“Wow! So this new Jurassic World movie is about dinosaurs loose in the modern world? Neat! So do the carnivores pick people off left and right? No. Well … OK. Are they, like, swinging their giant tails into buildings or anything? Not really? Uh. All right. Oh, oh, oh, I got it! The herbivores are consuming all of the foliage and threatening the planet’s ecosystem, right? Oh, nice!”
“Wait. What? It’s not dinosaurs threatening the ecosystem? Did you say ‘giant locusts’? Why are there giant locusts? Isn’t this a Jurassic Park thing? What’s with all the locusts? Wait. A character in the movie asks that last question? That’s kind of weird.”
“All right … there are dinosaurs in this thing, right? OK. And the movie is about them running loose worldwide, right? What? ‘Not really’? So where are they, then? A mountain sanctuary? Did someone just reopen Jurassic Park on a mountain? Oh, it’s another evil-billionaire compound. What’s happening there? … Look, why do you keep talking about locusts?”
There is indeed an unexpectedly disproportionate ratio of locusts to dinosaurs in Jurassic World: Dominion. You may find it odd … until your soul has battled this beastly blockbuster for 90 minutes and deflates at the prospect of a further full hour of fighting. It will then hit you: A plague of locusts makes apocalyptic sense in a franchise fallen to dodgy, effect-masking darkness and, after six broken seals / total movies, the symbolic killing of its thrilling firstborn.
Journalistic integrity requires me to disclose that, in exchange for 146 minutes of my life, I received a promotional hat emblazoned with logos for both this film and Hardee’s. (There is no Hardee’s in the film, but there is non-MCU Chris Pratt, so … same thing.) Although this would have been a pricier promotional item, I would have preferred a branded motion-capture suit to wear that logged each exasperated upraising of my hands. That way, I could simply be hologrammed into a seat for any future installments of this cursed venture.
Jurassic World resurrected the franchise with solid questions: In an era of omniscient distraction and digression, what would it take to truly wow someone? Do such marvels even still exist? It had been 14 years since a Jurassic Park movie, but Jurassic World knew we already saw this movie five times a year anyway by 2015. By inserting those ideas into a damn-fine scenario of dinosaurs eating people, the film successfully straddled the line between unexpectedly quizzical commentary and undeniably slick, quick-moving action.
That film’s mantra was not “Life finds a way.” It was “Progress always wins.” It wanted us to groan as John Williams’ resplendent theme crescendoed over charmless commerce that churned out corporate-sponsored dinosaurs. However genially, it was nice to see a blockbuster flick the ears of its promotional bedfellows rather than whisper sweet nothings to them.
Then, in 2018, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom conveyed a failure to communicate, titillate, captivate and, while nattering on about art found in gray areas of science, a failure to “ate.” Precious few people were chomped. At least it indulged in some indelible horror tics, like a tiny talon tapping on the floor like the count-off to a feeding frenzy or the image of a dinosaur roaring on a rooftop as pipe organs and choirs hit fortissiissimos and lightning scorched the sky.
And yet even as my eyes fell on that dim, dumb sequel, I had a perverse curiosity to lay them on what came next. Fallen Kingdom’s final minutes promised dinosaurs free and roaming our world — what everyone always wanted from a Jurassic Park sequel that begged to go bigger.
Jurassic World: Dominion squanders all of that potential and plays out as the sort of anonymously bloated, bloviating boondoggle in which the 2015 film tried blowing a hole. Something not unlike Pacific Rim: Uprising, come to think of it. And while it’s surprising anyone involved with that movie got another job writing anything more than a food order, Dominion shares one of its screenwriters in Emily Carmichael.
The other is Colin Trevorrow, who also directed Jurassic World, turned the reins over to J.A. Bayona for Fallen Kingdom, and returned to supervise this sad, final bloodletting of a gored, lumbering bull. Trevorrow was infamously booted from the big show of helming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker back to this minor-league monolith and directs this DEFCON 1-level dunderheadedness with all the energy of a retiring gym teacher.
Maybe you would, too, if you planned to shortchange people on the spectacle they sought in favor of asexually produced clones’ existential crises. Oh, and giant locusts. Anyway, the global upheaval of dinosaurs in the wild is largely confined to this film’s prologue, in which small dinos chase kids at parks while flying ones eat some wedding doves. A map indicates their worldwide spread. Before you chide this exceedingly dumb movie for suggesting dinosaurs can cross oceans, remember: It’s been canon for 25 years in this franchise that they can somehow steer boats (and fool the Coast Guard, but alas). There is at least one nice scene in which some kindly construction workers assist some gentle big bois in a bind.
Instead, one strand of this movie concerns Owen Grady, Claire Dearing and Maisie Lockwood. Remember them? No one does. It’s OK. Owen is a former velociraptor trainer, just a boy standing in front of a dinosaur with his arm outstretched, asking it not to eat him. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a former dino-PR flak turned dino-freedom activist and Owen’s lover. Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is the asexually produced human clone who released the dinosaurs into the wild in Fallen Kingdom.
All of them are now livin’ off the land in the Sierra Nevadas to shield Maisie from scientists that seek to do sinister things with her DNA. (Do they have any security system? Psh. No. Why do they need security when they’re protecting the world’s first human clone?) Oh, and Blue is there, too. Remember Blue? That’s the franchise’s OG toy license and raptor friend to Owen. Blue has asexually produced a new toy license, named Beta, whose blood the evil scientists also want.
Despite a surplus of squealing dinosaurs, shouting mercenaries and loudly fired guns, Claire does not seem to hear the mutual kidnapping of Maisie and Beta (which Owen attempts to foil). Owen then promises Blue he will get Beta back and embarks with Claire on a rescue mission.
Meanwhile, those wacky digital locusts are prompting unpersuasive frightened faces from screaming kids in the Midwest. They’re coincidentally avoiding crops from the Biosyn company while destroying the rest of the food our food needs to eat if it will live. Sounds bad! Is this a commentary on an introduction of genetically modified organisms into our global agriculture system? It’s giant locusts biologically encoded to fly into swarms that resemble DNA strands or birds because we saw both of those things in previous Jurassic Park movies. Does that count?
Anyway, investigating this pending plague falls to paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). Remember her? Yes! Yes, of course you do! Dominion is banking on it! And in case you didn’t, she’s wearing the same outfit she wore in Jurassic Park. While Dominion is hardly the first legacyquel to treat callbacks like Manchurian Candidate codes to assassinate inspiration and originality, it is certainly the most lethal. As my colleague Mitch Ringenberg noted: All you really need to know about Dominion can be summed up by Dern’s reintroduction. She re-enacts her iconic sunglasses removal to gaze in wonder upon … a field of CGI corn.
For no reason beyond Sam Neill still being quite the thirst trap at age 74, Sattler enlists paleontologist and ex-boyfriend Alan Grant (another survivor of Jurassic Park) to help her investigate Biosyn. And wouldn’t you know it? Biosyn has just hired “chaoticist” and, yes, fellow Jurassic Park survivor, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) as some sort of scientific advisor.
Naturally, these plots converge at Biosyn’s mountain sanctuary — which happens to house 20 different dinosaur species under the guise of medical research (an expository utterance never mentioned again). So what literally could’ve been Jurassic World becomes Jurassic Campus. Just another geographically isolated environment where dinos are released by a megalomaniac — here a Tim Cook-look, Elon Musk-husk miscreant named Lewis Dodgson played by Campbell Scott, whose uproarious disengagement is worth every zero after his comma.
It’s almost impressive to note how many things happen in Dominion and how bereft they are of even the most base-level urgency. Trained-assassin raptors sounds enjoyably doofy but it’s botched. A dino-versus-plane sequence pales next to the vastly superior Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Although an action sequence in Malta feels like the Mission: Impossible — Fallout motorcycle chase as written by a bag of sentient farts, second-unit director extraordinaire Dan Bradley at least brings a modicum of momentum and muscle to its presentation (also, in one moment, name-checking his camerawork on Matt Damon’s initial run of Bourne films).
You certainly won’t find anything to latch onto in Dominion’s exhaustive passel of additional new and returning characters. The former includes Kayla (DeWanda Wise), a military-trained pilot who has a change of heart from her mercenary tendencies, Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie), the young head of communications at Biosyn, and Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman), who is … dressed to resemble Vanessa Kirby in Fallout? The latter includes scientist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), who seems to have learned nothing from his lifetime of servitude to evil billionaires, and Barry (Omar Sy), Owen’s former work colleague who is now … an undercover operative for the CIA’s Dangerous Species Division. The charismatic Sy is back here solely because his TV series Lupin is now popular on Netflix and people will recognize him from that.
It’s the sort of ruthlessly cynical calculation at the heart of every decision in Dominion. Case in point: The third act’s otherwise ceaseless assault pauses for a conversation between Dodgson and Cole in which the young idealist insists he’s nothing like the brittle billionaire. We’ve learned nothing about these new characters beyond the functional exposition they provide … or Scott hilariously complaining about someone showing people “confidential things on the computer.”
It’s an exchange that reflects a report someone at Universal read about values held dear by Gen Z-ers like Cole, not the inner workings of people trying to reconcile their wonder over science with the corruptive properties of big business. It would be more interesting if characters like Cole looked at Grant, Sattler and Malcolm with skepticism for how little they’ve done to stop the world’s scientific rotting in the three decades since surviving Jurassic Park. But hey, that would spoil Goldblum’s non-sequitur joke about dogs humping his leg to the point of a calloused shin.
So … do people at least get eaten in this thing? The first such instance cuts away from carnage to Chris Pratt punching some forgettable lackey in a fight-club pit at a dinosaur black market. Let’s talk about Pratt for a second. Between this and Thor: Love and Thunder, he will feature prominently in two of the summer’s biggest films. In this one, he features prominently in the same way as furniture or cars. When reunited with Maisie (don’t give me “spoiler” guff), it’s as if he found her one aisle over at Target … or perhaps stuck in a Hardee’s bathroom. He’s also quite poor at projecting concern about digital creations threatening him. At one point, he’s nonplussed next to a raptor tearing apart a foe. To be fair, perhaps the only thing in life to unexpectedly survive more often than Pratt does in these Jurassic films is herpes.
Sorry for the digression: Dominion makes Fallen Kingdom look toothless in the eatin’ department. Then again, it’s hard to fear dinosaurs pathologically incapable of eating any of the good guys. When they do chow down, as on someone inexplicably riding a scooter near converging carnivores, it’s about as photorealistic as, say, the first Jurassic Park video game.
What’s most frustrating is that Jurassic World: Dominion spends 146 minutes only to bring us back to the exact same conclusion as its most immediate predecessor — and with nothing exciting, inspiring or engaging to show for it. It isn’t filmmaking. It’s the efficient behind-the-scenes automation of an amusement park, given a proxy sense of guidance by indifferent, inept summer help. It’s also something that actively pits you against your fondest memories of the original film only for you to lose by a decisive knockout blow. “Money’s cheap these days,” Dodgson quips at one point. You said it, mister. You said it.