Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park is an all-time classic. Just pure, unadulterated movie magic. But what took Mother Earth 165 million years to accomplish — killing off the dinosaurs — a Hollywood studio, hellbent on profit, has achieved in just 30, for Jurassic World Dominion proves that this storied franchise needs a long nap, as its once awe-inspiring creativity is all but extinct these days.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow, who actually revived this moribund franchise with Jurassic World in 2015, Dominion is a fossilized film that carries “formulaic” in its DNA. It’s especially frustrating, seeing as how Trevorrow successfully reimagined Spielberg’s original for a new generation by paying homage to its memorable creatures while coming up with even bigger, meaner versions. 2018’s Fallen Kingdom (directed by J.A. Bayona) introduced mindless subplots involving cloning and bioterrorism, knocking the franchise off course, and Dominion is here to finish the job as the result of that unfortunate progression.
I thought this franchise might go out in an incredible blaze of glory, and the possibilities truly seemed endless, so my expectations were high, but alas, it was not to be. The trailers that depict a world where humans and dinosaurs co-exist? That’s only a few minutes of the movie.
Chris Pratt returns as Owen Grady, the maverick velociraptor trainer and ex-Navy SEAL bad boy with a penchant for saving the day… and the girl. Said girl is played once again by Bryce Dallas Howard, who reprises her role as savvy scientist Claire Dearing, only she’s more of an activist these days. The two still share romantic chemistry, and they live in the woods with their daughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), the cloned little girl from Fallen Kingdom. Oh, and Owen’s well-trained velociraptor, Blue, also lives in the woods, and she may have a secret of her own.
The latest Jurassic sequel involves another evil corporation, Biosyn Genetics, which is led by Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), who wishes to leverage the discoveries of paleontologists Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) for profit, world destruction be damned. Grant and Sattler, who share some Mulder and Scully-like chemistry of their own, team up with their old pal, irreverent chaos theoretician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), as well as Owen and Claire, to save the world from some pesky creatures. The cavalry also includes DeWanda Wise as former a Former Air Force pilot who aids the gaggle of doctors, “ists,” and former Theme Park Managers, and she’s both a notable and welcome addition to the ensemble cast.
As great as it is having Dern return to this franchise, the fundamental problem with Jurassic World Dominion is that it is barely a dinosaur movie. It’s a James Bond/Mission Impossible-type film with dinosaurs adding a horror-film panacea every once in a while. The bad guys kidnap a girl and a young steed, all the while unleashing corporate mayhem on a troubled planet. The filmmakers tease what a world in which humans and dinosaurs co-exist might look like, but they never really commit to exploring that idea.
Instead, the various groups of cast members converge on a remote, isolated valley nestled within snowy Italian hilltops, where the evil corporation has set up a habitat where all the action can conveniently take place. Again, the dinosaurs are an afterthought and, when they do show up, we see the same scenes that have been repeated ad nauseam in most of the prior movies in this franchise. Most notably, an attack on the hapless humans by the largest dinosaur that others have created (with another clever-sounding Latin name), followed by a titanic battle between the T-Rex and this monstrous creation (with the aid of another creature) in which — spoiler alert — the filmmakers insist that Mother Nature’s creations are more powerful than our engineered ones (a bizarre conceit considering the entire premise of this franchise).
Are there exciting moments? Of course. One particular scene where Wise’s character flies Owen and Claire out of Maltese trouble comes to mind, as well as another where she flies them into it. Clearly, she’s a standout, as are the visual effects and sound design. That’s no surprise, as the studio spared no expense in sending their beloved cash cow off into the sunset. And while the movie is sufficiently scary –it lacks suspense, and makes Spielberg’s original look downright restrained in comparison.
Indeed, there are moments where the sheer magnitude of the proceedings and the impressive below-the-line talent behind Jurassic World Dominion nearly carry the threequel triumphantly across the finish line. The brilliant Michael Giacchino (Up, Mission Impossible III) once again adds a playful twist to John Williams‘ classic score that was music to my ears. John Schwartzman‘s cinematography and his overall color palette are bold and alive, from the snowy hills of Italy to the fields of West Texas, to the greener trees of the jungle and the forest. Trevorrow surrounded himself with top-notch collaborators, with costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ‘s work standing out in particular for its ability to blend in well with the color and tenor of the characters’ surroundings.
One can create a good-looking, mechanical replica of a dinosaur, but I doubt it will truly impress you unless it is imbued with the blood, the bones, and yes, the dino DNA of the real deal. Jurassic World Dominion is just that — a mostly lifeless, mechanical film that goes through the motions without having anything flowing through its veins. The surface-level plot lacks emotional depth, the dialogue is corny (Claire admits as much early on), and you have seen so many of these scenes before that this entire endeavor feels like it’s stuck in time, encased in amber. Worst of all? It’s unclear whether this movie is even entertaining on a basic summer blockbuster level.
With Jurassic World Dominion, it’s clear that we have reached the end of the Jurassic era, because the very DNA of this franchise is broken. Sometimes, extinction is a blessing.
Jurassic World Dominion hits theaters on June 10 courtesy of Universal Pictures.