Jurassic World review: “A roaring return to form that loves and honours a classic”

Huw Fullerton finds the return to Isla Nubar a nostalgic delight - and properly scary into the bargain...

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★★★★

It’s hard to think of a film that comes with more weight of expectation than Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic Park sequel/reboot, with the possible exception of JJ Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII. The original Jurassic Park is a bona fide classic, full of wonder, terror and laughs – and the two disappointing sequels proved just how difficult it is to recapture that genie in the bottle.

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Luckily, Jurassic World is a roaring return to form full of laughs, scares and inventiveness that almost (but not quite) matches the achievement of the original.

Reverting to the “deadly theme park” formula of the first film (rather than the “people being chased in jungles by dinosaurs” plot of the sequels), the movie takes us to the now-Disneyfied Jurassic WORLD (bigger than a park, right?), a tourist smash with 20,000 visitors a day that actively tries to avoid referencing what happened there 20 years before.

Bryce Dallas Howard’s park manager Claire Dearing even reprimands an employee (Jake Johnson) for wearing an original Jurassic Park T-Shirt that he paid through the nose for online – after all, people died on Isla Nubar all those years ago. And Jurassic World is past all that.

Of course, it isn’t for long – but until it all goes to hell, JW looks like an awful lot of fun. Some of the film’s most inventive moments come from its re-imagining of the “dinosaur theme park” idea in a modern setting, with sea-monster splash zones, triceratops petting zoos and expensive merchandise galore. Basically, even if you knew what happens next you’d still want to visit Jurassic World. It looks awesome.

What does actually happen next is the classic theme of the franchise – the arrogance of humanity backfiring, as a genetically-modified mega-dinosaur (called the Indominus Rex) is created to boost sales without much care as to what parts they’re actually splicing in. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, exactly what you’d expect – the dinosaur escapes and goes rogue, causing havoc in the park (and a lot of grisly deaths) and requiring Chris Pratt’s velociraptor trainer Owen Grady to jump in and save Claire’s nephews, who like the two children in the original film have found themselves lost deep in the park.

Pratt handles the action beats and occasional humour well (though you can’t quite shake the feeling he wants to be a bit sillier), but as ever it’s the dinosaurs (a mix of CGI and practical effects) that are the real stars. The Indominus Rex in particular is genuinely chilling, bloodthirsty as a T-Rex but with more brains, leading to some real jump-out-of-your-seat moments while she stalks her prey.

Elsewhere, Grady’s (sort of) trained velociraptors also have a lot of character, helped by the fact they were created using a motion-capture technique involving people in suits (try not to think about that too much) that makes them more than just generic monsters our characters have to survive. A lot of commentators have pointed out the scientific inaccuracy of these raptors in particular (in real life they would have been much smaller, feathered and untrainable), but trust me, it works in context – and the film actually acknowledges that they shouldn’t look like that.

This happens in a scene where BD Wong’s Dr Wu (the only cast member to return from the original film) notes that all the dinosaurs are hybrids with other species and therefore look “quite different” to their real-life prehistoric predecessors. It’s a nice touch, with Wong also providing one of the many through-lines to the original movie that make this film such a nostalgic pleasure. While there’s plenty to enjoy for new fans this film is really all about the original Jurassic Park, from subtle homages (flares, kids being attacked in vehicles and towering gates all appear) to more explicit references in the script.

Most notably, the late Richard Attenborough’s park founder John Hammond is present in Walt Disney-ish statue form, and his original park (now rather overgrown and unloved) is involved in a key setpiece when it’s discovered deep in the jungle. You might even be surprised by the return of the original film’s “villain” 20 years on, now older, more scarred and on the side of our heroes. This is a film that loves and honours a classic while adding to its mythos in significant ways.

Overall, it’s hard not to see the creation of Jurassic World’s new dinosaur as a meta comment on the franchise itself – like the film’s park-goers we’ve gotten used to ordinary dinosaurs now and need things that are more exciting, new attractions that are just as necessary to get people into the cinemas as into Jurassic World itself.

And largely the new set-up works – Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt are beguiling leads even if their love story feels a bit unnecessary, the child actors hold their own well, there’s an array of exciting setpieces and while nothing holds a candle to the original film’s Velociraptor kitchen scene it’s genuinely quite scary. It’s also surprisingly funny, with New Girl’s Jake Johnson filling Jeff Goldblum’s comic relief role admirably (including an attempted kiss that pokes fun at the movie’s main romantic subplot) and the film often puncturing its own tension with deadpan glee.

Basically, Jurassic World is an awful lot of fun, a proper summer blockbuster in an old-fashioned style. It may not be the original Jurassic Park – but when that theme music plays and the T-Rex roars, you’ll be happy that you visited Isla Nubar for a second time.

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Jurassic World is released in UK cinemas from Thursday 11th June