Despite the fact that they’re all very flashy and expensive and well-made, there’s not really a whole lot “to” the Jurassic Park movies. Even the 1993 original, which still holds up as a charming and entertaining blockbuster, is pretty simple stuff.
Island + Dinosaurs + People = big-time, crowd-pleasing mayhem.
The still-beloved Jurassic Park spawned a pair of sequels in 1997 (The Lost World) and 2001 (Jurassic Park 3), and if neither of those follow-ups was particularly great, they at least delivered a nice collection of dino-related action sequences. So now comes the long-awaited and heavily scrutinized Jurassic World, which somehow captures just enough of the original film’s charm to keep an audience afloat before it turns into, well, a slightly better version of The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3. Truth be told, Jurassic World is pretty much exactly what we wanted from The Lost World back in 1997, but does the fourth chapter in this gigantic franchise still hold up for a 2015 audience?
Pretty much, yeah! If the producers seem more than intent on delivering a safe, simple, and straightforward sequel when it comes to plot, premise, and characters, then at least they’ve opened the floodgates on new creatures, niftier digital effects and full-scale dino-on-dino mega-brawl madness. In other words, the story is the same old thing (several characters, some of whom are interesting, are trapped on an island with rampaging dinosaurs) but there’s also a whole lot of “good stuff” to sift through as well.
Our heroine (the classy and amusing Bryce Dallas Howard) informs us as the film opens that people have grown bored of plain old dinosaurs, which is why the popular but cash-hungry Jurassic World theme park has taken to splicing various sorts of DNA together to creature new and highly volatile super-dinos. Of course this falls under the reliable old “don’t mess with Mother Nature” theme that runs through most sci-fi/horror movies in which stupid humans mess with Mother Nature and (briefly) live to regret it. We all know the Jurassic drill by now: before the hubris even subsides one of the beasts escapes from an “escape-proof” pen, which kick-starts a domino effect of dinosaur jailbreak. The only big difference between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is that this time the theme park is fully operational, open for business, and packed to the rafters with happy consumers. Also this time there’s something bigger and nastier than the T-Rex.
In addition to some great set pieces and some lovely set design / cinematography (this park does look like a lot of fun!), Jurassic World benefits greatly from the inclusion of Chris Pratt as Cocky Hero Guy. (He actually does have a name, but the character is basically Cocky Hero Guy.) His character has an affinity for animals and is a noble wise-ass in all the coolest ways, but there’s not a whole lot of meat to the character. Ms. Howard also fares well in a similarly simplistic role (she goes from fussy to tough, basically), and the background is populated by basic-yet-colorful characters played by Vincent D’Onofrio, Jake Johnson, BD Wong, and Irrfan Khan.
We even have a pair of kids trapped deep in the Jurassic World jungles (just like in the first movie), and while Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are pretty solid young actors, their characters are, well, they’re not all that interesting. The young one is a dinosaur freak and the older one likes to flirt with girls. That’s about it. They’re certainly affable enough to provide a rooting interest for the audience, but it sure feels like a bunch of early character scenes were chopped out of the movie, if only to get to the dinosaur madness more quickly.
And that’s really where Jurassic World works. Sure, the plot is virtually a remake of the first film, and yeah, most of the characters have precisely two personality traits apiece and, OK, there are some characters who seem to simply vanish for long periods of time – but when Jurassic World is focused on chases, scrapes, escapes, and all-out dino-frenzy ACTION, there’s simply a whole lot of stuff worth savoring on this menu. It might not come close to capturing the innate novelty and creativity of the original Jurassic Park, but Jurassic World stands up pretty well against those other sequels. And that’s really all you can ask from a Part 4, isn’t it?
Bonus for horror fans: there’s some actual edge to this one. Nothing too harsh, of course, because this has to be a PG-13/12A blockbuster, but you’ll definitely notice some solid jump scares, a little bit of gore, and one or two moments of outright nastiness.
– Scott Weinberg