Jurassic World: Dominion is Big, Loud, Overstuffed…and (Slightly) Better Than You’ve Heard

Big and loud, yes. Awe-inspiring? Not quite. Jurassic World: Dominion posits two stories and generations, one lifeless and the other merely serviceable.

7 mins read

Jurassic World: Dominion, the sixth film in a bloated series that lost its magic about five films ago yet continues barreling ahead, believing there is still wonder in seeing photorealistic dinosaurs onscreen (which hasn’t truly been the case since Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original), certainly tries its hardest. Big, loud, numerous—yes. Awe-inspiring? Not quite.

The new installment has been publicly lambasted as a mostly overblown mess. Yet despite its preceding reputation, Jurassic World: Dominion turns out not be terrible. It also isn’t very memorable.

The picture posits two stories and generations, one lifeless while the other merely serviceable. Those stories join the original Jurassic Park actors with their successors, bringing back stars Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum, welcomely nostalgic yet diminishing latter day counterparts Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt.

Co-written and directed by Colin Trevorrow (who directed the first installment of the modern trilogy), the picture is a bigger-is-better, kitchen sink proposition in which whatever emotions can be wrung from the material come from the veteran stars, who are given little to do.

At the conclusion of 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the dinosaurs escaped into the word and have been running free ever since, populating the forests, mountains, everywhere, living as proper wild animals and as the new picture opens, there are good and bad factions either protecting their livelihood or out to threaten it.

The dual story structure involves a reunion of Ellie Sattler (Dern) and Alan Grant (Neill) who despite having been apart for years still have a spark of chemistry, teaming up to figure out why a growing swarm of genetically mutated, prehistoric locusts is sweeping across America’s heartland and on track to eliminate our food supply.

At the same time, hiding out in the Sierra Nevadas are series regulars Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), raising Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), a bored adolescent with a secret lineage and a price on her head.

Both of these stories summon their protagonists to one of those corporate baddies, an organization named Biosyn Genetics, hidden away in Italy’s Dolomites and lorded over by stock villain Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). If the film has a theme it’s one of garden variety corporate corruption leading to chaos, which is wan enough as to be interchangeable with dozens of other films.

While Ellie and Alan infiltrate Biosyn headquarters attempting to steal a DNA sample from a mutated locust with the help of old friend Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), Claire and Owen trek from the U.S. to Italy in an attempt to rescue Maisie, kidnapped by Biosyn’s third-rate, Bond-esque henchmen.

The picture hinges on getting these two stories to converge, and it takes a whopping hour and forty-five minutes for this to happen. Along the way, cargo pilot Kay (DeWanda Wise) inexplicably inserts herself into the action, putting her life in danger; for what reason it’s hard to say. Wise (star of Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It series), in an amusingly self-possessed performance and clearly having fun, acts up a storm.

Despite its extended and often monotonous length, a few of the set-pieces undeniably work, including a furious motorcycle-raptors chase through city byways in Malta, a sequence involving locusts loose in a lab and fun moment with ice shattering atop a frozen lake, a dinosaur beneath lurking beneath.

If the story had focused exclusively on aging trio of pros Dern (warm as always), Neill and Goldblum, the picture may have been more compelling as there’s an undeniable appeal when they appear together onscreen. But the latter-day shenanigans hold more screen time and are comparatively pale.

Plucky Howard, a good actress, holds her own in the maternal moments as well as action scenes, including a fun sequence in swamp and an unlikely escape from a plummeting airplane. But Pratt lacks gravitas and conveys a blank earnestness, becoming his signature expression, throughout.

While Jurassic World: Dominion is being billed a finale of sorts, it’s hard to believe another trilogy isn’t on tap; the picture ends ready for a sequel. Perhaps the most aggravating aspect of the picture is the survival of all the main characters (except the villains, naturally). Not for a moment is there any sense of danger at stake as there was in, perhaps, James Cameron’s Aliens—this film could use a dose of that classic’s terror.

Here’s hoping that future installments focus less on a mindless parade of prehistoric creatures and a bit more on the substance that drove the first picture—the ethical considerations and consequences of playing God—and take note of the gentle and appealing onscreen connection between Dern and Neill, perhaps the best thing in this overstuffed and intermittently enjoyable film.

Despite its shortcomings, fans of the series will likely be delighted with Jurassic World: Dominion, a probable hit given the built-in audience and nearly non-stop action climaxes, all but guaranteeing future Jurassic screen permutations. One can only hope the series’ genome is altered to produce a more satisfying film.

2 stars.

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