"Jurassic World" Sees Series Roar Back To Life

“Jurassic World” is a big, gaudy collision of light and sound, man and beast, nostalgia and innovation, commerce and art, left brain and right brain and often no brain at all. So adeptly does it roll sugar rush and brain freeze into one that it might as well come served in a paper cone.

So busy is the film that some might forget it’s operating in a T-Rex-sized shadow.

Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” was a masterwork of pop filmmaking, a veritable religious experience for countless kids born in the mid 1980s – this writer included. Often underestimated as a cultural touchstone, the movie remains as close to an everything-to-everyone summer blockbuster as anyone has ever come, a generously forward-thinking slice of cinematic comfort food.

Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” – the series’ fourth entry and its first in fourteen years – couldn’t hope to enter that stratosphere, but it doesn’t have to. It merely needs to function as a slick companion piece, a test it aces at nearly every turn.

Its story is a natural extension of John Hammond’s fever dream of a theme park where humans and dinosaurs peacefully co-exist, its killer attractions a magnet for both dollars and controversy. Twenty-two years after the original venture went up in smoke, a rebrand has allowed for an open, profitable park. But patrons inevitably want bigger, better, scarier.

Trevorrow and writing partner Derek Connolly make lots of shrewd choices with their screenplay, from using two teenage boys as an excuse to tour the park to cribbing character quirks from Michael Crichton’s novels. Just as Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm served as an in-movie commentary track the first time around, the characters in “World” are highly self-reflexive, giving each well-defined purpose and motivation.

Bryce Dallas Howard (“The Village”) stars as Claire, Jurassic World’s icy, profit-driven operations manager. She’s a character serving as many different masters as her writers, moping about in a straight jacket of corporate interest. Her control room announcement of the park’s newest attraction is the epitome of flat, contrived ad-speak – Verizon Wireless presents the Indominus Rex.

That the creation – a crass hybrid of various exotic creatures – strikes almost no one as a bad idea is equal parts funny and telling, an appropriate reignition point for the arrogance that’s driven the series. When the park’s ruggedly handsome Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, “Guardians Of The Galaxy”) guffaws at the new dino’s name, we laugh, too. Not just because we know he’s right, but at the irony of it all. An anti-theme park movie from an outfit (Universal) best known for its theme parks!

It’s that internal conflict that makes the external conflict all the more compelling, with dinosaurs attacking people and each other with purpose. It’s absurd, but it’s the right kind of absurd, always teetering on the brink of catastrophe – just like Owen’s combustible team of bloodthirsty pack hunters.

Trevorrow and Connolly do a stellar job of balancing their stable of human characters, and the cast mostly delivers. Nick Robinson (“The Kings Of Summer”) and Ty Simpkins (“Iron Man 3”) play the aforementioned teens, nephews to Claire and very much into teenage boy things – girls, technology, scaly man-eating monsters. In addition to guiding us through the park’s various attractions, they serve as the film’s portal to bald-faced nostalgia, a trip into the park’s history that’s transparent in its fan service but hair-raising all the same.

The pic’s three human antagonists include nefarious geneticist Dr. Wu (BD Wong, the only returning cast member from the previous films), sadistic InGen security supervisor Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), and charismatic but misguided park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Khan’s character is the most layered of the bunch, with the other two playing things broad and cartoonish, mostly on hand to give the story a very specific wrinkle – they want to weaponize dinosaurs.

But the main course features the Indominus Rex escaping her pen and rampaging towards the park’s hub. With 20,000 guests in jeopardy, Owen has no choice but to saddle up his raptors for a glorified fox hunt.

Despite a noticeable lack of animatronic animals, the one practical dinosaur on hand is magnificent. And the occasionally shaky CGI is remedied by the sheer amount of special effects work, sure to sate even the thirstiest of action junkies. From land to air to sea, the dinosaur kingdom is well represented and the creatures’ behavior – if not their appearance – is the series’ best to date. Every twitch, every head tilt, every blink has weight.

But the most remarkable thing about “Jurassic World” is, appropriately, its creator. Trevorrow has made only one movie before – the $750,000 “Safety Not Guaranteed” – making the $150 million “World” a towering trial by fire. It’s a stunning effort for a virtual rookie, not just matching the go-to names in big screen mayhem but doing them one better. Seemingly out of nowhere, Trevorrow has proven himself a crafty conductor of chaos.

Instead of just piping out meaningless noise, the movie brims with ideas, even at its messiest. When Jake Johnson’s control room operator – the film’s most consistently funny character – talks about John Hammond’s original park with reverence, it’s a light bulb moment. Trevorrow’s already figured out that big-budget filmmaking doesn’t have to be a burden. Commenting on the nature of making entertainment for mass consumption is so much more interesting than ignoring it, or worse yet, missing it entirely like so many brainless action movies do.

“Jurassic World” is enormously enjoyable in all its excessive glory, expertly paced and surprisingly idiosyncratic. That it’s a pretty convincing love note to one of the great action adventure films of all time is just icing on the cake. Or, more precisely, icing on top of more icing. Recommended.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: June 12, 2015
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenwriter: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, BD Wong, Lauren Lapkus, Omar Sy, Judy Greer, Andy Buckley
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril)