It's not the cynical, cash-in cheesefest you feared. OK, Jurassic World is a little of that. But this state-of-the-art dino epic is also more than a blast of rumbling, roaring, "did you effing see that!" fun. It's got a wicked streak of subversive attitude that goes by the name of Colin Trevorrow. He's the director and co-writer whose only previous feature credit, a nifty 2012 indie called Safety Not Guaranteed, cost $750,000, chump change on a studio product like this, which cost — wait for it — $150 million.
For starters, Trevorrow is a fanboy of all things Jurassic and Steven Spielberg, who directed the first two Jurassic films and rode herd as an exec producer on this one. But even with the boss looking over his shoulder, Trevorrow, with his writing partner, Derek Connolly, redrafted the existing script to get in his own licks. That means throwing a few bombs at a public that thinks better is defined solely by upping the wow factor. Style, character and emotion are fatally retro or, worse, so three Jurassic epics ago. If you intend to watch this new take while binge-checking your smartphone, Trevorrow has a few darts aimed your way.
But, first, let's play catch-up. The big attraction that John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) envisioned in 1993's Jurassic Park never opened; too many creatures created from dino DNA wreaked havoc on humans. In Jurassic World, the third sequel in the series, the park has been open for 22 years. But the tourists are jaded. Dinos have been domesticated. Kiddies ride tamed triceratops. And when a great white shark (name-check, Jaws) is swallowed in one gulp by a Mosasaurus, all the public gets is splashed. Safety is guaranteed. Boring! The fans want danger — bigger, faster dinos with more teeth. If that's not Hollywood in a nutshell, I don't know my inflated, degraded CGI epics, in 3D and IMAX, from Transformers to San Andreas.
To stay in business, Jurassic World, the park, needs to give the public what it wants: blood. For Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager, that means building a better tourist trap in the scary form of an Indominus rex, created from a mix of, heck, I'll never tell. But she's a beauty and a terror, forcing the park to erect a wall to hold her (name-check, King Kong).
Enter our hero, Owen (the über-relatable Chris Pratt), an animal-behavior expert (he tames velociraptors) so human his shirts stink from sweat. Can his raptors bring down the Indominus? Or will a bullying profiteer (Vincent D'Onofrio) rain down holy terror? Not so fast. First, Owen and Claire have to get it on in the 1980s style of Romancing the Stone. An early clip from Jurassic World inspired Avengers director Joss Whedon to tweet, "She's a stiff, he's a life force — really? Still?"
Don't groan. Pratt — cheers to Star-Lord of Guardians of the Galaxy — aces it as an action hero and invests his sexual banter with a comic flair the movie could have used more of. And Howard, a dynamo, is nobody's patsy. Claire can do everything Owen does, and in heels. She also protects her two visiting nephews, 11-year-old Gray (Ty Simpkins) and 16-year-old Zach (Nick Robinson). The boys have a killer scene in a gyroscope with video commentary from, of all peeps, Jimmy Fallon. It's hilarious till the gyro goes flooey and turns the kids into dino bait.
Trevorrow relishes turning tourists (read "us") into material for chomping. We get what we wish for. And we care because there's a humanity in the characters, even Lowery (Jake Jonson), a park techie who collects toy dinos and wears a tee from the original Jurassic Park that he bought on eBay. Lowery is a realist who sees things with childlike wonder. So does Trevorrow, who recaptures the thrilling spirit of the Spielberg original (name-check, T. rex) with fresh provocation: Is bigger always better, or is it an empty, soulless thing ready to bite us on the ass? Jurassic World will scare the hell out of you, and not just for the obvious reasons.