Jurassic World marks the fourth entry in its paleontological franchise, but it’s probably more important as the second chapter in the story of Chris Pratt’s unexpected ascent to movie stardom. Pratt, seemingly born to make a career out of playing lovable doofuses, made his goofy tenor work for him in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. With Jurassic World, he’s shed that skin almost entirely in favor of aping the hard-jawed macho men of the 1950s B-movie canon. That transformation lends the film inevitability: As if brand recognition didn’t give Jurassic World enough of a box office edge, the image of Pratt riding a motorcycle side by side a quartet of raptors should be more than enough to sell Colin Trevorrow’s picture to today’s crowds.
That scene, and others like it, let Jurassic World function as a suitably thrilling roller-coaster ride. Unsurprisingly, they don’t add up to a particularly good movie, but Trevorrow has enough diversions stored up his sleeve that the film’s inconsistencies and overarching sloppiness almost don’t matter. Unlike many of his competitors in the still-young 2015 summer blockbuster season, Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) understands how important it is not to hold out on the entertainment. After introducing Judy Greer in her second thankless role of the year (after Tomorrowland) and shoving its two child principals, Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, off to Isla Nublar for some up-close-and-personal dinosaur time, Trevorrow more or less gets things underway posthaste.
Here, we finally get to see John Hammond’s loopy vision of a dino theme park brought to fruition. He’s dead, of course, so Jurassic World’s funding comes from rakish, eccentric billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), to whom Hammond entrusted the care of his dream. Masrani, in turn, has entrusted the park’s operation to manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose two nephews, Gray (Simpkins) and Zach (Robinson), are on their way to the resort for a vacation getaway and ostensible time with their distant, workaholic aunt. Their trip takes a turn for the toothy when the park’s upcoming attraction, a genetically altered behemoth blended from a slurry of undisclosed DNA strands, breaks free of its pen and starts wreaking bloody havoc across the island, because nobody in these movies learns from past mistakes. If only Claire had bothered consulting Pratt’s character sooner.
Pratt plays Owen Grady, a scruffy, vaguely ex-military man who trains raptors for the park and its corporate masters. His initial machismo mists Jurassic World’s script with the scent of regressive gender politics. Nobody knows better than Owen, including Claire, who at first appears resigned to playing second fiddle to Pratt’s man-in-charge. How refreshing that Jurassic World dissects its decidedly sexist tropes not long after introducing them: Claire refuses Owen’s gentlemanly gestures and saves his bacon repeatedly, all the while outrunning thunder lizards in her high heels. (Star-Lord couldn’t pull off that feat.) Pratt and Howard make a fun duo, and together Trevorrow has them pick apart misogynist clichés before they walk off into the sunset almost as equals. (A subplot involving Claire’s unrealized motherhood threatens to undermine her badassery and builds to nothing.)
That’s not all the film has on its mind, either. Early on, Trevorrow takes referential potshots at contemporary blockbusting and audience expectations, but stops just short of literally winking at his viewers. Escapist attractions need to be bigger and louder; they need to have more teeth. (They also need to look good. Despite the thorns Trevorrow has for tentpoles, the production values here are on par with the average summer popcorn extravaganza, right down to the CG indulgence and bad color grading.) The subversions and meta-commentary don’t necessarily make Jurassic World a smarter film. They do, however, at least make it thoughtful, even if its IQ ultimately falls right in line with that of a dumbbell. Vincent D’Onofrio appears as Jurassic World’s head of security who dreams of using dinosaurs in combat against Amurrica’s enemies. B.D. Wong reprises his role as the scientist responsible for bringing the dinos to life by using outrageously misguided animal elements to close genome gaps.
It’s a bad sign when a Jimmy Fallon cameo makes more sense than the motivations of supporting cast members. If Jurassic World remains willfully dopey, at least it knows how to have a good time; it’s harebrained but never boring, and unlike the last two sequels, it has a proper if overstated reverence for Steven Spielberg’s original classic. Spectacles don’t always have to be bright—they can’t all be Mad Max: Fury Road—but they at least have to be fun. Maybe the next Jurassic flick can take a crack at looking handsome, too.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, Judy Greer
Release date: June 12, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65 percent Vermont craft brews.