Movie Review: 'Jurassic World' Lurches Back into the Dinosaur Franchise

Movie Review: 'Jurassic World' Lurches Back into the Dinosaur Franchise

Remember that iconic scene when the T-Rex bursts into the visitor center and saves the day at the end of the original Jurassic Park?

You know what that moment really needed? A shot of the fearsome creature sauntering off into the sunset after chowing down on the raptors a la Shane, while the kids look on. “Rexy … Rexy … Come back!”

The flaws of Jurassic World are apparent from its marketing material, trailers and posters that prominently feature Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle alongside… a pack of raptors? What’s going on here?

Pratt plays Owen Grady, an ex-military man and current Velociraptor trainer employed by Jurassic World, a Disney-esque theme park that has finally realized what John Hammond had envisioned in the original Jurassic Park, on the remains of that Park at Isla Nublar, no less.

Waitaminute – Velociraptor trainer? Yes, after spending the previous three movies as the heavies – chomping down even more humans than the dreaded T-Rex – the raptors are now the good guys, and Pratt’s Grady has them (almost) literally eating of his hands.

Of course, when Grady has to venture into the raptor cage to save a fallen co-worker early in the movie, he barely escapes with his life. But when the screenplay, credited to Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (Planet of the Apes) and director Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed) calls for it, the raptors pick up the scent of an even deadlier predator and lead Grady & co. into battle like a pack of well-trained hunting dogs.

That’s not the only moment in Jurassic World when the dinosaurs stop behaving like dinosaurs, as Grady’s alpha male displays an almost telepathic link with his subjects. The raptors still eat plenty of humans here – but only the bad guys. They can sense a pure heart.

The bulk of Jurassic World follows brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Grey (Ty Simpkins) after their parents send them of on vacation with Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) – who just happens to be the operations director at the titular theme park.

Jurassic World quite nicely simulates the experience of such an attraction, a sprawling island resort that is revealed in a long tracking shot that nicely incorporates John Williams’ score from the original film. Original music from Michael Giacchino fails to match Willliams’ work the rest of the way.

As visitors sweat it out in long lines under the baking hot sun, waiting for slack-jawed teenage employees to tell them the rides have been closed due to technical difficulties, this thing feels just about perfect.

But while the park may be impressive, the dinos have become passé (or so the film tells us); while this is the only place in the world where visitors can actually see real dinosaurs, they spend more time on their cell phones than interacting with the living exhibits.

That’s where Verizon Wireless comes in. Corporate sponsorship can pay for bigger, better, bitier dinosaurs like the Indominus Rex, a modified T-Rex with more teeth, sharper claws, camouflage technology, and one hell of an attitude. Of course, when the dino starts chowing down on paying guests, Verizon might not be so happy about their investment.

Other brands like Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville can be spotted throughout the film, but rather than the usual product placement they feel like knowing critiques of this environment. It’s a theme park world and this is a theme park movie, and you’ll get all the dinosaur action you want – just be sure to buy plenty of popcorn and soda and associated merchandise on your way out.

The cast also includes Omar Sy as Grady’s right-hand man, Vincent D’Onofrio as the InGen head who wants to deploy the raptors in modern warfare (what?), Irrfan Khan as the billionaire owner of the theme park, and B.D. Wong as the only returning character from the original film.

Credit where credit is due: recent blockbusters like Avengers: Age of Ultron or San Andreas offer up plentiful destruction as cities are devastated and lives are presumably lost, but get all shy when it comes to showing blood or bodies or the real result of their over-the-top action.

Jurassic World, meanwhile, doesn’t skimp on the dino violence, and that means numerous scenes of humans getting chomped on, stomped on, and tossed around the screen like ragdolls. Blood is minimal but splattery, and stretches the limits of the PG-13 rating.

Most of the good stuff, however, is limited to a ten minute sequence of pterodactyls attacking panicking guests. I’d like to see an entire movie of dinosaurs eating hamburger-munching theme park visitors, but maybe that’s just me.

Your enjoyment of Jurassic World will hinge on your tolerance for the more abstract dinosaur stuff – the kind of shark-jumping moments that caused many fans to reject Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Besides the trained raptors, that includes Indominus Rex hunting for sport and peering over the edge of a waterfall to make sure his victims have died, and a ridiculous Deus T-Rex Machina finale.

I couldn’t swallow it from the get-to, but the final fifteen minutes of the film sealed it for me. I wanted Jurassic Park, but by the end this thing turns into Godzilla.

Otherwise, Jurassic World is surprisingly well-crafted by director Trevorrow, whose only previous feature was the indie dramedy Safety Not Guaranteed. The storyline is sufficient, the dinosaur action plentiful, the tone appropriately scary, and the film even manages to capture some of the original’s awe and wonder (though the plentiful CGI effects, while certainly passable, fail to match the practical work in the original, now 20+ years old). 

But next time, please: just have the dinosaurs behave like dinosaurs.

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