In the realm of cinematic history, there are maybe a handful of titles that we can generally agree are both classics and staples of at least one generation of childhood, while being made for broader audiences. For my generation, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is one of those films. Made on the cusp of the break between practical effects and CGI, Jurassic Park wisely used a blend of cutting edge technology to bring dinosaurs to life. Along the way, as older audiences know, the film also touched upon topics from family to the problems that can emerge when science and capitalism collide.
Of course, following up a classic film of this stature is tricky. Star Wars accomplished it with The Empire Strikes Back, but other films haven’t been quite so lucky. Jurassic Park certainly was not lucky. The first Spielberg-directed sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, ramped up the carnage at the expense of the balance of elements that made the first film work. As for Jurassic Park III, in spite of a familiar face or two appearing, the film feels the most disconnected from the intellectual questions raised by Jurassic Park. When coupled with an annoying excuse to return to The Lost World‘s Isla Sorna, Jurassic Park III feels like it’s setting up for a very generic string of dino-featuring action flicks.
Fortunately, the series took a break after Jurassic Park III. Now, 14 years later, the series resumes with a new film, Jurassic World, that may not match the highs of Jurassic Park, but does work as a better sequel to that film than its predecessors.
Returning the action to Jurassic Park‘s Isla Nublar over two decades after the initial attempts of opening a dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World sees the island a decade into its rebranded existence as Jurassic World, a theme park on the scale of Disney World in size and attendance. And in corporate sponsorship. The number of corporations with a known presence on the island is staggering; the hotel is a Hilton, the vehicles are Mercedes Benz, and Verizon Wireless wants to sponsor a new attraction. But with dinosaurs now being a present reality instead of an artifact of the past, the people at InGen (the Weyland-Yutani of the dinosaur world) want a new way to maintain interest.
Enter: a genetically modified hybrid.
Of course, as Jurassic World makes sure to point out, the dinosaurs that inhabit the park are already genetically modified, with missing pieces of DNA filled in by other animal DNA, like frogs. But InGen has something different in mind. They want to blend multiple dinosaurs into a new creature, which they’ve already created and named Indominus rex (or “untamable king”). And you know the InGen motto: “What can go wrong?” (Not to be confused with InGen founder John Hammond’s personal motto, “We’ve spared no expense!”)
That motto must be implanted into the minds of InGen’s employees, which include Operations Manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), because the park’s reaction to every incident is to find a solution and ask that question. And of course, everything that can go wrong does. Indominus rex escapes, and the park’s employees try as many methods as possible to take the dinosaur down – while also trying to keep park attendees unaware of the situation. It doesn’t help that InGen already has plans in place to take the Velociraptors and weaponize them. With the Indominus rex’s trail of carnage overtaking the island, InGen rep Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) sees an opportunity to test this plan.
Those Velociraptors, already made infamous in the franchise’s previous films, keep finding new ways to increase their intelligence. These days, they’re taking commands from their “Alpha,” Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former military man who specializes in animal training. Even though Owen is able to train the Velociraptors, he’s clearly aware of the fragility of his dominance and is able to act accordingly. That, of course, makes Owen the voice of reason in the film – and also the one who can take come through when things go wrong. Like when Claire’s visiting nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) go missing.
Played by Pratt with the acerbic snark of the original’s Dr. Ian Malcolm in the body of an action hero, Owen may be the closest thing to a conventional lead this franchise has ever had. That’s not a bad thing, in this case. The Jurassic Park films have rarely worked to deeply develop their characters, but Pratt is able to bring a lot of his natural charm to his performance. That’s more than can be said for his main (human) co-star. Howard’s not the example of sexism that Joss Whedon claimed a few months ago, but getting to play the workaholic stiff against a charismatic force like Pratt doesn’t leave her much room initially. She does get room to have some fun of her own and take charge as the film progresses, though, including one scene near the end that reintroduces a familiar face. As for Robinson and Simpkins, who fill the obligatory slots for children in this series, both are given little to work with, but are more believable than any of the previous children who’ve populated the series (especially Lex the “hacker”).
But let’s face it. Even with Chris Pratt headlining this, most viewers are going for the dinosaurs. And in spite of some concerns about the CGI in trailers for the film, the film largely delivers on that front. In the second half of the film, in particular, the dinosaurs running loose around the park feels like a proper payoff for what was first proposed in Jurassic Park. The Indominus rex, in particular, is a rather inspired choice for upping the ante in this series. It’s a ridiculously smart beast with a desire to kill and an ability to quickly adapt to its various environments. And though CGI is clearly employed more liberally here than at any other time in the series, there are still uses of animatronics that help sell certain scenes.
The film also works in actually trying to make philosophical points, something that hasn’t really been attempted by the previous sequels. Whether it’s the idea of weaponization or the supposed need for escalation in entertainment, Jurassic World attempts to actually tackle some ideas. Does the film succeed in exploring these ideas? Not that well, but the attempt is appreciated at least. Once chaos is introduced with the Indominus rex’s escape, the focus is understandably on the action. And to be clear, it’s much more action and less horror than Jurassic Park when Jurassic World comes to dinosaurs.
Jurassic World will likely suffer to some degree when compared to Jurassic Park, especially by long-term fans. That’s pretty much inevitable anyway. On its own terms, though, Jurassic World manages to reinvigorate the franchise after the damage done by its predecessors, and it opens the doors to some interesting paths future films could take. And for fans of the action in the series, there’s plenty to enjoy here. They’ve spared no expense.