★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are too young to remember the opening of the first, doomed Jurassic Park. Maybe that’s why they’re not terribly concerned when, one winter vacation, their parents shuttle them off to a visit with their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). She’s the operations manager at Jurassic World, the Costa Rican island resort financed by New Agey CEO Masrani (Irfan Khan), whose philosophy of “embrace uncertainty” is a lot more unnerving when he’s piloting the helicopter you’re riding in. His vision for the revamped and rebooted Jurassic World includes an on-site gene-splicing laboratory headed by Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, reprising his cameo role from the original movie), as well as a behavioral-science facility where raptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is examining the intelligence of animals previously thought to be untamable.
But despite the scientific high-mindedness and the triceratops-calf rides in the petting zoo, Jurassic World is primarily a theme park whose theme is carnivorousness, where the big-ticket attractions involve copiously toothy behemoths chomping down on tethered goats and gutted sharks (the latter bait possibly a dig at Jaws, executive producer Steven Spielberg’s other vacation munch-fest) And just as your average theme park needs to upgrade its premium roller coaster from season to season, Jurassic World has decided that its next big draw is Indominus rex, a mammoth new species engineered from genetic this ’n’ that. (Their specimen is female, a choice that might have less to do with gender politics in Hollywood and more with the difficulty of animating a Full Montysaurus while keeping a PG-13 rating.) They’ve built her a fortified pen she can’t escape, which makes one afternoon’s discovery of claw marks all the way up and over the concrete barrier somewhat alarming.
After a series of increasingly anemic sequels, the Jurassic Park franchise has roared back to life, even though nothing in director Colin Trevorrow’s prior work indicated a knack for big blockbuster fare (his only notable credit, aside from some web shorts and a documentary that’s been pulled from distribution, is helming 2012’s oddball indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed). But his vision for Jurassic World is enchanting, gratifying, and sure-handed in a way that’s uncannily like Spielberg’s early period, back when Spielberg was the ’80s king of the gee-whiz blockbuster and movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) were massive, four-quadrant hits. His Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom inspired the creation of the PG-13 rating, an attempt to create a classification for films that were neither for all ages nor adults only; ironically, Jurassic World finds the perfect balance within that rating between excitement and terror (with the exception of the unjustifiably prolonged — and arguably misogynistic — death of one female character toward the end), creating an experience that’s appropriate for all but the youngest viewers.
Why haven’t there been more blockbusters as good as Raiders? Well, Spielberg had Harrison Ford in his prime at his disposal, which is a hard act to top. But Trevorrow has Chris Pratt, and that’s almost as good. With The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Jurassic World already under his belt, Pratt has won the Triple Crown of Summer Flick Leading Men: He’s the dude you want as your boyfriend or your dad or you just want to be, a Navy scientist who rides motorcycles, devastates the ladies with his lopsided grin, and charms velociraptors with nothing more than a dog trainer’s clicker and a measured stare. After one close scrape, a panting kid turns to Pratt and asks, “Can we just come with you from now on?” You said it, kid.