As a child, I loved playing with dinosaurs. I even liked to pretend I was one. I imagine the same has been true for many other kids throughout history. “People aren’t impressed by dinosaurs anymore,” a character says near the beginning of Jurassic World, and I suppose in one sense, that’s true. It takes much more to wow an audience than it did in 1993, when Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking Jurassic Park brought an entire generation’s childhood playtime to startlingly realistic life. Today, audiences feel like they’ve seen it all, and it’s harder to get swept up in the grandeur when a dinosaur is, well, just another dinosaur.
That’s one of the challenges facing Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) at the beginning of Jurassic World, a direct sequel to Spielberg’s iconic original. The dino theme park she has been tasked to run off the exotic island of Isla Nubar just isn’t bringing in the customers like it used to. Guests want something new, exciting, “with more teeth,” park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) tells her. But there aren’t many more “regular” genetically modified dinosaurs left—the only option to increase profits is to create a new hybrid, one so magnificent and scary it will surely thrill audiences like never before. The project is so secret, neither Claire nor Masrani know what it’s made out of, but they do know its name: Indominus Rex.
On the very day her nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) come to visit her at the park, the unthinkable happens: Indominus Rex escapes from his massive pen . Now this intelligent, cunning, powerful killing machine is on the loose, making its way toward the gates of a certain park which happens to contain 20,000 people.
Claire frantically enlists the help of rugged ex-military dinosaur trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), with whom she shares a complicated past (what other kind of past is there?). Together they lead the hunt against this new monstrosity, hoping to save Claire’s nephews as well as the rest of the park from a repeat of the tragic incidents that occurred at the original Jurassic Park.
Essentially ignoring the other Jurassic Sequels, The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, the film is mercifully light on complicated mythology and backstory. That’s very good news, because it allows the plot to quickly get to what we came to see: spectacular dinos doing spectacular things. This is a movie that makes more than good on its promises. The first part of the story does a great job of allowing us to see the massive theme park through the eyes of a child. There are lots of eye-catching sights, including a massive Shamu-style show that features a gargantuan aquatic dinosaur and a petting zoo that allows children to ride a Triceratops.
What makes the movie so successful is that it goes far beyond giving us eye candy to look at. Every small visual detail, every cool creature or idea, is brought back later once the action hits. There are no teases, no visual tricks designed just to look cool. Most things given screen time are there for a reason. It helps that the creature design is beyond incredible. Yes, this film uses more CGI than the original, and it occasionally shows, but production designer Ed Verreaux and a massive visual effects team have done a bang-up job recreating not only the spectacle but the warmth and real-world weight and feel of the creatures from the original. That’s no small feat.
I’ve emphasized the visual effects over the characters here, and there’s a reason for that. This is one major area where this sequel can’t hold a candle to the original. Claire never evolves much beyond your typical overworked shrew, and Owen is basically just Chris Pratt being Chris Pratt; there’s no real meat to his character. Admittedly, this franchise hasn’t been known for its complex character development, but I still don’t think the personalities here are as memorable as the ones in the original, though they are an improvement from some of the downright irritating characters from the last two films (Ian Malcom’s daughter in The Lost World, anyone?). The acting is serviceable and not much more. Thankfully, the main characters get some great banter, and even a few memorable side characters get some big laughs.
But, as the film races toward its thrilling climax, delivering memorable set-piece upon memorable set-piece, I found my complaints evaporate. This film really delivers on the childlike sense of wonder and awe that Jurassic Park evoked, and, despite the frequent callbacks to the original, it does so in a way that still feels entirely its own. It’s a tricky balance, and not one I suspected could be pulled off here. Man, am I glad I was wrong. The film’s last few minutes stretch its plausibility to the breaking point, reminding us just whole silly the whole thing is, but it also does something insanely cool, something I’ve always wanted to see from a Jurassic movie.
By the end of the film, I was that little kid playing with plastic dinosaurs once again. All of the implausible, completely badass scenarios my 5-year-old brain could dream up wouldn’t hold a candle to the kind of stuff on display here. Jurassic World is not deep. It’s not groundbreaking. It is, however, a ton of fun, and quite the spectacle to boot. My inner-child is thrilled to say that it’s a more than worthy follow up to one of the coolest movies ever made.