By Scott Cole
JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION – * * (2 out of 5 stars)
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum
Forever burned in my memory, I will never forget my first viewing of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 juggernaut Jurassic Park. While I was 8 years old and arguably a little too young to see a T-Rex devour a man off a toilet, I still understood the incredible majesty of that film and the incredible feat of experiencing lifelike dinosaurs on the screen. None of the subsequent five sequels have measured up to the feeling of the original, mainly because they all skip over the amazement factor and jump right to a formulaic monster movie. The latest and (we’re told) last entry into the series, Jurassic World: Dominion, doesn’t even really get that part right either. It’s a very long, bloated movie that is heavy on nostalgia and wall-to-wall characters, and it wastes a lot of time with corporate intrigue that we don’t really care about before actually giving us good dinosaur content. And that content is frankly not even very satisfying.
Sure I did poke a little fun at the recent goofiness of the screenplay on display in the vastly superior Top Gun: Maverick. But that film has the writing and character development of a Billy Wilder script in comparison with Jurassic World: Dominion. This is a supremely unfocused effort and reminded me of the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife in the way it feels like the filmmakers had a checklist of Jurassic Park cultural references that they had to touch on. Shot of someone taking off sunglasses in amazement. Check. Barbasol can that is actually a DNA smuggling device. Check. And on and on it goes.
The plot is as convoluted as it gets, but in the broad strokes the story follows two parallel tracks until they come together in the last act. After the events of Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs are now commonplace and co-exist with humans precariously. Track #1 finds our newest protagonists Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) living a secluded life in the mountains and raising teenage Maisie (Isabelle Sermon), the cloned granddaughter of Benjamin Lockwood who was an instrumental part of Jurassic Park’s original creation. When Maisie and Beta, the newborn child of Owen’s velociraptor Blue, are kidnapped in order to study their genetic material, Owen and Claire begin a quest to get them back, and they are soon joined by a pilot Kayla (DeWanda Wise) who is privy to intel that will assist in the search.
Track #2 is a reunion of the beloved characters from the original 1993 film. It follows Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) who suspects that a medical research company called Biosyn might be responsible for a plague of giant locusts destroying acres of midwestern crops. She recruits her old flame Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to join her as a witness as she infiltrates Biosyn to gather proof, and luckily they find a disgruntled comrade working at Biosyn in Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who is eager to assist them in blowing the whistle.
By the time the two story tracks intersect and we find all of our characters together trying to escape from serious dino danger, we scratch our heads wondering why the first two acts of the film have felt so heavy on locusts and light on dinosaurs. There are a couple of mid-point action set pieces that mostly worked well for me: one being an air disaster that results in a battle on frozen ice, and the other being an Indiana Jones-style race through Malta. The film actually nods to Indiana Jones more than once; at one point Claire protests “Nobody said there would be bugs!” with the giant insects standing in for cobras.
Returning to the series after directing 2015’s Jurassic World, director Colin Trevorrow struggles to find ways to make the dinosaurs feel truly threatening. Perhaps it’s an impossible task to follow the terror Spielberg was able to mine in the original; after all he even struggled to replicate it himself in 1997’s The Lost World. The actors all do what they can, but the writing and character development don’t do them any favors. The returned trio of Neill, Dern, and Goldblum feel especially underserved and ultimately they have only been included for the sentimental factor. Jurassic World: Dominion is a busy mess of film that manages to pull off some entertaining action sequences but is overloaded on plot and disappointing on the dinosaur front.