Jurassic World (2015)

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Steven Spielberg is arguably the greatest American pop movie director of all time. It’s hard to think of anyone who comes close to his influence, quality, or goodwill both in the industry and with audiences. So taking on a franchise that he birthed and trying to make it bigger and better is a thankless job for any director, let alone a director inexperienced at making a summer blockbuster. Enter: Colin Trevorrow.

Literally the only movie Trevorrow had made before Jurassic World was Safety Not Guaranteed, a modest indie about time travel (maybe?) starring Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass that was generally well-received by critics and audiences but hardly lit the indie world on fire. Somehow, Universal thought this qualified him to direct the fourth installment in one of the most beloved franchises in movie history. It shouldn’t have worked, but hey, Jurassic World just scored the biggest opening weekend box office of all time, so what do people like me know anyway?

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Jurassic World stars Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire, Operations Manager at the dinosaur park Jurassic World. The park is based on the original Jurassic Park as conceived by John Hammond two decades ago, but it’s way cooler than the original design because technology. But it’s been around long enough that people get bored of the same old dinosaurs doing the same old dinosaur things, so the park needs something bigger and better (just like the movies, GET IT). So the park’s lab (headlined by Dr. Henry Wu, B.D. Wong from the original movie) designs a new dinosaur, and- surprise- it doesn’t exactly work out as planned.

Chris Pratt also stars as Owen, a rugged animal handler who works with the park’s velociraptors, training them much in the way Cesar Millan might train a pack of rabid German shepherds (complete with a clicker!). There’s some noise around the velociraptors being used for military purposes, as well as the familiar themes of rich people playing God with their money and resources, underestimating the power of nature. World handles these themes a lot more clumsily than Jurassic Park did 22 years ago, but that’s okay; they introduce enough new ideas to keep things interesting, and Pratt and Howard are a dynamic couple throughout their characters’ arcs, both of them self-aware in their comedy and urgent in the dangers their characters face. Vincent D’Onofrio (fresh off his amazing turn as Wilson Fisk in the Daredevil Netflix series) is cocky and fun as the main human villain- pretty sure I’m not spoiling anything by telling you he’s the villain, since he’s Vincent D’Onofrio.

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Like with Avengers: Age of Ultron, accusations of misogyny have been hurled in World’s direction (by the director of Ultron, no less!), but I didn’t see it. Claire actually has a pretty fully realized character arc, and I appreciated the ways in which they didn’t have Owen save the day every time. I give the benefit of the doubt to this franchise (but not to Hollywood- NEVER to Hollywood), because Laura Dern’s Ellie was such a credible action heroine in the first movie. Credit goes to Howard, of course, for her heady performance in what could have been a very shrewish role, but also to Trevorrow for having the presence of mind to avoid easy pitfalls, even if they do keep her in high heels the whole time.

At some point, the franchise’s legacy catches up with World and laps it one or two times over. There’s only so many ways a movie like this can go, and the first three movies already covered them all. I liked the little twists Trevorrow and his crew added to the formula, but it’s still a formula. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoyed every second of this movie. But with Spielberg’s original, the implications of its themes stick with you long after the credits roll. With Trevorrow’s updated version, I’ve already stopped caring about anything other than the fun dinosaur action scenes.

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