A film review by Craig J. Koban June 22, 2022

JURASSIC PARK: DOMINION j
˝ 

2022, PG-13, 147 mins.

Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant  /  Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler  /  Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm  /  Chris Pratt as Owen Grady  /  Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing  /  Mamoudou Athie as Ramsay Cole  /  Scott Haze as Rainn Delacourt  /  Dichen Lachman as Soyona Santos  /  Daniella Pineda as Zia Rodriguez  /  Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood  /  Justice Smith as Franklin Webb  /  Omar Sy as Barry Sembčne  /  DeWanda Wise as Kayla Watts  /  Campbell Scott as Lewis Dodgson  /  B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu  /  Joel Elferink as Jeffrey  /  Jake Johnson as Lowery Cruthers  /  Kristoffer Polaha as Wyatt Huntley  /  Elva Trill as Charlotte Lockwood

Directed by Colin Trevorrow  /  Written by Emily Carmichael and Trevorrow

When I left my screening of JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION all I could think of is quoting the series' famous chaos theorist in response to it:

That is one big pile of shit.  

Where the hell is the legitimate sensation of awe and wonder in this film (the sixth and - reportedly and hopefully - last picture in this franchise)? 

The more JURASSIC PARK entries (or WORLD, if you're referencing the last few films in this near thirty year old series) that I watch the more apparent it becomes that none are capable of capturing the lightning in a bottle novelty of Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking 1993 original.  I was just out of high school when that film opened, and it was arguably the first film that I screened since the original STAR WARS that I felt truly ushered in a quantum leap improvement for what was possible with visual effects.  Everyone fondly remembers JURASSIC PARK because Spielberg and company were able to conjure up legitimately realistic dinosaurs using then state of the art technology that went on - for better or worse - to influence the entire industry right through to the present day.  Watching those prehistoric creatures come to life on the silver screen was utterly breathtaking.   

This leads me to reiterate what I said in my review of the last JURASSIC WORLD film (FALLEN KINGDOM) in reference yet again to DOMINION: That ethereal magic of yesteryear has completely worn off these films.  The shine of that has dulled so badly that it can never be buffed back to life.  Each subsequent sequel - starting with the Spielberg helmed THE LOST WORLD in the late 1990s and moving forward -  has felt like a pale copy of a copy of a copy.  The bravura VFX that are employed to conjure up these dinos has evolved and improved, yes, but they don't pack that indescribable wow factor anymore.  The JURASSIC PARK franchise as a whole has been one of increasingly diminishing returns, despite the fact that 2015's sort of sequel, sort of reboot JURASSIC WORLD was a gargantuan box office success that predictably led to more installments, like the aforementioned FALLEN KINGDOM, which was, for my money, the most off-puttingly absurd entry that showed considerable creative desperation.  

I thought that this franchise was on critical life support then, and very little in JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION has jump started it back from near deathThis so-called final chapter in the somewhat self-contained JURASSIC WORLD trilogy is unnecessarily long, overstuffed, messy, chaotic, and frankly silly and uninspired.  There has been much pre-release chatter about it including members of the current and classic 1993 cast, but when one quickly overlooks the short term coolness of seeing them all occupy the same space then there's just not much here to recommend. 

Actually, I stand corrected.  JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION offers up two things that all series fans have been clamoring for: 

1. A subplot involving giant locusts. 

2. The kidnapping of an annoying cloned kid. 

Sarcasm aside, FALLEN KINGDOM did end on a semi-intriguing cliffhanger of dinosaurs being fully freed from captivity and living amongst us in the real world.  Unfortunately, DOMINION takes the most frustrating bait and switch approach, especially when it comes to its heavy marketing campaign and what we get in the final film (more on that in a bit).  Taking place a few years after the events of the last film, DOMINION opens up by explaining how dinos have now expanded to almost every part of the world, which has had an obvious impact on societies and ecosystems.  We're re-introduced to arguably the two blandest characters in the entire franchise in Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his lover and former Jurassic World overseer in Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who now live off the grid and in complete seclusion with that 14-year-old clone mentioned earlier, Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), whose DNA is as hotly sought after as those of the dinos themselves.  Maisie is no mere ordinary teenager when one considers how she came to be, but she's painfully ordinary in the sense that she rebels against her surrogate guardians in Owen and Claire and constantly wants to be away from them (to say that these are the least interesting sections of this film is an understatement).  Oh, and Owen's old raptor BFF in Blue is hanging out in the woods (remember that Owen is an ex-raptor trainer) and now has - awwwww - his own baby that evil poachers want to snatch.   

 

 

Concurrent to this is the story of giant genetically altered locusts that are destroying crops everywhere and could spell doom for the planet's food supply.  Rather suspiciously, though, is that they're  not attacking and eating away at crops that are grown and cared for by Biosyn Genetics.  Dr. Ellie (Laura Dern) smells a big rat with this, and thusly seeks out the help of her former friend Dr. Allan (Sam Neil) to help her make the trek to Biosyn's Italy based HQ to meet its CEO in Dodgson (Campbell Scott) to get some answers.  While there, Alan and Ellie hook up with - what a coincidence! - Dr. Ian (Jeff Goldblum), who's now serving as a lecturer at Biosyn.  What they soon realize is that Biosyn is up to no good and has even kidnapped Maisie and Blue's baby so that they can perform all sorts of invasion genetic tests on them.  This, of course, springs Owen and Claire into action, and with the help of a Han Solo-esque hotshot pilot in Kayla (DeWanda Wise), they fly to Italy to mount a rescue operation, which allows for them to unavoidably cross paths with Alan, Ellie, and Ian.  Hell soon breaks loose for all involved. 

Lets talk about how fraudulently advertised JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION was to the masses.  The ending of FALLEN KINGDOM left the doors open to so many tantalizing possibilities when it came to having a sequel that fully explores the wide ranging ramifications of dinos living with humans in close contact.  The main question posed is simple, but fairly mind-blowing in its scope: How would humans and dinos adapt to one another under such circumstances?  Regretably, director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow (returning after sitting out of FALLEN KINGDOM to potentially make the last of the STAR WARS sequel trilogy entries, but was relieved of his duties) hopelessly drops the ball in this regard.  The film opens with a neat TV news montage showing the madness that ensues with such a dangerous phenomenon (I liked the touch of pteranodons making a nest at the new World Trade Center), but that's essentially it when it comes to exploring this fascinating hook.  For a sequel that's heavily advertised as one that would seriously deal with a vast global study of humans living alongside such alpha beasts of millions of years ago, it's more than a bit of a head shaking cop out when the actual story mostly takes place at yet another secluded sanctuary far away from civilization that's run yet again by a billionaire madmen that's yet again populated by secure dinos that will become free and want to make the humans their dinners.   

When it comes right down to it, Trevorrow is just spoon feeding audiences dry leftover scraps of what we've seen countless times before in past JURASSIC PARK pictures.  We get the same tired villains and motivations again, whereas initially it was InGen and now it's the similar sounding Biosyn (which reads as BIO and SIN...oh how clever!!!), with that company's leader in Dodgson wanting to hazardously play with the laws of Mother Nature in hopes of it profiting big time from it.  Have the previous JURASSIC PARK/WORLD films not warned people enough that leaving DNA tinkering up to dangerously unethical corporations will never end well at all?  And as far as villains go, Dodgson is about as bottom of the barrel as them come (remember the few spare minutes he had as a minor throwaway character in JURASSIC PARK?), who's now wanting to experiment with dinos, giant locusts, and cloned girls to create ecological disasters that would - he hopes - lead the world's leaders to buy his engineered plants and crops to pad his bottom line.  I'll say that Scott in particular seems the most invested in his character when compared to the rest of the going through the motions cast around him, making this socially awkward, commune loving hippie-esque capitalist sort of quietly chilling.  He's the only actor here committed to imbuing his role with a distinct personality (albeit really odd), even though the writing of his antagonist is a paint-by-numbers affair. 

This ties into the film's other problem: careless bloat on multiple levels.  DOMINION is literally all over the map in terms of its schizophrenic scripting by thrusting characters in travels to various parts of the world, but makes the mistake of keeping the old and new core of characters apart for much of the film until the climax.  Beyond a lack of cohesive focus, there are simply too many characters all trying to nab the spotlight, from WORLD's new personas to PARK's legacy crew, and while also injecting new characters into the mix like Kayla.  It's also an error in creative judgment to hinge so much of the overarching plot on the nabbing of Maisie (the ultra lame identity reveal and her actions at the end of FALLEN KINGDOM still makes me cringe) when the film just should have been an expose of dinos running amok in crowded metropolitan cities (if the entire narrative would have been like that introductory news footage then that would have been something).  It's a bit of a thrill to see the return of PARK's trio in Alan, Ellie, and Ian, but none of the actors seem particularly invested in these characters.  Sam Neil looks befuddled through most of the film, while Goldblum - God love 'em - does what he can with the cockamamie material given to him.  His unique brand of idiosyncratic weirdness serves any film well, but I especially liked how Ian this time almost speaks on behalf of the audience in response to some of the more inane elements of the later sequels.  At one point Owen reveals his pledge to Blue to save his offspring, leading to Ian deadpanning, "Wait...you made a promise to a dinosaur?" 

Preposterousness abounds in this film, to be honest.  I've read that paleontologists were hired for DOMINION to serve as technical/scientific advisors.  Ummmm...sure...okay.  How cool were they with Owen's near constant usage of his dino-whispering/Force-like hand waving super power to stop just about any dino from mopping the floor with him?  He uses this so bloody often in DOMINION that it inspires a lot of incredulous chuckling.  Equally dumb is how he can cowboy lasso a huge dinosaur and reign it in with his own hands, which sounds like something that even a super soldier-infused Steve Rogers would have trouble doing.  Perhaps most head scratching is a sequence that involves Owen and Kayla crash landing in the frigid cold of Alaska, with neither having anything on that resembles winter gear.  Neither of them once wince at the cold, and when Owen even falls into a frozen lake to avoid being dino food he gets out and responds to his probable hypothermia with the nonchalance of getting out of a morning shower.  Science doesn't appear aplenty in this science fiction film.  That's not to say that there aren't any decent action beats here.  One mid-film sequence involving Owen and company uncovering an underground dino dealership in Malta leads to a reasonably pulse pounding chase through the streets with multiple trained raptors in hot pursuit of the hero.  However, moments like this also show how relatively lackluster the editing and choreography is by Trevorrow and company, and too many other scenes of mayhem are more messy than exhilarating.  We are a far, far cry away from the consummate Spielbergian polish of old. 

By the time the film lurches towards its would-be thrilling finale - featuring all of the characters coming together to take on multiple dino threats from all angles - I was taken aback by how bored I was with everything transpiring, most notably for how Trevorrow is lust lethargicaqlly falling back into series formulas and - at times - sluggishly re-appropriating moments and beats from past JURASSIC PARK films and inserting in Easter Eggs in what amounts to a horribly obvious and on the nose bit of aggravating fan servicing (i.e. - a truck is turned upside down with characters in tow and dinos attacking, Malcolm igniting a flare to distract dinos, a massive alpha male versus alpha male dino donnybrook, and, hell, even a shaving cream can from the first film show up).  It's really surprising how much of the latter sections of DOMINION are just retreading JURASSIC PARK, showing a fundamental lack of conceptual imagination here.  Trevorrow is good, I guess, at outright mimicry; like the scientists in these films, he's trying to re-create what audiences marveled at in the past.  But where is this film's own sense of identity?  At a whopping 146 minutes (with - as amazing as it seems - a near 15 minute prologue edited out of the final product and released online and is better the the entirety of what we get here), DOMINION just seems soulless and joyless in equal measure.   

And, uh huh, magic is completely absent.  Six films in and this franchise - more now than ever before - is just a cash cow product to be endlessly exploited versus a worthwhile continuation of what began so staggeringly 29 years ago.  There was considerable press about the making of JURASSIC PARK: DOMINION, mostly stemming from the fact that it was the first major Hollywood production to resume shooting in during the COVID-19 pandemic and well before access to vaccines were available.  This was a massively risky (and some would say irresponsible) venture for any studio at the time, leading to Universal embarking on various safety protocols, including social distancing, quarantining of the cast before shooting in a secluded hotel, rampant temperature checks and COVID testing daily, and so forth.  This leads me, in closing, to ask two questions: (1) Was the risk to human life worth it in the end and (2) would I have been more enthralled by a documentary about how the cast and crew navigated the draconian lockdown/safety measures used to make of JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION than I was watching the actual film?  

Answers: No and yes. 

  H O M E