Jurassic World Dominion struggles under the weight of too many undercooked ideas and an indulgent sensibility.
I saw Top Gun Maverick over the weekend and loved every moment of the pulse-pounding, unapologetically sentimental film. Like Creed before, it was the perfect mix of nostalgic nods to the source material and fresh angles on the familiar themes. I had high hopes for Jurassic World Dominion. I loved Jurassic Park and really enjoyed the first two Jurassic World films. With his golden retriever charm, Chris Pratt was perfectly cast as a raptor wrangler, and Bryce Dallas Howard classes up any movie she is in. The dinosaurs were bigger, badder, and toothier, and the humans were just as dangerous and foolhardy. There was enough new in the story to have a new amusement park installation make somewhat plausible sense even if things got a little hairy in the Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom’s finale.
If Jurassic World 2 was a tad implausible, Jurassic World Dominion jumped the proverbial Megalodon. Unfortunately, between all the glossed over tech and manipulative framed shots, there was scant time to explore the overstuffed storylines, some of which could have been very good.
Eight years after the events of Jurassic World and four after Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, the planet is learning to deal with dinosaurs in their everyday life. Some have embraced the smaller, more sweet animals, while enterprising entrepreneurs with shady moral compasses have created vast black markets of illegally bred and obtained animals. Biosyn, the next megacorporation to take up the mantle of maintaining and protecting the animals, provides the only place on Earth where the dinosaurs can be housed and studied. Owen and Claire are actively working to circumvent illegal dino activity while keeping the world’s most famous orphan, Maisie, hidden in a secluded cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Simultaneously massive terrifying grasshoppers have begun devastating all crops not planted with Biosyn seed. Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler has gotten involved as things reach critical mass with the world’s food supply. She, in turn, recruits Sam Neil’s Alan Grant, and away they go to Biosyn’s super-secret laboratory and dinosaur refuge to meet Jeff Goldblum’s, Ian Malcolm. He earns a paycheck by espousing ridiculous philosophical platitudes and baring his chest. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so earnest.
Biosyn’s Lewis Dodgson(Campbell Scott) is an Elon Musk CEO who brings nothing new to the tired, morally ambiguous on-the-spectrum leader until a back half meltdown allows the actor to shine. It is a highlight and laugh-out-loud funny. Pratt and Howard are predictably good, and Archive 81’s Mamoudou Athie(Ramsay Cole) is a standout in a subtle role that allows his natural gravitas to inform the role. Young Isabella Sermon(Maisie Lockwood) is tender and tough, and newcomer DeWanda Wise, as Kayla, a pilot for hire who gains a conscience and becomes an ally for our heroes, does the best she can with a cardboard character and trite lines.
The genius behind Michael Crichton’s original stories always lay in the truth about the fallibility of man and the possibility of science. How the dinosaurs were created sounds reasonable. While scientists dispel the belief that amber preserves biting insects’ soft tissues and thus dino DNA, genetic modification and genome mapping is real. We can’t clone ancient animals from anything we have found now, but scientists have found blood samples preserved in other insects, and the prospect does exist that someday it could be possible. Maisie’s story is a hazy bastardization(pun intended) of cloning, genetic modification, and iffy junk science that is barely explained and even less credible. There is a serious ick factor to her story that I’m assuming was not intentional, given all the effort to make Charlotte so sympathetic.
A few intriguing ideas got a back seat to the sentimentality of the original Jurassic Park. The concept of big farm GMOs utilizing ancient DNA to create massive insects is exciting. The locusts are terrifying and very believable. I would have loved to see this idea develop more. After Indominus Rex, there really wasn’t anywhere else to go in terms of more enormous dinosaurs, so the insect idea had legs. Additionally, a barely explained plot beat with Charlotte Lockwood and her offspring Maisie is confusing, ridiculous, and wildly creepy. This was a wasted opportunity.
There were pieces in Jurassic World Dominion I liked and others I saw real potential in. Any time I have the chance to see Laura Dern, Sam Neil, and Jeff Goldblum on screen again is excellent, but their collective star power is largely wasted under a mountain of sentimentality and forced jokes. One or two nods to their movies would be fun. Instead, an extended joke or gag every five minutes is just annoying and contributes to the bloated run time that could have stood some heavy scrutiny. At nearly two and a half hours, it is too much. The crowd I saw the film with became so bored they began heckling the screen and each other at the two-hour mark.
The action sequences are great. Everything has a vaguely Indiana Jones quality to it. Exotic locations with sketchy markets provide lots of opportunities for brawls of the dino and human variety. The sanctuary scenes feel as if they have been ripped from an immersive thrill ride at Universal Studios. This was not lost on me as the movie clearly has an eye towards selling park tickets based on a suitably scary dark ride that Jurassic World Dominion is establishing. With what is happening over at Disney right now, I don’t blame them and admit being excited about the ride.
Jurassic World Dominion tries too hard to tie up loose ends, build hype for park assets, and remind us of the power of memory but fails to find its footing in almost all aspects. It’s not a terrible movie, just a ridiculously long one that is too in love with itself. Director Colin Trevorrow should have listened to his own script, “We hold onto regret when we stay in the past.” You can successfully jog memories and mix them with new ideas. Unfortunately, everything got lost in the past when they forgot to live in the present. Jurassic Park Dominion is in theaters on June 10th, 2022.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.