After years of trying, Jurassic Park is finally open - as thriving theme park Jurassic World. But a new genetically-engineered hybrid is about to start eating the tourists...
Jurassic World is an adventure 65 million and 14 years in the making, but it’s the 14 that’s the key figure. In the time that’s passed since Jurassic Park III underwhelmed, creatively and commercially, other franchises and shared universes - you know the ones, with fluttering capes, fast cars and giant robots - have come to the fore and made a series that once boasted the biggest film of all time seem like something of, well, a dinosaur.
Not anymore. Colin Trevorrow's assured blockbuster, which has at its core a caution about the dangers of trying to keep up with the Joneses by going bigger and better and faster, is comfortably the best dino-outing since Spielberg's unimpeachable original. Given the competition - The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which had the franchise’s most suspenseful set-piece but also a young girl drop-kicking a velociraptor, and Jurassic Park III, which didn't even have that - that may be the very dictionary definition of damning with faint praise. But Jurassic World is fresh and thrilling, and while it often tips its hat to the original, it’s not a slavish copy, introducing more than enough new wrinkles into the prehistoric playbook to launch a new wave of sequels.
Where both Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Fast & Furious 7 blasted off big this summer with pre-credits blowouts, Trevorrow resists the temptation to plunge us straight into carnivore carnage, opting instead for a Spielbergian slow build. We don’t actually see a full dinosaur until roughly 20 minutes in, with the introduction of Chris Pratt’s Hunk McStubble (not his actual name; that’s Owen Grady) and his band of trained raptors. But if anyone thought, following the money shot of Pratt riding with his fanged friends at the end of the first trailer, that the series’ most effective threats had been neutered, we’re very quickly reminded that they still have teeth and claws and big appetites. But for his Big Badosaurus, Trevorrow needed something new. Enter the Indominus Rex: a truly terrible lizard.
Genetically engineered by BD Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu (the only returning cast member, though watch out for nods to Ian Malcolm), the Indominus Rex – named by a focus group, naturally – is the spared-no-expense dinosaur to end all dinosaurs. Literally. It’s a giant, chameleonic mother with all kinds of nasty tricks up its scaly sleeve, and once it gets out into the wider World, chaos reigns. From the off, fuelled by Michael Crichton’s big brain, Jurassic Park has always been a debate about the boundaries of science, and here that’s explored further. The Indominus is a textbook example of scientists being so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. Silly scientists.
It’s at once a neat comment on our been-there-done-that generation, which so quickly gets bored with the new, and a genuinely menacing movie monster. Despite being the size of a Routemaster, it lends itself neatly to several suspense sequences dotted throughout the movie, notably an Aliens-esque moment when it makes mincemeat out of a platoon of Muldoons. Because it’s been engineered in a lab, and because it’s batshit loco, single-clawedly creating the series’ biggest body count, it’s the first Jurassic Park resident that can be treated as a villain, and not a living, breathing animal simply doing what living, breathing animals do, thus giving our heroes no qualms whatsoever about trying to blast it into oblivion.
Of those heroes, Pratt cements his reputation as cinema’s new go-to leading man, even if he’s not quite as quippy or charming here as Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Star-Lord. Like Indiana Jones, he’s an unyielding man of action, who’s pretty much the same at the picture’s end as he is at the beginning. Instead, the major character arcs go to other humans and, intriguingly, certain dinosaurs. Both Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, as the brothers who become embroiled in the turmoil, bring surprising notes and warmth to roles that could have been standard movie brats you can’t wait to see get munched.
In a way, neatly heading those accusations of '70s-era sexism at the pass, the biggest arc belongs to Bryce Dallas Howard. When we first meet her park supervisor, Brittle McButtonedup (not her actual name; that’s Claire Dearing), she’s not entirely cold-blooded, but she is more preoccupied with profit margins than looking after her visiting nephews (in a neat touch, she can’t even remember their ages), but by movie’s end has transformed into a flare-wielding furiosa. Life finds a way.
It’s not all plain sailing – InGen’s villainous agenda has a hazy, underdeveloped, fix-it-in-the-sequel vibe, while some of the supporting characters feel like mere sketches. Fans of Vincent D’Onofrio’s incredible turn in Daredevil will be disappointed to find him on one-note form here as arch villain, Evil McMoustachetwirlerson (not his actual name; that’s Vic Hoskins). And some professional pooh-poohers may also have a problem with the everything-but-the-genetically-modified-kitchen-sink climax.
But the joy here comes from watching a new director on the summer blockbuster scene make an impact. Trevorrow’s debut was the lo-sci-fi Safety Not Guaranteed, and this is a significant step up. He’s at ease with the oohs and the aahs as he is with the running and screaming, even if he knows full well that the impact of the original’s astonishing ‘you-will-believe-a-dinosaur-can-roar’ effects can’t be recreated (though ILM does sterling work here). And when the dino-doo doo really hits the fan, you can almost hear him cackling as he piles outrageous beat upon outrageous beat. After careful consideration, we've decided to endorse this park.
The most notorious theme park in movie history reopens in thrilling, terrific style. Enjoy the ride.