Right before my screening started, I told my wife there was absolutely no way this movie was going to be great: based on the dialogue featured in the trailers, I was convinced it was either going to be just passable or an outright disaster. Thankfully, I can't remember a time when I've been more wrong. Jurassic World is a thrilling, breathless, edge-of-your-seat adventure with some of the best action of the year.
Colin Trevorrow directed a small indie called Safety Not Guaranteed a few years ago, and was called up to the big leagues in a pretty massive way; this is only his second feature film, and he tackles it with the skill of a director who's handled this kind of thing a dozen times before. Frankly, I'm shocked at how confident this movie feels, and after being an acolyte of Safety Not Guaranteed since its initial release at Sundance 2012, I'm now even more convinced Trevorrow is the real deal. If he wants one, Lucasfilm should give him a Star Wars movie immediately.
Though the script can occasionally be a little on the nose, the rest of the movie is so good I found whatever issues it has easy to overlook. We don't ever quite get the same childlike wonder that we felt in the original, but the film acknowledges that by making the movie a giant metaphor for blockbuster film culture. Companies come by to slap their brand names on coming attractions, a convenient and ironic way to get most of the film's product placement out of the way in one fell swoop. "No one's impressed by a dinosaur anymore," Bryce Dallas Howard's character says, and though she's talking about the guests at the park, she may as well be talking about the audience sitting in the theater. "Consumers want something bigger," and that need for the next big thing is justification for the park's genetically modified mega-dinosaur: the Indominus Rex, which has all of the best qualities of the most badass dinos who ever walked the Earth.
Like his 1975 classic Jaws, Steven Spielberg's original Jurassic Park is a master class in building tension. I feel like part of that may have been out of necessity because of the brand new CGI techniques they were developing on that film and the expensive animatronic dinosaur models they built for it. Jurassic World has a few suspenseful moments of its own, but its reliance on mostly CG dinos means that Trevorrow can throw the whole kitchen sink at us, making for a much more intense experience.
From purely a story perspective, Jurassic Park is still top dog (or top dino, if you will), but Jurassic World is the best sequel fans could have possibly hoped for. No reasoning is going to be able to justify how the park received enough funding to rebuild after the disastrous events of 1992, or why tourists would decide to visit such a place knowing the history of what happened the first time around, so the script doesn't even bother addressing those questions. The film features a finely-tuned mix of nostalgic references to the original movie with its own inventive new set pieces, ignoring the second and third entries in the franchise and using the first as its foundation.
Some of its characters may not be overly complex, but Jurassic World does a good job making us care about them, and the film feels like it has real stakes when it puts them in danger. Chris Pratt does a fine job as an alpha-male badass who trains raptors (something the trailers make seem idiotic but surprisingly works well in context), Howard slowly ditches her initial characterization as the super-organized park overlord (which feels very much like a movie character) and eventually gets into the action herself, and Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins are solid as her nephews who come to visit the park and get stranded in the jungle on their own. Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus provide some levity as control room employees, while Vincent D'Onofrio plays the villain, a guy who wants to utilize the trained raptors as a weapon for the military.
Aesthetically, the movie looks wonderful and all of the cool new attractions are a great fit for what you'd expect from a modern version of the park. The effects look pretty good for the most part, but I suspect in another twenty years, the effects in Jurassic Park will still be more impressive because of their tactile nature; try as they might, there's something about those animatronics that pixels just can't replicate. And after what I considered to be a misstep with Tomorrowland, composer Michael Giacchino returns to excellence with this score, which incorporates John Williams' soaring theme at just the right moment.
The ideas and iconography of Spielberg's original movie hang over this one at all times — there's literally a statue built in honor of founder John Hammond in the visitor's center, for example — but Trevorrow embraces it and delivers everything I wanted in a sequel: Jurassic World reveres and acknowledges Jurassic Park, but isn't so beholden to it that it's afraid to be innovative. Hold on to your butts: Jurassic World is a hell of a ride.