DeWanda Wise and Laura Dern in Jurassic World: Dominion.
Photo: John Wilson/Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment
Watching Jurassic World: Dominionyou might find yourself starting to feel just a little sorry for the people who made Jurassic World: Dominion. At the end of the previous film (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — these titles start to blend together after a while), dinosaurs had finally been unleashed on the mainland and began to exist alongside humans. That made for a promising cliffhanger, not to mention some stirring closing images, but it also effectively put the series in a bind. Now that dinosaurs are just, like, out there … what happens next? Why should we care about dinosaurs showing up somewhere since dinosaurs are effectively everywhere? How can the suspense escalate in interesting ways when these prehistoric creatures have become mere background noise?
sadly, Jurassic World: Dominion appears to have found the answer in not making a dinosaur movie at all. The new film is, at times, a kidnapping thriller, a cloning drama, a Jason Bourne-style action flick, an Indiana Jones derivation, and a disaster movie, among others. It impatiently leaps from subgenre to subgenre with such frantic desperation that it feels like the movie is running from its own lack of imagination. Once upon a time, Steven Spielberg could spend enormous amounts of screen time patiently (and nastily) tightening the screws on a suspense set piece. Jurassic World: Dominion can’t be bothered to spend much time on anything, perhaps because if the movie ever pauses to take a breath, the audience might realize they’re being had. Because if the filmmakers aren’t all that impressed by dinosaurs, then what chance do the rest of us have?
To be fair, there are dinosaurs in Dominion, and there are enough bits of dino business to keep the kids awake, but the film itself clearly finds these creatures mostly unremarkable and uninteresting; one climactic three-way dino fight seems to last for about three minutes. Instead, the movie spends its time on … locusts? Dominion‘s central menace is a mysterious plague of giant locusts that is destroying crops and terrorizing farmers, seemingly unleashed on humanity by a powerful and mysterious biotech firm. Of course, all the Jurassic films like to dwell on the dangers of unchecked science and amoral profiteering (that’s how we got the dinosaurs in the first place), but we don’t go to these movies to see cautionary tales about deluded scientists, we go to see dinosaurs. The scientists are just an excuse to have the dinosaurs — not vice versa.
There are many other things Jurassic World: Dominion assumes. It assumes that we are genuinely interested in the relationship between raptor-trainer and dino-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and park manager turned player Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). It assumes that we buy Pratt as a wisecracking, can-do tough guy (as opposed to the slightly hapless and overconfident goofball he plays in the Marvel movies, where he fares better). It assumes that we are fully invested in the fate of Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), a young girl who was revealed to have been a clone near the end of Fallen Kingdom (long story) and who is now being sought by Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), a soft-spoken but sinister, Steve Jobs–style tech guru who runs the aforementioned biotech company, called Biosyn.
The previous Jurassic World The movies did generate tankerloads of money, so perhaps such assumptions were fair ones to make. Owen and Claire are, after all, the heroes of this trilogy. And yet one never really hears about them out here in the real world, the way we once heard about Han Solo and Princess Leia and Indiana Jones and the way we still hear about assorted superheroes, or James Bond and Jason Bourne. (Have you ever seen an Owen Grady lunch box? I sure haven’t.) That is likely because — and I hope you’re sitting down for this — the Jurassic World movies are not about characters; they are about dinosaurs. The original Jurassic Park trilogy (mostly) understood this; the films offered solid character work, but once the time came, the monster-movie spectacle took over.
Dominion also seems to have overestimated the nostalgia factor in bringing back the stars of the first film, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, treating their relationships like some sacred canon. So, when doctors Ellie Sattler (Dern) and Alan Grant (Neill) are reunited, we learn about her failed marriage, which means there is hope again for them as a couple. Ellie and Alan have been invited to the campuslike headquarters of Biosyn by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), who has become some sort of in-house philosopher and skeptic for the firm. While it’s certainly nice to see Dern, Neill, and Goldblum play these people again, it’d be nicer if the script gave them well-written dialogue or placed them in interesting situations. A symptom of our current nostalgia-at-all-costs pop-cultural landscape is that all too often filmmakers think it’s enough to just bring back familiar faces. I love Sam Neill, but I’m not sure I needed to see that “raising his head in twinkly-eyed bewilderment” move of his 85 more times.
Anyway, there are foot chases and motorcycle chases, and a plane crash, and a big fire (there’s often a big fire). It’s frantic yet lifeless, chaotic yet pro form. A thorough lack of care emanates from the screen. At one point, a standoff involving two somewhat major characters is, as far as I can tell, completely abandoned halfway through; these people are never mentioned again. The film cuts so rapidly and so haphazardly among its various plot strands that the filmmakers appear to have lost their own threads.
At times, one can see what director Colin Trevorrow and his collaborators were attempting. Trying to be all things to all people, and to find their way in a universe where dinosaurs roam (and rampage) freely, they decided to mix dinosaurs into these familiar subgenres instead of finding a new story to tell. But the solution reveals the depths of the problem. Because the awe we’re supposed to feel upon seeing these dinosaurs — the entire reason for the movies’ existence — winds up taking a back seat to a cacophony of half-hearted plot points and story lines and twists and throwaway bits. During one chase, a dinosaur does the famous stunt from The Bourne Ultimatum in which Jason Bourne jumped from the window of one building into the window of another. In that earlier picture, the moment took our breath away, because we could see that it was a real stunt, done by real people, and it was something we recognized as being nearly impossible to accomplish. In Dominion, it’s an offhand, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag, but it’s symptomatic of the movie’s broader issues. Because when the “stunt” is being performed by a CGI dinosaur … well, let’s just say a certain “wow” factor is removed. Which is a bizarre thing to say, because these movies are supposed to be nothing but wow factors. The only wow factor in Jurassic World: Dominion is the awesome depth of its failure.