Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on June 10, 2015, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
How do you wow audiences who have gotten used to seeing dinosaurs? That’s a question that both the overseers of Jurassic World and the creators of Jurassic World have to address, and it goes (somewhat) better for the latter than for the former.
As the movie opens, we’re back on Isla Nublar—the events at neighboring Isla Sorna, as seen in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III, ignored by this reboot. The late John Hammond’s dream of an interactive showcase for prehistoric life has been rebooted as well, and the result is Jurassic World, an island-wide attraction that has been successfully operational for a decade, but has started to experience a slip in attendance. It seems the public’s fascination with dinosaurs has been waning (not that you’d know it from the oohing and aahing crowds we see), and so, under the command of billionaire owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), and the supervision of geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the only returning player from the previous pictures), a new attraction has been cooked up in the lab.
That beast is the Indominus Rex, a bigger, badder predator given that comparatively simple name so that even the littlest potential visitor to the park can pronounce it. (That’s an amusing joke, and there’s another about corporate sponsorship of the new critter that nonetheless rings a little hollow given all the actual product placement surrounding it.) Plenty of security precautions are in place to keep this monster safely away from human snacks, but as the ads for Jurassic novelist Michael Crichton’s classic Westworld once put it, things are destined to go worng… While we get good looks at most of Jurassic World’s other denizens early and often, director Colin Trevorrow teases us with tension-building glimpses of I. Rex for a while, echoing the hide-and-seek Steven Spielberg played with the T. Rex in the original Jurassic Park.
That’s not the only way in which the new film, scripted by Trevorrow, Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, directly recalls its first predecessor. Most notably, a large portion revolves around a pair of kids in peril, in this case young Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins from the first two Insidious movies) and his teenage brother Zach (Nick Robinson), visiting nephews of Claire, who is too distracted by her job to show them around the park. Another distraction: Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the Velociraptor trainer and hunk o’ man who doesn’t want to stop at their one previous date.
Yep, Velociraptor trainer, a conceit that doesn’t play as silly as it could have thanks to Pratt’s quietly commanding manner. Last seen having great chemistry with a talking raccoon and walking tree in Guardians of the Galaxy, the actor completely sells the idea that Owen could get the four raptors in his charge to follow his lead, and is easily Jurassic World’s most engaging human presence. Less persuasive is a key subplot involving Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), Jurassic World’s head of security, whose fixation on the potential military applications of rapacious saurians exacerbates all the trouble. The ill-advised idea to breed dangerous monsters for combat use has been worn out in about 300 direct-to-video/cable movies by now, and it’s disappointing to see it used as the crux of a film of this stature.
Still, the specific confrontations between humans and beasts are what we’re here to see, and on that visceral level, Jurassic World doesn’t disappoint. Needless to say, the visual FX (by Industrial Light & Magic and other houses) and occasional animatronics (courtesy of Legacy Effects, carrying the torch of seminal Jurassic monster maker Stan Winston) are state-of-the-art, and the sense of danger the creatures pose to the park’s employees and visitors is never in doubt. The I. Rex is a fearsome addition to the menagerie, and this time, an aviary full of pterodactyls get to go all Alfred Hitchcock on fleeing patrons. Jurassic World has the highest body count of any entry in this series, and while the carnage is kept to PG-13 levels, there are moments here that might well scar the youngest viewers (and the fate of one poor supporting character is unnecessarily cruel).
For all that, Jurassic World is more successful at spectacle than at conveying the awe of seeing these long-dead animals walking the Earth again, and it’s so good at staging the interactions between its real and unreal principals that it’s a shame the personal relationships don’t hold up their end. The banter between Owen and Claire never catches fire, and the kids suffer from inconsistent characterizations—particularly when Gray, who has heretofore been reveling in their trip, suddenly gets depressed and teary over their parents’ impending divorce, and Zach, who has heretofore ignored him to check out the cute girls attending the park, is suddenly sensitive to his brother’s concerns. Everyone else has just functional roles to play in this scenario, in which it’s pretty easy to predict who will live, who will die (and when) and who will carry on into the inevitable sequel.
Those lapses may not matter to the crowds seeking two hours of warm-weather escapism, but they mean the difference between a diverting film and a truly involving one, and even with the addition of a few impressive new species, capturing a genuine sense of wonder is a trickier business. That distinction is hammered home during Jurassic World’s finale, which attempts a prehistoric hero moment that serves to remind, in the end, how much better Spielberg pulled this off the first time around.