Jurassic World review: a worthy popcorn movie

Jurassic World wants very badly for you to think it's the second coming of Jurassic Park. It's littered with easter eggs and little touches and even characters from the 1993 classic. Like the dinosaurs that its brilliant geneticists have cooked up, it even shares a lot of DNA with its predecessor — but it's the random bits of other stuff thrown in that keep it from being quite on the same level.

Jurassic World stars Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire, a buttoned-up executive at Jurassic World, a Disney-esque theme park that features real-life dinosaurs as the main attraction. Her two nephews, teenaged Zachary (Nick Robinson) and boy genius Gray (Ty Simpkins), come for a weekend trip to visit their aunt and scope out dinos, but neither she nor Zachary (who is only interested in girls) is terribly inspired by the dinosaur magic. Claire cares about bottom lines, investors, and keeping things running smoothly. Owen (Chris Pratt) is her onetime love interest and head trainer at the park. He's able to actually teach and train some of the smarter animals — namely, Jurassic Park series favorite velociraptors, and, like all "good" characters in the series, he respects the power and brutality of the creatures.

We follow these characters going about their lives until, naturally, something goes horribly wrong (humanity can't control nature after all!) and we keep following them as the action ratchets the intensity up mercilessly.

Jurassic World Owen and Claire
Jurassic World Claire
It's anti-corporate, which is an odd but refreshing message from a massive-budget movie.
jurassic world kids

Jurassic World is a well-paced action movie with just enough of that morality lesson thrown in. Like its (admittedly smarter) predecessor, it's a movie about spectacle that wants to say something about the nature of spectacle. Early on, Claire tries to convince investors to sponsor an attraction in the park with the promise of a new dinosaur — a bigger, meaner, "cooler," creature that naturally proves to be unpredictable and dangerous. The public has gotten bored with the garden variety — and Jurassic World needs new attractions to keep the company profitable.

Whereas Jurassic Park was weirdly anti-science, Jurassic World is more staunchly anti-corporate, which is an odd but refreshing message from a massive-budget studio picture. It's not very subtly conveyed — between jokes about $7 sodas and Claire's icy financial prognostics, there are characters who all but arrive on the scene twirling their villainous mustaches. It works though, and I couldn't help but chuckle at all the branding-related digs that clearly have Disneyland and Universal Studios in their sights.

Even less subtle are the characterizations. Everyone in the main crew does a decent job, but there are simply no characters as memorable as say, Jeff Goldblum's irrepressible Ian Malcom or Richard Attenborough's genteel John Hammond. There isn't really anyone close to Laura Dern's capable Ellie Sattler, or scene stealers like Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), Muldoon (Bob Peck) or Mr. Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson). The kids, in particular, pale in comparison to Lex and Tim. While Gray is a pretty normal (if super intelligent) little guy, Zach is a (realistically) insufferable teen. I'll be honest, if I didn't feel for Claire and her love for the boys, I wouldn't have cared less if they got eaten in an "oh no, dinos are everywhere!" montage.

Perhaps it's unfair to stack Jurassic World up against Jurassic Park when the older movie is such an enduring classic, an action movie that also worked beautifully as a thriller with some of cinema's most iconic movie monsters. Taken entirely on its own merits, Jurassic World is big and exciting and well-paced, the tension is wisely doled out so that action and disaster never feel far away, and once the shit really starts to hit the fan, the movie fully comes into its own. I was literally on the edge of my seat for the final third, and while some of those nods to the original's nail-biting moments come fast and hard, they don't detract from a fantastic climax.

This is a Jurassic Park movie, then, and not a great one, but a good one. Coming right after Mad Max: Fury Road won't do it any favors, and its lack of truly memorable characters kills its chances at becoming a classic. But Jurassic World, for all of its faults, knows that a good Jurassic Park movie has substance beyond the visceral appeal of "Dinosaurs are eating people!" and also knows exactly when to revel in the spectacle.