Review: “Jurassic World Dominion”

There is likely no more egregious thing that the “Jurassic World” trilogy, or the “Jurassic Park” series as a whole, has done than reunite the trio of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum for the first time since Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, only to have Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler state that she reconnected with Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm when he “slid into her DMs.” There is a timelessness to the first “Jurassic Park” that makes it endlessly rewatchable almost 30 years after its release, and it likely always will be. The revolutionary-at-the-time CGI effects used to create the film’s realistic dinosaurs haven’t dated a bit. And the straightforward premise—group of humans try to escape park with dinosaurs on the loose before they are killed—is easy to access and executed by Spielberg to its most terrifying extent. The subsequent two “Jurassic Park” sequels and writer/director Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” films, which rebooted the franchise beginning in 2015, have all approached that premise a little differently, balancing cautionary tales of science experiments gone wrong with the basic pleasure of watching big giant reptiles fight, with alternately solid, middling, and disastrous results.

Jurassic World Dominion,” the final installment in Trevorrow’s trilogy (the only part of the series that has tried to tell a more continuous story), is a fine example of how to make a creature feature that will likely barely hold up 30 years from now, let alone in a decade. Some of that is due to very “of this moment” phrases uttered like the one mentioned in the paragraph above. Some of that is due to the fact that, like the other “Jurassic World” movies, “Dominion” references too much of “Jurassic Park” within itself rather than making coherent story and character choices. Sattler, Malcolm, and Neill’s paleontologist Alan Grant actually do serve a purpose in “Dominion” that extends far beyond mere cameos. Sattler, a paleobotanist, discovers that enormous locusts are destroying much of the Midwest’s food supply, but avoiding crops planting using seed from a corporation called Biosyn, which, following the events of “Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom,” began researching the dinosaurs that are now freely roaming the planet in the hopes their DNA can be harnessed for practical purposes. Suspecting a scheme by Biosyn and its awkward CEO Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) to dominate the agricultural market by taking out its rivals, Sattler enlists Grant’s assistance in investigating Biosyn at the source: the company’s headquarters, situated in Italy’s Dolomites mountain range. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t still feel like they’re primarily in this movie just to attract sentimental fans, from John Williams’ iconic theme music (Michael Giacchino composed the score for this film and the rest of the “Jurassic World” trilogy) drifting in over the trio’s reunion, to Sattler gazing dramatically at a field decimated by locusts in a gesture that exactly mimics her famous one when she first sees the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.”

Laura Dern and Sam Neill reprise their roles as Ellie Sattler and Alan Grant in “Jurassic World Dominion”

The introduction of the original trio also means they have to share screen time with the main players of the “Jurassic World” trilogy: former Jurassic World velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt); his girlfriend, former Jurassic World manager and found of the Dinosaur Protection Group Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard); and Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), a clone of Benjamin Lockwood’s daughter who was introduced in one of the weirder pieces of “Fallen Kingdom” and who is now being cared for by Owen and Claire in seclusion, as she is wanted because of what her DNA could possibly do. And yet, because all that isn’t enough, there are still more new characters thrown into the film, including Dodgson, his assistant Ramsay (Mamoudou Athie), and Kayla (a scene-stealing DeWanda Wise), a pilot who ends up helping out Owen and Claire on a rescue mission. The result is a movie that is so over-stuffed, all of the parts revolving around the human characters fall flat. Kayla joins up with Owen and Claire because of some guilt she feels, but we never sit with her long enough to feel the weight of that. Owen and Claire are struggling with being parents to Maisie, who feels stifled by how hard they try to protect her, and while the beginning of “Dominion” does try to take some time to establish what their life has been like in the four years that have passed in “Fallen Kingdom,” it’s not enough for the trio’s connection to feel genuine, and the banter and wise-cracks that defined the contentious relationship between Owen and Claire before have all but disappeared (in fact, they barely share any scenes together). The plot involving the locusts—which does have a meaningful point to make about the give-and-take between science and economy and the fragile thread from which the integrity of our food supply dangles—is what propels everything forward, but still feels rather thinly realized.

The cast of “Jurassic World: Dominion,” including Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Chris Pratt, and DeWanda Wise

“Dominion” does manage to be a step up from “Fallen Kingdom,” and that’s due in large part to the dinosaur scenes. “Dominion” has both some scary, intimate moments of characters being stalked; big action setpieces, like a thrilling chase through the narrow streets of Malta that throws both man-made vehicles and dinos together; and dino on dino action, culminating in a climatic three-way battle between a T-Rex, Therizinosaurus, and Giganotosaurus (sidebar: there are at least two different times in this movie where a human character glimpses the Giganotosaurus and dramatically intones, “Gigantosaurus, biggest carnivore to ever walk the Earth,” which is about two times too many). The visuals effects, which combine both CGI and animatronics (apparently, “Dominion” used more animatronics than the previous “Jurassic World” films), are as convincing as ever. But there’s a coldness in both the story and Trevorrow’s direction that saps all the fun and wonderment out of scenes that ought to dazzle us. This is a globe-trotting adventure, but the exotic environments the action takes us to all feel oddly sterile (although maybe that has something to do with the bulk of the story being set in a lab). An issue with “Fallen Kingdom” that continues into “Dominion” is that these movies just don’t know how they view the dinosaurs that their entire existence revolves around. It seems like a fitting conclusion to all this, a world where humans, dinosaurs, and other animals must find a way to coexist. It’s also a little difficult to get on board with these characters’ problems and their choices when they are the individuals who decided to let the dinosaurs loose in the first place.  

I think I set my expectations for “Dominion” so low after the mess that was “Fallen Kingdom” that this movie actually managed to exceed them. It’s rarely boring, but cramming a movie with so much to look is a bad substitute for good entertainment. Unfortunately, the only memorable parts of this movie are the ones that are the most laughably cringe.

“Jurassic World Dominion” is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 146 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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