In ‘Jurassic World: Dominion,’ Fun Nostalgia Gets Devoured by Dino-Sized Plotting
The latest entry in the “Jurassic” franchise, “Jurassic World: Dominion,” is as stuffed as a tyrannosaur’s belly. It’s a curious, loud exercise in nostalgia and overkill. Longtime fans know this particular series of movies is merely an extension of the “Jurassic Park” franchise kicked off by Steven Spielberg’s classic box office giant in 1993. This latest entry, which one presumes is (and should) be the closing chapter, attempts to bridge both dinosaur enterprises. There lies both the fun and folly. It’s not a spoiler to say “Dominion” brings back the three main cast members from the original “Park” movies, Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum. You simply didn’t grow up with these movies, or the Michael Crichton novel, if such information leaves you cold. To see them together again inhabiting these adventure roles is a popcorn treat indeed. But the rest of the movie doesn’t know what else to do with them, the dinosaurs or the characters of the “Jurassic World” storyline.
Hints of what could have been appear at the beginning, as dinosaurs roam free around the world following the events of 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” Driving down a highway could be interrupted by a stegosaurus or wedding doves snatched by flying dinos. To try and deal with the problem, billionaire Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), owner of a company called Biosyn, has built a habitat where the prehistoric creatures can possibly live in peace. Meanwhile, still in hiding are former Jurassic World theme park official Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and former velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). They are now watching over Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the genetic clone from the last movie linked to a dead scientist. It would be enough of a plot when Biosyn-hired mercenaries come to kidnap Maisie (along with the baby of Blue, Owen’s beloved raptor), but additionally, a swarm of genetically-engineered locusts are threatening crops all over America. This prompts the return of paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Dern), who contacts paleontologist Allan Grant (Neill). To track down the source of the monster bugs, they go to Biosyn where chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) is lecturing. They have to stop the bugs, stop Dodgson, and get out of the way of hungry, angry dinosaurs.
At this point, what a review says about “Jurassic World: Dominion” won’t matter much to the legions of fans who will no doubt trek to the theaters. Yet, it must be said this is the least purely enjoyable “Jurassic Park” spinoff. Director Colin Trevorrow is back but lacking in the leaner, intense focus of his “Jurassic World,” which was also a lizard chase flick, but it had some of the darker imagination of the Crichton novel. “Dominion” is an overstuffed creature clocking in at 2 hours and 26 minutes. The screenplay by Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael is a multi-tasker attempting to somehow continue the story of the last two movies, splash around winks and nostalgia to the Spielberg film, and still find room for the dinosaurs to pop in, roar or bite each other. There’s little of the majesty or sense of awe from the original movie, which was a thriller truly centered around the idea of extinct animals suddenly being a reality again. There is one patient, alluring scene early in a snowy Montana logging area where workers gaze at an apatosaurus. It is the kind of moment that slightly captures a little of the franchise’s original magic.
Most of this movie feels like Trevorrow pulling out a chart of every blockbuster from the last decade and attempting to incorporate some of their elements to give this story an excuse to exist. The tone shifts so wildly that some moments feel like the movie is trying to be “Mission: Impossible” or one of the “Fast & Furious” entries. As in the latter, characters like Claire, who began as a corporate suit, and Owen, a dinosaur whisperer, are now galloping around the world looking for Maisie and getting into shootouts with smugglers. They do lead us into some amusing dystopian places, like an underground trading spot in Malta where shady characters traffic cute and snarling dinosaurs. The intrigue, followed by raptor chases on motorcycle, gets so overplayed even the villainous traffickers who get major introductions disappear into the narrative ether, never to be seen again. A smuggler with a conscience, Kayla (DeWanda Wise) has a strong presence, but amounts to little in the story. There’s barely any room for Franklin (Justice Smith), the tech wizard from the last movie who finds steady employment in the CIA in this one.
If all of the globe-trotting and wannabe Jason Bourne material were cut out, the remaining plot might have worked as an enjoyably silly, nostalgic camp. While it’s a mystery why the filmmakers felt we need giant locusts to bring back Sattler, Grant and Malcolm, when what we all want are more dinosaurs, there’s real charm in seeing these actors back in their iconic roles. The last time Grant and Sattler were together was in 2001’s “Jurassic Park III,” and you want to cheer when Sattler reveals she’s now divorced. We all know who she was meant to be with all along. Malcolm gives his dire warnings about humanity’s destructive course as female students swoon to his every word. Their nemesis is Lewis Dodgson, who you may recall is the one who gives doomed tech head Dennis Nedry the shaving cream can to steal dino embryos in “Jurassic Park.” Now he’s a cross between Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, with a dash of Elon Musk, finally operating his own dinosaur habitat with a genetic lab run by another “Jurassic Park” veteran, Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong). You can probably guess there’s a scheme involving the giant locusts and controlling the world’s food supply. The “Jurassic” movies always need an evil billionaire to generate a crisis. But we enjoy the throwbacks to the fossilized amber where the dinosaur DNA was extracted from all those years ago, or the self-referential banter from Dern, Neill and Goldblum.
What remains of the movie operates on the typical “Jurassic” checklist. There are endless close calls where a carnivorous dinosaur’s jaws nearly close on someone’s head. A few favorites we haven’t seen for a while return, like the colorful dilophosaurus, which spits venom into your eyes. Yes, it all culminates with the tyrannosaurus rex throwing down with another, big predator while everyone scrambles amid flaming forests and loud roaring. It’s a celebration of the franchise’s spirit and also a potential sign it’s ready to exit. The final moments have enough of a sense of finality. Of course, the box office will determine if we get another one. If you insist on feeling the exhaustion of sitting through this dinosaur-sized movie, compliment it with reading Crichton’s harrowing novel, which is in the tradition of the classics about humans trying to be gods like “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Apple TV is also streaming the wonderful new series from David Attenborough, “Prehistoric Planet,” where one is truly transported into the world of those ancient, mighty beasts. As for “Jurassic Park: Dominion,” it certainly delivers a lot but the franchise is stuck on the evolutionary scale.
“Jurassic World: Dominion” releases June 10 in theaters nationwide.