Friday, June 12, 2015

Jurassic World Review

(dir. Colin Trevorrow)

Universal Pictures

“Corporate felt genetic modification would up the 'wow' factor.”
“They're dinosaurs. 'Wow' enough.”

When Jurassic World was first announced, I was doubtful that it could be pulled off. After two lifeless, unenthusiastic sequels, it seemed that our best bet was to let the jungle take the park while we clung to our memories of Spielberg’s original. But against all odds, Colin Trevorrow has managed to bring a fresh set of eyes to the franchise and deliver a film that comes close to delivering on the sheer thrill of the original.

Set 22 years after Jurassic Park, Jurassic World finds the park finally open and fully operational and it is quite the wonder to behold. Anyone who’s been clamoring for years to see the dino-park up and running, will finally have their wish. The park design is crazy cool, filled with details, and a sense of realism in its structure and attractions that makes it seem just as plausible as any number of the studio parks in Florida or California. Better yet, the film allows us to first experience the park through the eyes of children--an enthusiastic boy genius, Gray (portrayed by Ty Simpkins who’s quickly setting himself up for the Dakota Fanning award for most likeable child actor of his generation) and his jaded, teenage brother Zach (Nick Robinson). The first half hour of the film gives audiences a chance to explore the park and all of its many features including holographic information guides, a baby dino petting zoo, an aquarium, and rides. It’s everything you’d want to see in a dinosaur park and fully lives up to Hammond’s mantra of “we spared no expense.”

Despite the wonder filmgoers may see in the park, in the film’s timeline it’s been open for a decade and tourists have become bored, seeing Jurassic World the same way many people see zoos. Mounting pressures to attract investors and advertisers have led the park owners to create a new hybrid-dinosaur, the Indominous Rex. Because this is a Jurassic Park movie, of course the best laid plans go South and Gray, Zach, their Aunt and park operations manager, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Raptor-trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), and a team of expendable asset containment personnel must try to survive the chaos of nature.

Jurassic World is definitely the most plot-heavy of the franchise so it never quite captures the pacing or sense of romping adventure that the original made seem so easy. But the film blends its three distinct storylines quite naturally, forming a sum total that will leave you grinning. The A-plot uses the tried and true Spielberg trope of adventure reuniting family and strengthening bonds, The B-plot focuses more so on the larger expositional scientific implications and questions of morality, and the C-plot provides the kind of dino-action we could only dream up with action figures when we were young. When you get down to it, there are plenty of silly elements, most notably from the film’s military baddie Vic (Vincent D’Onofrio) wanting to breed dinosaurs for war. But the film owns it more unbelievable aspects by believing in them, making it easy for the audience to go along for the ride. Those looking to pick apart the science, realism, and character rationale are missing out on the point of the movie, and if we remove our blinders for even a moment we’ll realize that these weren’t aspects that Spielberg was interested in with his greatest blockbusters either. Sometimes we need a fair amount of the silly to remind us that yes, movies are art but they can also be a lot of fun.

Trevorrow and writing partner Derek Connolly’s script feels like a natural next step in the direction of the series, while offering what many other critics have already noted, a commentary on Hollywood’s need to up the wow factor and go bigger. Yet despite the fact that Trevorrow draws our attention the problem of insatiable consumer appetites, he leans into it. Yes, Jurassic World is bigger, more special effects driven, and even a little more absurd but it manages all of these things without ever becoming cynical. It’s a film that knows on principle it can’t be as good as the original so instead of trying to be that, it instead aims to be the best sequel it could possibly be. Jurassic World is a film that revels in its sequeldom and appreciates its place.

The characters that populate the film are all likeable, worthy successors to the fan favorites in the original, save Ian Malcom because c’mon, Goldblum is irreplaceable. Newly-minted leading man, Chris Pratt, gets to step outside of his comedy zone a little with Owen. He’s still funny, but it’s a different kind of humor than we’ve seen in his previous roles; it’s a little more intelligent and sarcastic. But what really makes his character work is the genuine compassion he has for the animals at the park, and you can see it every time he looks at one. The marketing may have sold him as an action hero, but he’s far more interesting than that, as is Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire. On the surface she may seem like an uptight business woman but there is a lack of certainty in her, a quality that allows her to transform into a hero just as capable as Owen (this is also a reminder that Howard should be in more movies). Actors Robinson and Simpkins have great chemistry and allow for some of the film’s most genuine moments. With actors, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, and B.D. Wong filling out the supporting roles, it’s great to see well-written minority roles that don’t cater to clich├ęs. The film’s true standout though is Jake Johnson’s tech operator, the film’s source of comic relief and avatar for the fans, that the film uses in just the right measure.

And yet for the wide range of human performances, it’s the dinosaurs who provide the emotional center. It’s no easy stretch to say that the dinosaurs killed create a much stronger reaction than any of the human loss of life. While it’s impossible to top Stan Winston’s effects, the new creatures are filled with enough texture and detail that it’s impossible to deny that there’s still magic in seeing dinosaurs brought to life in this way. And trust me when I say you will get more than enough glorious dino-moments all set to Michael Giacchino’s rousing and playful score that borrows several key themes from John Williams’s exceptional original.

Jurassic World is just as much for the adults who were kids when the original came out, as it is for the kids of today. If I were anywhere between 8 and 12, I have no doubt that Jurassic World would be my favorite movie and have the same impact as the original had on me when I was that age. It’s simply a really good summer blockbuster that captures and celebrates imagination. It won’t change the scope of filmmaking or provide anything much to analyze but it will make you cheer and give you cause to move a little closer to the edge of your seat, and ultimately is there anything better than getting to feel like a kid again for a couple hours? 

Grade: A-