Ladies and gentleman please stand and welcome the return of the Satisfying Blockbuster, back on our screens after quite a while lost in the creative wilderness of Hollywood.
Lest you think that too extravagant a way to introduce the latest instalment in the Jurassic Park trilogy, the Colin Trevorrow-directed Jurassic World, which neatly sidesteps the somewhat underwhelming second and third films in favour of picking up ten years after where the first film finished up.
Which was with a park in ruins, a company on the brink, and reputations both rent asunder and made, depending on which side of the chaotic dinosauric fence you were as the prehistoric dust settled.
In contrast, the all new bright and shiny Jurassic World theme park, upon which “no expense has been spared” – a favourite expression you will recall of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), InGen’s then CEO – and one used, as part of a raft of tributes to the original film, by the company’s new billionaire owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfam Khan), has been in operation for ten years with millions of awestruck tourists having already passed through its imposing gates.
The only problem in this insanely successful age of extinct animals come back to life?
No one is as excited as they once were to have Stegosaurus or Triceratops gallop past them on the open plains of Isla Nubar, marvel at Pteranodon and Dimorphodon flying overhead, or see Tyrannosaur make short work of a goat – although the monstrously-large aquatic Mosasaurus still, quite literally, makes a splash with the crowds – and so something bigger, better, more wow factor-ish is needed, something you suspect won’t turn out to be quite as good for the park or humanity as its proponents have promised.
Enter Indominus Rex, a witches brew of a dinosaur, and creation of the InGen Labs and its rather amoral head, Dr Henry Wong (a returning B. D. Wong) who believes that if you can scientifically do it, you should do it – how could that mindset possibly lead to anything calamitous, right? – who at the behest of the park’s helicopter-flying owner and with the full support of its all business-all-the-time operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is ready to unleash the park’s latest attraction on the world.
The only problem, as is the way of these blockbuster-sized best laid plans, is that things don’t quite go to plan, and the unexpectedly intelligent, nay even conniving, Frankenstein dinosaur runs amok with Dearing’s two visiting nephews, Gray and Zach Mitchell (Ty Simpkins and and Nick Robinson respectively), firmly in its sight along with many other park visitors.
The only hope for any sort of reasonable outcome, one that doesn’t involve the deaths of 22,000 people – Indominus Rex shows a distressing willingness to kill just for the hell of it, slaying an entire valley of gentle herbivore Apatosaurus just because it can – is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a swashbuckling, cheeky Velociraptor trainer who proves the only one willing to do what it takes to bring Dr. Wu’s genetically-spliced killing machine under control (read: dead).
His task is, of course, complicated by the fact that InGen’s head of security, Vic Hoskins, played by a suitably arrogant, smarmy Vincent D’onofrio, is jonesing to use the Velociraptors in particular, but really any dinosaurs he can get his hands on, as non-tech weapons of war, something that Grady, a man of principle and not as many wisecracks as you might think, does not approve of in any way.
Thus is set up a titanic battle between Indominus Rex and well, just about everyone and everything else, between science as a religion and science as a carefully-guided tool, between peaceful use of scientific advances and those who favour any and all steps forward being weaponised wherever possible.
It also quite possibly sets back the cause of feminism a good few decades given that the hero is once again an all-capable man, and the main female character, Dearing, proves herself emotionally cold as ice (initially at least: she humanises as the film progresses) and largely ineffectual, save for luring a Tyrannosaurus with a bright red flare (hello Jurassic Park once again) while, ahem, running in heels.
But those controversies aside, along with the ever present allegations that the movie is wildly inaccurate when it comes to its dinosaur science – case in point the vast majority of the species date from the Cretaceous not the Jurassic; but would you really go and visit Cretaceous World? – Jurassic World is just big, dumb, Spielbergian fun, the sort of adrenaline-packed ride we haven’t really been on since the old Jurassic Park/Die Hard/Indiana Jones days.
Neither as intelligently-written or emotionally-nuanced as the first film, Jurassic World nonetheless manages to make its mark, partly by harkening back to its predecessor in ways big and small – one of the control technicians, played by New Girl‘s Jake Johnson’s sports a Jurassic park T-shirt he bought on eBay while the music by Michael Giacchino judiciously samples John Williams original evocative score – but also by simply letting things go for broke after the initial, perhaps slightly too long set up where we know everything is about to go to hell any second now.
Some of the visual imagery is a treat too with the film opening with some Alien-esque clawed hands ripping their way out of an egg, followed up by what appear to be dinosaur feet thumping onto stones but which turns out to be nothing of the sort (just you wait and see), and the park unveiled section by section as if we are one of the thousands of tourists scrambling for a glimpse of a reawakened ancient past.
It does have its drawbacks of course with a slew of well-worn, blockbuster trope-heavy characters, and some fairly anaemic attempts to generate emotional intensity – at one point Gray weepingly confesses to brother Zach that he thinks their parents are divorcing but it comes across more like whining and doesn’t really fly in the “gee whiz these kids have it bad” stakes – but overall Jurassic World does what it sets out to do, dazzle and entertain the masses, with aplomb and a pretty high quotient of edge of your seat-sitting intensity.
Granted not everyone will want to travel back 65 million years into the past, especially those who, understandably, reserve a special, damn near iconic place in their moviegoing heart for Jurassic Park‘s superlative, arguably gender-equal storytelling, but for those who do go and embrace their dino-loving inner child once again, the rewards are far greater than any drawbacks, a rollercoaster ride of blockbuster fun that has been greatly missed, even in this age of tentpole-straddling cinematic behemoths.