just a straight-up action movie.
That isn’t a knock. Aliens went the action route, shedding its predecessor’s horror roots, and it’s still great. Similarly, Jurassic World sets off to do its own thing, and isn’t concerned with trying to replicate the original’s beats and pacing. This is mostly a good thing. Rather than build up to the reveal of the park, the film transports us to the resort and all of its wonder within the first few minutes. It trusts that audiences already experienced the anticipation in Jurassic Park and wisely doesn’t make us sit through it again. This allows shit to hit the fan much more quickly, and the movie becomes an escalating series of attempted containment.
This is where the movie shines. Now that the park is fully operational, we get a look behind the scenes of a fully-staffed operation. Seeing how they handle the escape of the Indominus Rex, and the increasing urgency and desperation of their damage control, is a great escalation and build off of Hammond’s insistence that “everything is under control” in the first movie. We also get to meet Lowery, the greatest control room operator in cinematic history.
The action picks up from there, and for the most part it’s pretty gangbusters. For the most part. “No one’s impressed with dinosaurs anymore,” park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) informs investors, though she may as well have been talking to the audience. After 22 years, the mere sight of a dinosaur isn’t that impressive to moviegoers. Jurassic World understands this, but decided that the way to make an impression is to use ALL THE CGI.
There are times this works well, but it often just becomes distracting. The worst offense comes at the very beginning, with an offensively blatant CG bird made all the worse by being completely unnecessary and serving literally no purpose. The constant use of CGI also works to remove the kind of tension and suspense the originals were able to build. For as formidable as these dinosaurs are, the threat never feels real, because neither are the dinosaurs. Just a little bit of practical effects would have worked wonders.
But that’s really my biggest complaint. The script is pretty solid and most of the characters invite some kind of investment, though largely due to a great cast. Chris Pratt can make even the most non-existent character affable, and he does fine as a cross between Indiana Jones and Robert Muldoon. Jake Johnson is great fun as Lowery, and gets some good laughs in. The kids are the weak link (I can’t even remember their names), but Bryce Dallas Howard does a serviceable job with what she’s given. And while I know there have been complaints about the movie being sexist in how it presents Claire’s character arc, it really isn’t that different from the way Dr. Grant’s character softened in the first movie. The romantic subplot is much more of an issue, but even the movie isn’t terribly invested in it, so it never really detracts.
But most importantly, the movie is fun. This is largely because Jurassic World seems to understand and accept its place within the franchise. There are plenty of winking nods to the audience (mostly through Lowery, and most of which stop just short of being grating) that let us know the movie has no delusions of topping the original. Instead, it opts to be sort of a wish fulfillment device. Jurassic World understands that part of the appeal of a movie like Jurassic Park is watching what is supposed to be a vacation getaway go so horribly wrong. It then amps it up, showing us the chaos that would ensue. The escalating repercussions of the Indominus Rex’s escape are a hoot to watch, especially when the InGen security head (a playful Vincent D’Onofrio) begins insisting on using raptors to hunt it down. Everything culminates in a climax that is at once absolutely ridiculous and extremely satisfying.
This movie just made me giddy. Jurassic World will not go down as a must-see classic like its originator has, that is for sure. But it goes in enough interesting directions and has enough fun doing so that it shouldn’t be remembered as just another sequel, either. It’s a true summer blockbuster – pure fun, an adrenaline rush for the moment. Also, it has goddamn dinosaurs.