Is Jurassic World better than Jurassic Park?
That seems to be the only question people want answered about director Colin Trevorrow’s (Safety Not Guaranteed) reboot of the beloved franchise. Over a decade after the last installment — and 22 years after a T. rex wreacked havoc on the original park — Trevorrow's movie takes us back to Isla Nublar and a now fully functioning dinosaur theme park.
To answer the question: It’s better than The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3, hands down, but nothing could top the original. Did you truly think it would?
Up top, if you’re someone who thinks that Jurassic Park is too sacred for yet another sequel, you’re using extinct logic. When a property makes billions of box office dollars and is globally adored, studios will want to continue that success. 2013’s retrofitting of JP into 3D (a fad that’s since gone out of style as theaters look toward the fourth dimension) proved that it still has legs.
Like bringing dinosaurs back to life using DNA found in blood from mosquitoes that were themselves found in petrified amber, you can only hope for the best. Jurassic World is the first entry worthy of being a Jurassic Park sequel.
Smartly, Jurassic World leans heavily into the plot of Jurassic Park. (Whereas, if it leaned into the plot of Lost World — dinosaurs living in the wild on another, previously unheard of island! — or JP3 — ??? — it would've caved in on itself.)
There’s a lot that will seem familiar: Odd couple protagonists (Sam Neill and Laura Dern before; now, Chris Pratt as former-Navy animal whisperer Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard as no-nonsense corporate darling Claire Dearing, who don’t start off as a couple, but, if you’ve ever seen a movie in your life, you know how they'll end up), and the children (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, both charming in a way kids in movies usually aren’t) who force the adults to put aside their differences for the greater good.
There’s also the well-intentioned businessman who wants to spare no expense (John Hammond has relinquished the park to Irrfan Khan’s Mr. Masrani), the villain who wants to use dinosaurs for his own gain (Dennis Nedry succeeded by Vincent D'Onofrio’s InGen head of security, Vic Hoskins, who wants to militarize raptors), and a scientist who maybe oversteps his bounds (BD Wong reprising his role, the only human character to return to the franchise).
Then there’s what’s new. That’s the movie's biggest triumph: The park itself.
The grand, sweeping shots of Jurassic World, set to that classic John Williams theme, are the first time in three sequels that will make you feel any of the awe and magic you felt the first time. The attractions — including a petting zoo with baby triceratops! — manage to capture the imagination as much as anything Steven Spielberg showcased during his tenure. In all honestly, we could have watched just the normal operating procedures at the park for two hours and would have been just as happy.
Alas, chaos must ensue at the park, eventually, or we don’t have a movie.
Jurassic World manages to bring itself into the 21st century fairly deftly. It’s self-referencing in the way all blockbusters self-reference in the 2010s, and openly winks at its own product placement — an early gag has Claire boasting about “Verizon Wireless presents Indominus rex” — though it does misstep in this same department with constant Mercedes Benz plugs. No surprise, since Indominus rex stars in her own Mercedes ad.
As for concerns over CGI taking the place of animatronics, ultimately they are unwarranted. The movie is beautiful. The dinosaurs are breathtaking. There is so much wow-factor and spectacle to behold in the two hours of impressively staged action set piece after action set piece that you’re never not having fun. It’s a pure joy to watch. Isn’t that what we demand from a Jurassic Park movie?
That said, it suffers some of the same pitfalls most modern blockbusters do: There are “human moments” oddly shoehorned within action bits. (A romantic kiss during a pteranodon attack? Seems unlikely.) It can be a bit heavy-handed with morality too, especially since there is no real lesson to be learned except what we already know: Bringing back dinosaurs always ends badly.
There is also a problem inherent to Jurassic movies: That human characters, by rule, are less interesting than dinosaurs. Pratt — who abandons the goofy charm of Star-Lord and instead plays a straightforward action hero in the vein of, ahem, Indiana Jones — is not the star of the movie. Nor is Howard, who is great. The dinosaurs are the star. The movie gives more somberness to the death of one sauropod than to all of the humans chomped up and spit out by various dinos, combined.
The exception is scene-stealing performances by Jake Johnson (New Girl) and Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is the New Black), as control room flunkies Lowery and Vivian. Johnson has gotten plenty of hat tips already, but his performance hinges on Lapkus’, who is equally fun to watch. One of their scenes in particular, a send-up of the hero getting the girl, got by far the biggest laugh of the movie. Runner up: During that aforementioned pterardon attack, a man is shown desperately fleeing with two margaritas in his hands.
The Indominus rex isn't necessarily the star either. The Tyrannosaurus (the same T. rex from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park!) and the raptors, clever as ever, provide plenty of entertainment, but the heavy weight champ of the movie is the mosasaur. The mosasaur — the giant, underwater reptile who eats a great white shark in the trailer — executes one of the most brutal kills of the entire franchise, and every time she appeared onscreen, the audience shrieked with pleasure.
Maybe she’s a metaphor for the movie: Completely bonkers, but there to please.
It’s not surprising then that like Jurassic Park before it, Jurassic World leaves us wondering: Where do we go from here? JW stands on its own and would work as a fulfilling one-off, but Trevorrow made sure to plant seeds that could carry over into a sequel. Unless we wait two more decades though, there's going to be the dino-sized task of justifying opening another park in the wake of how much death and destruction there is in this movie. It just would never happen. That is exactly the problem The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 faced.
We hope whatever sequel comes next — Jurassic Universe? — fairs better. If not, at least we’ll get more dinosaurs. And more dinosaurs is always good.
Now, check out Pratt singing "Margaritaville" at the Jurassic World premiere and Bryce Dallas Howard playing ET's game of "Bryce or Jessica?"