Movie Review: "Jurassic World" (2015)

There isn't a single film outside of Gremlins that holds as much nostalgic power over me than
Jurassic Park, and to a lesser extent, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Everything about the franchise is ingrained in my film-loving DNA. Not only the sights and sounds, but the iconic imagery of the logo with the reds and yellows of a foreboding sunset below the visage of a T-Rex skeleton. The toys I collected and played with until paint was rubbed off and limbs missing, the coloring book I filled up cover to cover with film accurate dinosaur color schemes...hell, even the toy commercials and McDonald's tie-ins are burned into my memory.

The VHS was on a constant loop at my house, as the whole family loved it almost as much as I did. I remember seeing a TV Spot for The Lost World for the first time and running out of my room rambling to my parents about there being another film. I remember my mother and sister playing a cruel prank on me days before we were set to go see The Lost World by saying I couldn't go because the film was too violent. I remember sitting in the theater between the two of them, entranced as deeply as I was when I saw the first film with my father. I even remember the hype I had for Jurassic Park 3, and the subsequent disappointment I felt, even as a 12 year old kid, in the theater when the film ended up sucking major Dinosaur dick.

While time has been a little less kind to The Lost World, I still think it's a great follow up and an unfairly hated on film [Editor's Note: can confirm; it's awesome]. But to this day it's the first film, the game changer that is Jurassic Park, that still manages to stir up my childlike sense of wonder and awe the way it did in 1993, when I saw it on the big screen. So as you may be able to tell, I'm a big fucking Jurassic Park fan.

My excitement for Jurassic World slowly built up and built up as the months slowly ticked on, inching ever closer to the release date. I found myself in a fanboy tizzy. Another film was coming out! Holy fucking shit!

I did things I never do for films, no matter how much I may be looking forward to them. I followed the production like a Raptor on the scent of its prey. I read every damn interview from the director, the writers and the cast I could find. I even found myself getting sucked in by the damn fast food tie-ins and seriously contemplating buying a $40 Indominus Rex toy. I stood there in the toy isle of fucking Wal-Mart, starring at the thing, thinking: "Man, this would be so cool to have..." as memories of me playing with the totally legendary Gen 1 T-Rex toy flooded my mind.

As the days to release ticked on by, I found myself getting more and more worried about the film sucking hardcore wang. As much of a fanboy as I am, I had no delusions. I had been burned bad once before by this franchise and I didn't want to feel that pain again. I wanted to go on critical black-out. I didn't want whatever reception the film ended up getting to influence me in any way. That didn't work, as the temptation to see what people were making of it was too great. I checked Rotten Tomatoes and saw what my gut feeling had been for months. The critical response is....average. Some people are calling it a worthy sequel, others are saying it's another forgettable blockbuster.

Again, as much of a fanboy as I am, I knew there was no way in hell the film would be able to offer the purity of the first film. All I could realistically hope for was that it be better than that peace of shit Jurassic Park 3 and anything more than that was a gift. So how did it end up? Should I stop giving this self indulgent and long-winded diatribe and get to reviewing the damn film already? Ok, here goes.

Jurassic World exceeded my hopes and expectations. The amount of genuine relief I felt as the credits rolled was staggering. They did it, they fucking pulled it off. Is it perfect? No, it's not. Do I have some issues with it? Yes, I do. But by and large the film gave me what I dreamed and hoped it would, and that was a rousing and worthy successor to the first film. It even eclipses The Lost World for me, which is surprising as I have defended that film to the death multiple times.

So where do I begin? I'll start with the characters.

One of the unsung aspects of the first film is how wonderful the cast and characters are. Grant, Malcolm, Ellie, Hammond, Lex, Tim and all of the side characters feel like real people and not typical Hollywood Blockbuster characters. The performances are grounded and authentic, adding a wonderful air of humanity to the proceedings. When these people all sit around to dish out exposition and expound on the films themes, it feels like real conversation and not movie speak.

Jurassic World doesn't quite hit this note 100%, but it tries and succeeds at it 80% of the time. Director/Writer Colin Trevorrow and his three other credited scribes try their hardest to make the cast of this film feel like real people as well. They occupy more obvious tropes than the characters of the first film, but the film wisely adds the down-to-Earth humanity to them that makes them transcend their tropes and feel organic.

Chris Pratt as Owen is the real fucking deal, a true Mega Star in the making. While he does use some humor here and there, he is most definitely not Star-Lord 2.0 like many people feared he would be. The guy is just charisma personified. He's cool, collected, and sells the action like a champ. As good as Pratt is here, this is really Bryce Dallas Howard's film and she nails it. Some reviewers have taken umbrage with her performance and I just can't share the sentiment. We seen this kind of character arc numerous times, but Trevorrow subtly subverts some of the clichés you would expect with this kind of character and makes Howard's Claire a believable, fallible protagonist. Her story could have easily dovetailed into saccharine and cheese but thankfully this never happened.

The obligatory child characters are the best we've had in the franchise since Lex and Tim. Older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) and youngling Grey (Ty Simpkins) are our audience surrogates and their relationship throughout the film evolves naturally and has a handful of touching and believable moments. Grey in particular, is probably the best child character of the franchise. His enthusiasm is infectious but never annoying and he nails all of his emotional beats. Simpkins is one hell of good child actor.

Irrfan Khan as Masrani, the new CEO of InGen owner of Jurassic World is the films biggest surprise. I totally expected his character to be the typical cold, immoral corporate villain. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Khan imbues Masrani with a Malcolm-esque eccentricity with some of Hammond's nobility. This guy truly wants to pay his respects to John Hammond and run the best theme park he can and when shit hits the fan, he feels responsible for it and tries to correct things as best he can.

Jake Johnson as Lowery is a fun character and acts as the somewhat meta messenger of the film's plot. He has a few scene-stealing lines. But now we come to Vincent D'Onofrio as Vic Hoskins and my one big gripe with the film: D'Onofrio himself is actually great in the film, adding more to his character than there is on paper with enthusiastic delivery and a unique way of carrying himself. But dammit, his side-plot of using the Raptors in military applications is just stupid.

I can't deny that it does make sense in a way and fits in with themes of the series to a degree, but it's a concept I just do not like for the franchise and it sticks out like a sore thumb and is much too close to the frightening (but holyshitthankchristitgotscraped) past draft of Jurassic Park 4 that had human/dino hybrids and weaponized dinos. Luckily, this sub-plot never makes it past the idea phase in the film, but it's prevalent enough to make me roll my eyes and wish it wasn't there.

The rest of the cast is all up the par, with some really fun bit characters thrown in to add some flavor.

Now, what about the dinosaur action? Is Colin Trevorrow Spielbergian is his delivery of the goods? Not quite, but he is damn good nonetheless. The action and mayhem is handled with care and a sense of adventure. Trevorrow stages numerous tension laced scenes and bombastic scenes alike. He managed to capture the ferocity of these animals in the way Spielberg did by showing just enough of the violence to make you feel it, but not enough where it becomes gory or tacky. The new big bad on the block, the Indominus Rex, is a truly menacing beast. I was shocked to discover the thing actually scared me. It's big, it's smart and it's mean as all hell. But it's still an animal and the movie has the brains to make it more than just a monster. It's slaughtering of a bunch of Red Shirts in the jungle and its exploration of the Gyro Sphere are some of it's best moments.

Pratt and his "trained" Raptors are awesome. I can see why people were scared of this particular plot detail, but they push it just far enough where it remains believable and the Raptors still retain their menace. The Raptors have been portrayed differently in each film in the series (sometimes not for the better) and I'm happy to see that trend continue here, as they've always been the most interesting and complex animals of the franchise.

The park itself was like having all of your childhood ideas come to life. Jurassic World feels and looks like a real theme park. All the little details the production team added to the park to make it feel like a tangible place really helped to sell the premise. If I had to offer a nitpick, I would have to say I wanted more time in the park, just watching it be a park.

When the shit hits the fan though, the film rarely stops. It's almost too fast paced at times, but what the films gives you is so much freaking fun and well crafted you'll be too busy clenching your seat to ask for a breather. The Pterosaur siege of the parks promenade is gleefully chaotic and gives us the best kill of the movie. There is something perversely glorious about seeing a hub of commercialism and tourist baiting being destroyed by dinosaurs. Another minor quibble if I may: I also wanted more dinos wreaking havoc in the park proper. But what we get is glorious just the same.

The last act is pure spectacle of the highest order. To go into detail would be to ruin the fun of it. Lets just say, it makes up for 3's biggest sin and then some. My theater burst out in applause not once, but twice.

Michael Giancchino's score is a worthy successor the the first two brilliant John Williams scores. Considering the score for the first film is arguable my favorite film score of all time, Giacchino had a lot to live up to and he delivers. He brings his own flavor and enough of Williams stuff in to create to proper balance. It's a very refreshingly traditional adventure film score.

Any more negatives? Well, the script cheats a little here and there with convenient lapse in cellphone service and walkie-talkie range. And the boys randomly having the knowledge to fix up a car is too convenient as well. A little more set-up for that would have been smarter, but these are fairly minor, if noticeable, criticisms.

Phew, this review turned out to be a fucking beast. I think I've finally said my peace. So let me recap: Jurassic World is the sequel to Jurassic Park most fans have been waiting for. It knows what made the first film so iconic and it goes for broke trying to give audiences the best experience it can. The film has the smarts, the themes and the heart (there is a scene so damn sad it literally put tears in my eyes) of the first film, as well as the spectacle.

It's not the pure cinematic bliss that is the first film and it has its share of stumbling blocks with a dumb subplot, some overly convenient scripting and a pace that could have used a little more breathing room, yet overall as a massive fan I couldn't have asked for much more. I'm content, a happy camper. Jurassic World is a film I see myself watching a lot in the future, right alongside the first film.
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