Sequels that genuinely work, or even come remotely close to living up to the original film, are few and far between.
While last weekend’s smash hit “Jurassic World” isn’t exactly a modern carbon copy of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece “Jurassic Park,” so much of what made the original feature awe-inspiring, terrifying and innovative is preserved in what very well may be the summer’s best blockbuster film.
Brash, loud and in your face, “Jurassic World” gives viewers everything they could possibly want from a return to Isla Nublar, scene of the original film’s theme park turned prehistoric demolition derby, but cranks everything about the original up to 11 while expounding on what might happen if the doomed park actually opened for business.
Besides the big, bad dinos, the first thing that jumps out on screen is the unabashed product placement throughout the film for everything from Hilton hotels to Samsung to the Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville restaurant on the main plaza (look out for Buffett himself in a mid-film scene running from loose pterodactyls.) “Jurassic World” subtly pumps out an ironic anti-commercialization sentiment, where everything’s for sale to the highest bidder. A great short scene featuring Jake Johnson of “New Girl” hammers home this point to humorous effect, wondering when Pepsisaurus is coming.
Director Colin Trevorrow hasn’t done much in his Hollywood career, with only the Aubrey Plaza-led indie dramedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” to his credit, but the young filmmaker proves incredibly adept in the world of big-budget blockbusters, revitalizing a major film franchise in a way that hasn’t been done since “Casino Royale” breathed new life into the James Bond franchise.
Properly paced and well conceived on a shot-for-shot basis, Trevorrow’s film moves along at a steady clip, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats throughout.
However, “Jurassic World” lacks the quieter moments the original film thrived in, softer scenes in between the chaos of the park’s decimation. Instead, the fourth iteration ramps up the spectacle, adding bigger, badder, cooler dinosaurs and genetic hybrids to the mix, leaning on 20-plus years of advancements in computer generated imagery and cinematography to do much of the heavy lifting. As a result, each of the film’s 15-plus dinosaurs are more dynamic and captivating, upping the ante for the inevitable sequel(s) to come.
While the dinosaurs — especially the anti-hero velociraptors returning from “Jurassic Park” and the monstrous water-locked Mosasaurus — are the film’s primary stars, Trevorrow’s blockbuster benefits from a top performance from one of Hollywood’s next generation of leading men, the charismatic Chris Pratt.
Best known for his roles on “Parks and Recreation” and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, Pratt combines his trademark wit with a cool, calm demeanor to bring a modern version of the Indiana Jones character to life in a franchise that needs his unique kind of gravitas to bring the film together.
On the other hand, Bryce Dallas Howard lacks the requisite star power to keep up with Pratt, both in the physical and emotional stakes of the film, leaving viewers wanting an Anne Hathaway-type actress to help develop and fully round out her park leader. Her park manager character Claire seems to be written to have served a dual role as a hybrid femme fatale/damsel in distress, but Howard never seems to truly grasp either side.
She opts to play the role like Sandra Bullock, circa 1995, flightly, neurotic and slightly manic in a way that takes a step back from all the progressive roles and performances viewers have seen from female actresses this year. Within the context of the film, the performance generally works, but it’s a mild disappointment nevertheless.
Because “Jurassic World” follows its parent film almost to the point of remake, much of the feature’s emotional stakes are tied into Claire’s teen and pre-teen nephews, played by relative newcomers Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins. The younger Simpkins gives a more consistent performance throughout the film and helps younger viewers identify with the film in much the same way that Timmy, original park owner John Hammond’s grandson, does in “Jurassic Park.”
Strong supporting performances from veteran character actors Vincent D’Onofrio and B.D. Wong, who returns from the original film, help to provide foils for Pratt, and to a lesser extent Howard, play off of during those few and far between scenes not to feature the film’s dynamic dinosaurs.
Ardent fans of the 1993 original film in the franchise will delight in multiple viewings of “Jurassic World” as Trevorrow takes great care to sprinkle “Jurassic Park” references, both obvious and subtle, into the film. Everything from the expository cartoon character Mr. DNA to the famed spitting dinosaur Dilophosaurus to smaller line callbacks are peppered throughout “Jurassic World,” helping to give the modern film a more classic feel.
Breathtaking at times and heartpounding at others, “Jurassic World” is the sequel that “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” should have been, but wasn’t quite. This must-see cinematic thrill ride offers a little bit of something for both viewers new to the franchise and those intimately familiar with Spielberg’s classic original installment.