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Review: Jurassic World

June 17, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Jurassic World PosterThe original Jurassic Park is one of those films that rewired me as a kid.  I must have been about eight years old when I first saw Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, and even just watching it on a small television screen in the middle of a summer afternoon, the dinosaur adventure tapped right into both my hunger for spectacle and innate, childlike sense of wonder.  I loved every second.

I unfortunately can’t say the same for The Lost World.  Although the 1997 sequel boasts some solid set pieces, it also can’t help but feel like a disappointment after the success of the original, and it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s weakest films, with a lot of distractingly needless elements.  Contrarily, I still contend that 2001’s Jurassic Park III is a pretty fun popcorn film, playing on a smaller scale than the first one, but still modestly successful in its execution.

This brings us right into Jurassic World, which is easily the best sequel that the series has ever gotten.  No, this fourth franchise instalment can’t surpass the greatness of the original, but it’s still a wildly entertaining dinosaur spectacle that made me feel like a kid again, and I mean that in the best possible way.  And having just come off the biggest opening weekend of all time with an impressive box office haul of $208.8 million, it’s also one of the summer’s best blockbusters.

The story takes place 22 years after the disaster at the original park.  A revamped version of the theme park is now up and running on Isla Nublar, where new attractions are always being commissioned to keep their visitors excited.  Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the corporate head of the place, not only tasked with showing around their biggest investor, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), but also watching over her two nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), who are sent there for a tour.

Owen (Chris Pratt) is a sort of dinosaur whisperer who boasts a deep understanding of the animals, and also has some pretty tough survival instincts of his own, trying to keep his velociraptors out of the hands of Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who wants to weaponize the creatures and sell them to the military.  But when the lab’s newest creation, a spliced together dinosaur known as Indominous Rex, breaks out of her constraints, the park is poorly equipped for the disaster, putting the visitors in grave danger.

Although Jurassic World has been accused of having stereotypical characters, they are nowhere near as problematic as some buzz would suggest, and are actually understandable in context.  Yes, they are often archetypes, but the film does get points for at least trying to have a strong female lead and more racially diverse cast.  The actors all do a fine job of bringing a little more depth to their roles than you might expect, being given enough breathing room for us to become invested in their plight.

Chris Pratt is an easily likeable presence no matter what, with his charmingly self assured humour matched by his genuine action movie capabilities.  Bryce Dallas Howard brings a sense of determined strength to her character, who gets many opportunities to stand up for herself and kick ass, even though she is often wearing high heels.  Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins are engaging as the young leads, with their tested bond as brothers providing the main heart of the film.  Jake Johnson is a nice addition to the cast, providing some delightful comic relief through his brief role as a desk attendant.

The most pleasantly surprising part of Jurassic World is how respectable it is of the original film, and just how many clever little references they are able to work in.  The director this time around is Colin Trevorrow, who first showed promise with the great little time travel adventure Safety Not Guaranteed a few years ago, and he does deft work behind the camera here.  The first act does a good job of introducing us to the characters and setting up the stakes of this world, building up genuine tension that finally explodes when all hell breaks loose partway through.  This suspense is kept going right through the genuinely exciting finale, where the T-Rex is used in a pretty cool way.

The action sequences actually allow a fair amount of tension to build up in order the amplify the thrills and jump scares, and the old Steven Spielberg tactic of putting kids in peril is also put to great use here, especially during a tense ride in a gyrosphere.  What also helps is that the special effects are pretty damn impressive, once again bringing these dinosaurs to roaring life right before our eyes.  The size and scope of these creatures is felt throughout, and a thrilling pterodactyl chase where visitors are literally being plucked off the ground, is like something right out of The Birds.

When I revisited the original Jurassic Park again a few years ago, in a theatre no less during the surprisingly successful 3D rerelease, I was delighted to find that the film held up just as well to my adult sensibilities.  It’s one of the few movies of its type that I would consider absolutely perfect in what it sets out to do, and I still count it among my favourites.  For an effects driven summer blockbuster, and the fourth instalment in a franchise that first launched over twenty years ago, Jurassic World is way better than anybody probably expected it to be.

This is a film that works exceedingly well as summer popcorn entertainment, offering enough likeable performances and genuine dinosaur thrills to keep us thoroughly engaged from start to finish.  Put simply, Jurassic World is a lot of fun, tapping right into that childhood sense of both wonder and fear that hopefully still exists within all of us.

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