Movie Review: “Jurassic World”

Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson
Colin Trevorrow

“Jurassic Park III” felt like the final nail in the coffin of Steven Spielberg’s dino franchise. It was obvious that another movie would happen one day, though not anytime soon after Joe Johnston’s atrocious 2001 sequel. Capturing the magic of Spielberg’s original film and, to a lesser extent, his underrated follow-up is no easy task, but while director Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) is unable to reproduce the sense of awe and terror found in the first movie, he does deliver an entertaining summer blockbuster with “Jurassic World.”

After years of setbacks, Jurassic Park is finally open and fully functional. People travel from all over the world to experience John Hammond’s dream, except it isn’t quite what he envisioned. Instead of a place of wonderment, the powers that be are more focused on profits. To raise public interest, the park has created a new dinosaur called Indominus Rex using the mixed DNA of other breeds. When the bloodthirsty dinosaur escapes on the same day that park operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is being visited by her two nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), she enlists the help of Owen (Chris Pratt), a former Navy man who has a bond with a pack of raptors, to track down the Indominus Rex before it reaches the center of the park.

What “Jurassic World” manages to bring back to the series is actual character arcs. In the first movie, it’s as much about Dr. Alan Grant taking on a paternal role as it is about running and screaming from dinosaurs. The two sequels that followed were more about thin, reactionary characters. The two relationships in this sequel – Claire with her nephews and Owen with his raptors – are well developed. It’s not the most compelling drama we’ll see this summer, but the relationships are effective enough not to be overwhelmed by the spectacle.

Admittedly, that’s not always the case, especially with the first hour of the movie. The setup lacks momentum and side characters get the short end of the stick. The man backing Jurassic World, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), initially wants to keep the spirit of John Hammond alive (“Spare no expense”), but when he actually has to spare expense, he baulks and his motivation shifts. Obviously, that change of heart is understandable, but it’s rushed, and the same can be said for Gray and Zach’s relationship. The way Zach treats Gary often changes from scene to scene.

At first, “Jurassic World” appears to be exactly what it’s condemning: a huge, dumb spectacle. Big doesn’t always mean better, and sometimes the same can be said for Trevorrow’s film. The action-heavy set pieces in the first half aren’t nearly as exciting as Owen having to get creative to hide his scent from the Indominus Rex. The buildup and tension is more thrilling than all the shooting. But unlike most summer movies, “Jurassic World” thrives in its final act, and it’s not until then that the mayhem becomes engaging, with a big fight at the end that’s so silly in a wonderful way. More than that, though, Owen’s bond with the raptors takes center stage in the final set piece, and the film is better off for it.

It’s refreshing to see Chris Pratt in a more straight-faced role. Owen isn’t a guy without a sense of humor, but he also realizes that cracking a joke while people are under attack from dinosaurs is probably inappropriate. Pratt is completely believable as a serious badass who cares about these animals, and the actor really sells the relationship with some help from ILM. Owen’s connection with the raptors also serves as a subtle commentary on blockbuster filmmaking; head of security Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) wants to weaponize the raptors for the military, basically exploiting Owen’s pure relationship with the creatures to make a profit. Sound familiar?

In the end, “Jurassic World” isn’t the grand return to Jurassic Park that fans have been clamoring for, but it’s a step in the right direction. Trevorrow and his co-writers wisely saved the best for last, sending moviegoers out of the theater on a high note. Thanks to that rousing third act, good performances, and a few fine moments of suspense, “Jurassic World” succeeds as an enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment, in spite of its troubled first hour.