Jurassic World should have been told from the dinosaurs' point of view. I (sort of) kid, but consider the two most complex and intriguing characters in this belated sequel to Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park series. One is a genetically engineered intelligent sociopath raised in isolation; the other, a skilled team player torn between her loyalties to her adopted leader and to her species. Both are man-eating reptiles made of digital magic, and both seem to have fuller character arcs than any of the people who try to exploit them do. In short, this film could have used a Rise of the Planet of the Apes treatment.
As it happens, the writers of Rise, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, share script credit on Jurassic World with Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow. And, like the 1993 original, this film distinguishes itself from a cheesy monster movie by acknowledging that people who resurrect a magnificent species from its DNA only to turn it into a theme-park attraction probably deserve the nastiness that follows.
Spielberg took care to balance that nastiness with his trademark sense of wonder. Trevorrow follows the same formula, and viewers who primarily want to see a functioning, believable dinosaur theme park will be richly satisfied. When the camera takes a soaring flight out a hotel room window to give us a pterodactyl's-eye view, even cynics will feel the exhilaration.
Jurassic World is set 22 years after the original, plenty of time for the InGen company to forget the troublesome carnage on Isla Nublar and build a new park around the ruins of the old. But that park, we learn as we follow operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), has fallen victim to its own success: Consumers no longer see the "'wow' factor" of dinosaurs. The solution: Create a bigger, toothier genetic hybrid to scare the public silly.
We don't need a chaos theorist to tell us how that will end up. (And you don't need a critic to tell you that the discussion is a nod to the dilemma of making this sequel for a jaded 2015 audience.) As in all fables where man messes with nature, nature will stomp people and their petty profit motives flat.
If only the people in this movie didn't so often seem to be begging for stomping. While Jurassic Park's characters were far from complex, the heroes were capable; even the kids had distinctive quirks and survival skills. In Jurassic World, Claire's two nephews — a moppet (Ty Simpkins) and his teenage brother (Nick Robinson) — seem to exist mainly to make uptight Claire feel guilty about not having her own family. Granted, all three characters are also proficient in the running and screaming department.
Chris Pratt is likable as the only soul in the park with genuine emergency-preparedness, a retired army man who's been training the velociraptors like toothier dogs. But his chemistry with those clever beasts far outweighs his chemistry with Howard.
While computer-generated monsters long ago lost their "wow," Jurassic Park remains a classic because Spielberg leaned just as heavily on the "'boo' factor," concealing the terrifying giants and then gradually, artfully revealing them. Trevorrow gets some early mileage out of similar suspense devices, but once the film settles into an action groove, fear and wonder dissipate. With the human characters too cartoonish to care about, it's just an entertaining monster fight.
And, as any Godzilla series fan knows, it is entertaining to watch giant reptiles throw down with blatant disregard for hordes of screaming and running Homo sapiens. Jurassic World has thrills, scares, a finger-shaking lesson on human hubris and a resounding affirmation of family values — just like its predecessor. What it lacks is the only perspective that might still have a genuine power to freak us out — the monster's.