And so we return over 20 years later (I recognize there were two more movies, but for me any Jurassic Park movie is going to be measured against the original). The set-up is straightforward. With their parents preparing for divorce, teen Zach and pre-teen Gray are shuffled off to go visit their Aunt Claire. Who happens to run Jurassic World, now—20-years later in movie time as well—a full-out amusement park hosting 20,000 people a pop that sprawls across the island. Angsty moody teenager-y Zach and dinosaur-obsessed Gray get shuffled off (again) to an assistant with skip-the-line passes. Claire is busy closing a deal with Verizon to get their name in the movie because phones aren’t big enough (yet) to slap a Mercedes star-sized trademark on. She wants Verizon to sponsor their newest attraction and help them “become more relevant” (my PR professional-wife let out an involuntary cheer at that point). That attraction? A genetically-engineered new dinosaur they call Indominus Rex. Rounding out the main cast are Owen, an experimental Velociraptor trainer and former Navy man, and Misrani, the oil-and-telecom tycoon who owns the park.
In the least spoilery-spoiler I could possibly give, the Indominus Rex is where things all go wrong. Who could have thought that giving a T-Rex long arms would be a bad idea? Who could imagine a 50-foot long dinosaur climbing a 40-foot tall wall?
The Indominus Rex keeps coming up with new surprises, each somehow gained from another little bit of DNA spliced in (e.g., cuttlefish, tree frog). I didn’t stick around for the stinger, but I can only assume it was Professor Xavier offering the Indominus Rex a spot with the X-Men. Everything about the Indominus Rex screams that it is a terrible idea. It ate its sister. It grew to be much bigger than expected. The people who run the park seem to have no idea of the source of its genetic material beyond a T-Rex base. Apparently while the park owns the attraction, the intellectual property remains the proprietary property of InGen, which contracts with the park. The corporate structure is unclear (the story of my life).
But it’s good that everything goes wrong, because we’re all here for the dinosaurs, right? We get a lot of them. The Indominus Rex may be unoriginal (again, T-Rex with long arms), but it’s still a dang cool monster. And after some Godzilla-Cloverfield style teasing, we get to see plenty of it in its full glory. There is also Owen’s pack of Velociraptors (and the Velociraptors were the real stars of the first movie), a Mosasaurus (the whale-dinosaur featured in the trailer), Pterodactyls and other flying dinosaurs, my personal favorite the mace-tailed Ankylosaurus, and of course the T-Rex makes an appearance.
Jurassic World is not a perfect movie. Nothing InGen does makes sense. It’s horribly unsubtle. Characters spout ethical arguments without engaging in the context and without interest from their purported audience. The movie sometimes beats you over the head with callbacks and references to the first movie (and presumably the other two) and fourth-wall bending responses to complaints (the dinosaurs aren’t designed realistically because Rule of Cool). Much of the magic of the original was always out of reach, but it’s sad to see the scientists take a back seat (the only scientist who shows up is one of the bad guys). The characters are facially a-character-with-trait-x. Zach is the teen who doesn’t want anything to do with his parents or his kid brother. Gray is the annoying kid providing a constant feed of facts and figures (I was that kid; I still am that kid.) Claire is the impersonal workaholic. Owen is the animal whisperer who you know is cool because he uses the s-word, like right off the bat. Misrani is the eccentric billionaire.
But it works. Zach and Gray may be archetypes but those are archetypes for a reason, and the poignant scene where they discuss their parents’ impending divorce gives emotional heft for the terror of the rest of the movie. Claire is the weakest link early on but really comes into her own in the second half of the movie (the trick was rolling up her sleeves and tying her shirt off in the front). Owen keeps being awesome but it’s a good thing they didn’t ask him to carry the movie.
I was worried that with a full park, now with its own paramilitary force, that it wouldn’t work as well as a horror movie. Nope, it’s legit scary. The action scenes, whether dinosaur-on-man or dinosaur-on-dinosaur are well done and the special effects are top-notch. A quiet scene with a dying Apatosaurus does more to establish the dinosaurs as real animals that all those lines of dialogue on the front-end. The plot holes are Velociraptor-sized, not T-Rex-sized (this is all you can really ask). It can be very funny, mainly courtesy of New Girl’s Jake Johnson.
My biggest complaint? I didn’t go see it at an IMAX theater.