Film Reviews

Not Extinct Yet: Jurassic World Capably Stomps, Roars and Awes

In Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic Park reboot — set 22 years after dinosaurs started walking the Earth, again — brontosauruses, stegosauruses and velociraptors have become old hat, sort of like the mechanical Abe Lincoln at Disneyland. Meanwhile, the habitat around them has gone Vegas: Isla Nublar, home of the former dinosaur lunch counter known as Jurassic Park, is now the site of a sleek, multimillion-dollar resort known as Jurassic World, which boasts a petting zoo (where tykes can stroke the noses of adorable baby brontosauruses), an aviary (where terrifying pterodactyls soar behind protective glass) and a Brookstone (because you never know when the desire for a vibrating neck massager might strike).

Because Jurassic World has been operating smoothly for years, attendees have become bored. And so the resort's resident genetic experts have monkeyed inappropriately with DNA to breed a new creature, a dino the size of a skyscraper, with frosty white skin and eyes the color of fire opals. She's an inscrutable, ill-tempered beastie, but the suits in charge are banking on her as their next star attraction, sort of like Cher at the Colosseum.

As far as all that stuff goes — and taking into account the often gorgeous special effects — Jurassic World is pretty good fun. Especially for a here-today, gone-tomorrow summer blockbuster, the picture is better-crafted than it needs to be: If you ignore some extraneous plot threads, and the stop-the-presses revelation that, in the end, "what really matters is family," Jurassic World hangs together surprisingly well. And, like the 1993 Steven Spielberg/Michael Crichton dinosaur egg that hatched the whole phenomenon in the first place (Spielberg is an executive producer here), Jurassic World features a generous handful of wondrous moments, like visions of placid canoers paddling down a river with graceful brontosauruses striding along, everyone minding their own faux-prehistoric business.

The plot banked around all that grandness is essentially serviceable: Bryce Dallas Howard is Claire, the super-businessy business lady who manages Jurassic World. Her nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), whom she barely knows, have decided to take their Christmas holiday exploring this prehistoric world of wonder, only to spend much of it running and screaming. There's also a stalwart velociraptor trainer, Chris Pratt's Owen, who — spoiler alert! — ends up being the hero of the day, and Vincent D'Onofrio's Hoskins, a craven higher-up beholden to the military-industrial complex. Sexy eye-candy guys like B.D. Wong and Irrfan Khan show up in minor roles, doing things like flying helicopters and explaining dinosaur genetics.

In the end, of course, it's only the critters that matter. As far as visual splendor goes, Jurassic World is a quality product, with all the slickness — and soullessness — that implies. Trevorrow has directed only one previous fiction feature, the 2012 indie romance-thriller Safety Not Guaranteed, but in Jurassic World he orchestrates big special effects like a pro, for whatever that's worth. The picture is sleek and impressive, although, as with its predecessors, how much you enjoy it will depend on your tolerance for watching dinosaurs chomp down on terrified humans. There's a degree of sadism at work here — it was there in the original and its spin-offs, too — and for me, the ninth or tenth instance of an anguished bystander being gobbled or stomped on (or worse) was enough to tip the scales. Though the violence here is relatively discreet and un-bloody, it's sometimes unpleasantly intense — a sequence riffing on The Birds, only with pterodactyls, is particularly harrowing, in a possibly exploitative way. Be forewarned if you're thinking of bringing a tiny tot.

Still, people who remember Jurassic Park fondly from childhood may get a nostalgic kick — Jurassic World references its predecessor just enough and affectionately. And there's some fine dino-stuff here, like Pratt's posse of 'raptors: They run along daintily on their three-toed feet, their undersized hands curled primly at chest level, as if proudly showing off their new Kelly bags. There's a touching (at least by blockbuster standards) brontosaurus death scene: These gentle, peace-loving herbivores just don't deserve to go. Most thrilling of all is a multi-dinosaur showdown staged against an inky night sky, a glowing half-moon hanging hesitantly in the corner of the frame, looking as if it's about to scram. You would, too, if these irascible giants started wrassling anywhere in your vicinity. Who says dinosaurs are yesterday's news? Like wingtip shoes, tweed jackets and '69 Ford Mustangs, they never go out of style.

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Stephanie Zacharek was the principal film critic at the Village Voice from 2013 to 2015. She is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and of the National Society of Film Critics. In 2015 Zacharek was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

Her work also appeared in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press, Dallas Observer and OC Weekly.