Given that the last few years have treated audiences to some atrocious remakes and reboots of beloved cinematic properties, from Total Recall to Robocop to the awful-looking upcoming Terminator Genisys, approaching Jurassic World with trepidation would be entirely understandable. After all, the previous two Jurassic Park sequels were nowhere near as good as the original and lost much of the spirit that made Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster so magical. Thankfully, not only is Jurassic World easily the best instalment in the dino-franchise since the first one, it also essentially wipes The Lost World and JP3 out of the continuity. Both reverent to the original and wholly relevant to the modern age of blockbusters (its continued appeal was proved over the weekend with a staggering $511 million take worldwide), Jurassic World is yet another highlight in what is proving to be the best cinematic summer in years.
22 years have elapsed since John Hammond first revealed his prehistoric theme park on Isla Nubar, and the times have changed. Jurassic World (the new park) is open, fully sponsored by real world companies, and trying to bring in more punters with genetically engineered hybrid dinosaurs. The mantra of bigger being better infects everything, and Colin Trevorrow’s film constantly questions whether this is a good thing, eventually settling on an emphatic ‘no’. Not only does the quest for a new, more impressive, dinosaur lead to inevitable disaster, but the purity of Hammond’s original dream is clearly held up as an ideal. It’s this respect for the past that stops the modernisation of the franchise from robbing it of its original soul, even when the T-Rex gets relegated to a sideshow, hidden behind the camera flashes of a largely uninterested audience. Yet, even whilst showing us the disillusionment of a new generation, Jurassic World never loses its ability to amaze. The first introduction to the mosasaur (a colossal marine dinosaur) is breathtaking, doing a fine job of making you wish for a real Jurassic World, and the monstrous hybrid at the heart of the film is genuinely frightening.
This hybrid is the Indominus Rex, made up of everything from the Tyrannosaurus to a cuttlefish. Whist the abilities provided by all the different DNAs sometimes seem like a cheat for the writers, it does allow for some of the most frightening scenes in a blockbuster since the Joker terrorised Gotham way back in 2008. When we first meet Indominus, the film brims with tension in a way that invites positive comparison with much of Spielberg’s work, before the beast breaks loose to wreak havoc on the park. And she (all the dinosaurs here are female) could not have picked a worse weekend. Park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) has to impress a string of new investors as well as take care of her visiting nephews, Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), who have been sent to the resort to distract them from their parents’ divorce. Howard makes for a likable lead, reacting and adapting believably to the ever worsening crisis and playing very well off her co-star Chris Pratt, with whom she shares an easy chemistry.
Pratt plays Owen Grady, an ex-military man with a talent for wrangling velociraptors. Whilst there were worries from early clips that Owen would end up being an outmoded boor, that is happily not the case. Pratt’s natural charm really elevates any scene he’s in and stops the fact that he is literally an alpha male – he’s the leader of the pack of raptors – from becoming too ridiculous. There’s a solid supporting cast behind the lead four, from Vincent D’Onofrio as a convincingly menacing, if slightly underserved, InGen (the franchise’s nebulously malevolent corporation) goon, to New Girl’s Jake Johnson as a heroic nerd who gets, along with fellow comic actor Lauren Lapkus, the film’s biggest laugh.
Having such a likeable group of leads helps immensely when the chaos kicks off, as does the very liberal use of the 12a rating. Jurassic World is surprisingly violent, with plenty of gruesome deaths, both military and civilian. In fact, one death sequence is so protracted and relentless that it feels out of place, a rare duff note in the action. Unlike Jurassic Park’s raptors and T-Rex, the Indominus is a proper villain, rather than a purely instinctive animal. She can communicate with other dinosaurs and kills the herbivores for the fun of it. The last breaths of a dying brontosaurus are tragic, and ensure that there are absolutely no moral qualms with the quest to kill the new Rex. In keeping with franchise tradition, all the dinosaurs look phenomenal, using both animatronics and CGI to create animals that feel truly alive. Some are terrifying, some, like the tiny triceratops in the petting zoo, are absolutely adorable and, crucially, all of them feel real.
Despite being part of a franchise that is clearly going to move forward (no movie makes over half a billion dollars in three days and doesn’t get a follow up), Jurassic World is refreshingly self-contained. There are plenty of references to the original, but, come the end of the film, everything is as resolved as it could possibly be, with no frustrating sequel-baiting. The plot may be a little thin, but highly watchable actors and gorgeous visuals more than make up for this weakness. With this as his Indiana Jones role to complement his alt-Han Solo from last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt cements himself as this generation’s Harrison Ford, and Jurassic World shows that the wonder of watching dinosaurs cause havoc is truly a timeless joy.