By this point, it is well documented that Jurassic World has set box office records, a jaw dropping $511.8 million. Truth be told, it deserved it. Full disclosure, I have never been much of a lover of the Jurassic franchise. I enjoyed the first movie, but I didn’t love it. I was prepared to not like this one. This movie, however, hit the right notes. Slow going at first, with a seemingly unimpressive set -up, this train gets moving and its wheels never stop spinning. Relative newcomer writer/director Colin Trevorrow has harnessed that Spielberg energy from the first three installments and interpolated it for a new generation.
How do you follow Jurassic Park, one of the greatest blockbusters ever made? It’s not easy. So beloved by legions of fans, this would be a Herculean effort for most. Jurassic World invokes the spirit and the premise of the original, but it’s a stealthier, modern animal—a hybrid liken unto the new Indominus Rex who serves as the crafty antagonist.
22 years have passed since the disaster on Isla Nublar. The incident has been largely forgotten, speaking to our short, mile-a-moment attention span. For a split second, I wondered in the logic of the movie, how could this amusement park be allowed to exist? But I thought about how we bailed out Wall Street so who knows. The dream of enthusiastic billionaire John Hammond is intact. Jurassic World is a gigantic hit. The irony at the center of this Promethean tale is that these scientists and capitalists believe that technology can actually keep the primal instinct of these animals at bay. The dinosaurs have chips implanted to “domesticate” them. The resort is a huge success – crowds are wowed by its attractions and underpaid teenagers are bored in equal measure operating its rides.
But as with any great narrative, the plot must thicken. Indominus Rex, a brainchild of Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), is an engineered species of dinosaur created in an effort to take the park’s buzz factor up a notch. Of course, this spells disaster, catastrophic for them, great for us. Indominus Rex hatches a brilliant escape plan and heads off on a bloody hunting expedition across the island.
Indominus, I believe is the real star of the movie. As his eyes skulk behind the trees, I knew that movie had finally begun. His break from his prison was like the moment the roller coaster begins its ominous descent. His sheer voracity is only outpaced by his sheer intellect. He’s an adept killer. When we learn that he has gnawed off a chunk of his own flesh to get rid of the tracking device, I said, “Now, that’s a beast I can get behind. That is the definition, par excellence, of commitment.”
Chris Pratt is ok, too. I jest. He’s actually quite good. I’ve been a Pratt fan since his days on the WB’s Everwood. Pratt, the ever affable guy, seems like the really cool football player who knows he’s popular, but isn’t a douche bag. If you are expecting the inane musings of Andy Dwyer (Parks and Rec) or the “golly gee” of Emmit Brickowski (Lego Movie), he’s not that in this movie. Pratt’s “Owen” is the quintessential old style hero—gruff exterior, cool swagger, wise guy humor, sway with the ladies—all the things we want in a hero. He has this preternatural connection with the dinosaurs that we know is going to save us all in the end.
I found myself the least moved by Bryce Dallas Howard. Her version of Claire is middling to me. Something in her performance just felt like a performance. I saw her mind working saying, “These are all the things I am going to do to show that I am uptight.” I didn’t get lost in her performance. I kept seeing her acting choices. I found myself continually trying to imagine other actresses like Jessica Chastain or Emily Blunt or Emmy Rossum in the role. Something about her acting just screams junior league. Not awful, not great.
The other supporting cast fit nicely into their roles. Nick Robinson as Zach and Ty Simpkins as Gray emanate the perfect age gap disconnect. Zach, the typical clueless teenager, is so out of tune with his family that it is the younger Gray who connects the dots and reveals that the parents are divorcing. The emotional core, I believe, lies in the two brothers outwitting the Indominus Rex in their quest to survive. Their connection is re-igniting as the two have to help each other survive as they will have to inevitably survive the perils of a broken family together.
Elsewhere a couple of other characters and plot complications fall short. Irfan Khan’s Simon Misrani as the InGen CEO is enigmatic and fun, but the result of his arc felt unnecessary, just a fulfillment of a plot point. It wasn’t the gut punch it should have been. Vincent D’Onofrio’s character Hoskins seems to hawkish to be believable, but I was pleased with what happens to him in the end.
Jurassic World does not disappoint. For what it is, the film hits the right notes. The tension between our push to innovate and the ramifications of those innovations, with all its twisting moral intersections, always makes for good science fiction fodder. The plethora of visual effects and actions only help to enhance the story itself. It is in line with what a Spielberg production captures so well—it has heart.