Think of "Jurassic World" as a family film with teeth. Lots of teeth.
Most of those fangs come courtesy of the Indominus rex, a genetically modified dinosaur, a killing machine 50 feet long and 18 feet high that would sooner take a bite out of you than look at you. A lot sooner.
But don't let all that dental flash fool you, even if it does lead to as many open-mouthed shots as a documentary on orthodonture. Starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, "Jurassic World" specializes in the genteel PG-13 scare, aiming to awe you with its dinosaur verisimilitude rather than shock you with too much blood on the tracks.
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In this it is the clear descendant of the original 1993 Steven Spielberg-directed "Jurassic Park," which took novelist Michael Crichton's science-fiction concept of creating dinosaurs from their DNA and used state-of-the-art computer-generated effects to bring them to life as they'd never been before. As Spielberg says in press notes, "technologically it was a benchmark for the entire industry."
This new Jurassic film works hard to connect itself with its blockbuster progenitor, including having a character wear an original logo T-shirt (purchased on EBay), talking a lot about visionary scientist Dr. John Hammond and bringing back the fan favorite velociraptors for an elaborate star turn.
But despite the best efforts of director Colin Trevorrow, "Jurassic World's" story of Indominus rex on the loose, while certainly acceptable, doesn't have the same impact as the initial film. You can't experience first love twice, and even though these CGI dinosaurs are doubtless more realistic than what's come before, the magic of those unprecedented moments is beyond recapturing.
Though "Jurassic World" is only his second feature, Trevorrow was an intriguing choice to direct it because his first film, the sweetly eccentric science-fiction fable "Safety Not Guaranteed," gave promise of someone who (along with his writing partner, Derek Connolly) could bring warmth and quirky sensibility to a genre situation.
Rewriting a script by "Planet of the Apes" rebooters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, Connolly and Trevorrow have done as well as they could. But that their sensibility is present only around the edges tells you everything you need to know about how the demands of tent-pole filmmaking make any kind of genuine originality fiendishly difficult.
The central notion of "Jurassic World" is that it is also set 22 years after the original film and its deadly goings-on. Billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, a long way from "The Lunchbox"), the world's eighth-richest man, has taken Dr. Hammond's concept and run with it, turning Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica into a smooth-running tourist Jurassic World attraction hosting 20,000 dino-curious visitors daily.
Among those 20,000 are brothers, 11-year-old enthusiast Gray (Ty Simkins, who made an impression in "Iron Man 3") and bored-with-it-all 16-year-old Zach (Nick Robinson). Before they leave, mother Karen (Judy Greer) gives them what turns out to be prescient advice: "If something chases you, run."
Waiting for them on the island, in body if not in spirit, is Karen's sister Claire (Howard). Though she is supposed to show the boys around, as the park's efficient operations manager, Claire has a lot more on her agenda.
Because focus groups and attendance figures both indicate that "no one is impressed by a dinosaur anymore," Claire and the rest of management are faced with pressure to grow the business. So scientist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong, the only actor returning from the original) has been set loose in the lab, and Claire has to find corporate funding to sponsor his new beast. (Think "Verizon Wireless presents Indominus rex.")
Also facing unwanted pressure is Owen Grady ("Guardians of the Galaxy" star Pratt), a world-class dinosaur whisperer who has managed to train those pesky Velociraptors (played by performers in motion-capture suits). That has brought him to the attention of the nefarious Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), who has designs on militarizing the nasty beasts and using them to replace boots on the ground. "Extinct animals," he reasons, "have no rights." Just imagine.
It doesn't take a lot of vision to guess that three things will happen in short order. First, impressive security notwithstanding, the Indominus, true to its name, will make a bold bid for freedom. Second, Claire's nephews will inadvertently wander into his killing zone. Third, Claire and Owen, who've had one bad date and don't particularly care for each other, will have to join forces if there is any chance of stopping Indominus before he terminates everything in sight.
Though his TV background in "Parks and Recreation" was more comedic, Pratt proved in "Guardians" that he could handle hunky leading man roles, and his combination of physicality, charisma and attitude prove hard to resist one more time.
Costar Howard is solid as well, but she has a tougher challenge because Claire is a woman caught between paradigms, having to be both the traditional studio movie damsel in distress trapped in high heels and today's capable action heroine. Howard does as well as anyone could, but the strain is sometimes visible.
Not even breaking a sweat, by contrast, are the film's more traditional dinosaurs, beasts like the enormous crocodile-like Mosasaurus and the cute Triceratops found in a petting zoo. Mostly these are computer creations, but, as a tribute to the original film's effects wizard, Stan Winston, a huge Apatosaurus is created with animatronics technology. The old ways die hard in "Jurassic World" in more ways than one.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of science-fiction action and peril
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Playing: In wide release