Movie review: ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise roars back to life
While nothing short of one of those “Men in Black” neuralyzers will make you forget the profound disappointments of the first two sequels, “Jurassic World” combines enough nostalgia, technical wizardry and nonsensically thrilling moments to make fans of the original feel like kids again.
Although those kids probably shouldn’t be seeing “Jurassic World” in the first place, because, nightmares.
Coming 22 years after “Jurassic Park,” and 14 years after “Jurassic Park III” all but ruined the franchise, the reboot showcases plenty of reverence for the original while evoking memories of everything from “Godzilla” — the fun, old, rubber-suited movies, not that humorless mess from last summer — to “Jaws.”
By illustrating just how far summer blockbusters have come in the past 40 years, the only way the young people of “Jurassic World” can be entertained by a great white shark is by seeing one of them fed to the aquatic Mosasaurus, who splashes about in his performance pool and drenches park guests. Think SeaWorld, minus the protesters.
Built upon the bones — literally — of John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) original park on Isla Nublar, Jurassic World is a well-oiled tourist mecca. But the theme park has become so popular that the once-terrifying experience of encountering a living dinosaur has become as commonplace as staring at an elephant in a zoo.
Children can ride a Triceratops and hug their favorite herbivores in the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo. Older guests can kayak down a river and get up close and personal with Stegosauruses on the Cretaceous Cruise. Every aspect of danger and excitement has been wrung out of the island, thanks to its inclusion of a Starbucks, Jamba Juice and a Brookstone. Jurassic World even has its own Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.
To combat visitor fatigue, geneticist Dr. Wu (BD Wong, reprising his “Jurassic Park” role) has spent $26 million cooking up Indominus rex, the park’s first engineered hybrid. She’s cobbled together from the DNA of Tyrannosaurus rex, Carnotaurus, Majungasaurus, Rugops and Giganotosaurus, as well as some bits of cuttlefish and tree frogs. As Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s no-nonsense operations manager, says, “Consumers want bigger, louder, more teeth.”
Jurassic World has become so commercialized, there’s even talk of referring to her as Verizon Wireless Presents Indominus Rex.
Given the park’s previous tragedy, Jurassic World’s showman of an owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, “Life of Pi”), has Claire bring in animal-behavior expert Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to inspect Indominus rex’s paddock. Owen’s been working in a research facility on the outskirts of Isla Nublar, clicker training Velociraptors under the watchful eye of a security contractor (Vincent D’Onofrio), who wants to weaponize the raptors and turn them into dino-soldiers.
The uptight Claire and the laid-back, boardshorts-and-tequila-loving Owen barely have time to reminisce about their one disastrous date before Indominus rex escapes, begins killing the other dinosaurs for sport and endangering the park’s 21,216 visitors — including Claire’s nephews, 11-year-old Gray (Ty Simpkins) and 16-year-old Zach (Nick Robinson).
As in every “Jurassic” movie, the kids are the worst part. Here, they ignore the announcements to return to safety — “We’re VIP, dude!” — and drive their flashy gyroscope further into danger. Just once, I’d like to see one of these kids get eaten, or at least lose a limb, right off the bat to inject a real sense of danger into the proceedings.
Pratt is perfectly, heroically dashing as Owen. But “Jurassic World’s” real MVP is “New Girl’s” Jake Johnson as sarcastic technical engineer Lowery Cruthers, whose humor allows Pratt to dial back the “Guardians of the Galaxy”-style goofiness.
Lowery wears an original Jurassic Park T-shirt he bought for $150 on eBay and has what looks to be one of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) books at his workstation. Just as Lowery serves as a throwback to the original, Johnson works as a bridge to director Colin Trevorrow’s debut, the 2012 Sundance hit “Safety Not Guaranteed.”
The script — by Trevorrow and “Safety” writer Derek Connolly, as well as “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver — takes too long to get going. The characters are barely fleshed out. And the finale is every bit as silly as it is triumphant — although it’s so deliriously fun you likely won’t care.
There’s an ethical discussion throughout the “Jurassic” movies about whether dinosaurs ever should have been cloned. But, thanks to “Jurassic World,” there’s no debating the merits of bringing this franchise back from extinction.
Review: “Jurassic World,” 124 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. Grade B.