Jurassic World Dominion Review: When “Jurassic Park” was released twenty-nine years ago, computer-generated and digitally composited effects were still relatively new, but director Steven Spielberg’s team elevated them to a new level of credibility by sparingly using them, especially in nighttime and rainy scenes, and mixing them with traditional practical FX work (mainly puppets and large-scale models). In the imaginations of viewers, the outcome evoked primeval wonder and dread.
The T-Rex attack, in particular, was so well-designed and terrifying that it threw this writer sideways in his seat, one arm lifted in front of his face as if defending against a dinosaur attack. When the chaos subsided, Spielberg turned to a very calm scene, allowing everyone to hear how many people in the crowd had been screaming in terror, which naturally resulted in wild laughter and a release of tension (a foolproof showman’s trick). “Mister, are you all right?” a tiny girl sitting nearby inquired, looking at his still-terror-contoured figure.
Jurassic World Dominion Review
Nothing in “Jurassic World: Dominion” compares to the initial T-Rex attack in “Jurassic Park,” or any other scene in the film. Or, for that matter, any of the scenes in Steven Spielberg’s sequel “The Lost World,” which made the most of an unavoidable cash-grab situation by using the film as an excuse to stage a series of dazzling large-scale action sequences, with Jeff Goldblum’s chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm serving as the action hero. Goldblum’s “Lost World” performance became a wry-yet-cranky meta-commentary on corporate capitalism, which he reprises alongside other original cast members Sam Neill and Laura Dern in “Dominion.”
In fact, nothing in this new film compares to the best portions of “Jurassic Park III,” “Jurassic World,” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the latter of which suffered from diminishing returns syndrome but still managed to throw in a great action scene or dino attack every now and then. The mixed-bag “Fallen Kingdom,” which provides literal and figurative DNA to the plot of “Dominion,” had the most unexpected pivots since the original, conjuring Spielbergian images of wonder (think of that mournful shot of the brachiosaur left behind on the dock) and mixing gothic horror and haunted house-movie elements into its second half.
The character of Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), a clone made by John Hammond’s business partner to replace the daughter he lost, was based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the initial inspiration for “Jurassic Park” author Michael Crichton.
Maisie is one of several significant characters in “Dominion,” and her unfortunate situation has been updated with a few appropriately unsettling additional elements. However, returning franchise director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow (writer/director of “Jurassic World”) and his collaborators are unable to focus on the deeper implications of their characters for long enough to develop Maisie with the sophistication required for a great or even good science fiction/horror film.
The treatment of Maisie is just one blunder in a dumpster fire of a sequel that squanders ideas, pictures, characters, and plot twists before calling it a film. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a former Jurassic World park operations manager who now heads the activist Dinosaur Protection Group, breaks into a ranch where juvenile plant-eaters are being held and makes the rash decision to rescue one of them. Maisie then travels to a cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where she lives with Owen Grady, the park’s former raptor-whisperer (Chris Pratt).
The three form a temporary nuclear family whose sole purpose is to safeguard Maisie from those who would exploit her for genetic or financial advantage. Blue, a semi-domesticated raptor who lives with them and has a child (mirroring Maisie’s relationship to her mother’s genetic material—though so carelessly that it’s as though the filmmakers scarcely considered the two creatures as being thematically linked), has asexually reproduced and has a child.
There’s also a corporate spy storyline (as in most of the other movies) with a mindless and/or malevolent corporation that preaches about magic and wonder but is just interested in exploiting the dinosaurs and the technology that produced them. Since “The Lost World,” the descendants of park creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), a lovely elderly man who meant well but failed to consider the consequences of his deeds, have become deliberately treacherous Bad Guy types. Dr. Lewis Dodgson, a character from the original film who has been recast and risen to CEO of BioSyn (‘bio sin,’ get it? ), is heavy in this one.
Dr. Wu (arguably the true villain of most of these films, though in an oblivious, John Hammond sort of way) is a recurring “Jurassic” character hired by Dodgson to breed prehistoric locusts that are genetically coded to devour every food crop, save for engineered plants sold exclusively by the company.
Dodgson is the mastermind behind Maisie and Blue’s child’s kidnapping. Campbell Scott imbues the underwritten Dodgson with a distinct personality through innovative body language and surprising phrasings and pauses. He turns him into a parody of two generations of tech-bro capitalist gurus, the Baby Boomer, and Generation X. He appears to be a peace-loving hippie, but he’s really a greedy yuppie who keeps black marketeers and hired murders on his payroll.
Dodgson’s warm-voiced but dead-eyed delivery of “caring” is particularly chilling—like a zombie Steve Jobs. It’s the film’s second most inventive performance, behind Goldblum’s, who never moves or speaks as you’d anticipate and says things that sound spontaneous. “Why are you skulking?” he yells at coworkers who are moving too slowly for his liking.
All narrative paths converge at BioSyn headquarters, where Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, played by Neill and Dern, have gone to ask Ian Malcolm’s help in obtaining top-secret information that can end the prehistoric locust plague, and where Maisie and Blue’s baby has been brought so that their genetic secrets can be mined as well. Two new characters, a Han Solo-like mercenary pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) who says she doesn’t want to get involved in the heroes’ problems but then does, and Dodgson’s disillusioned acolyte Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie).
Join the intrigue and are presumably being introduced as new-generation figureheads who can take over the franchise in its next incarnation, whatever that may be even if the entire film had been set inside BioSyn headquarters, it might have felt bloated and unimaginative. However, Trevorrow transforms the film into a worldwide travelogue, with action set in a variety of locations and each segment feeling narratively disconnected from the others in the style of a bad spy film. (There’s even a rooftop pursuit with a raptor, similar to one in “The Bourne Supremacy.”)
The film’s flaws are encapsulated in an extended sequence in Malta, where Claire and Owen have gone to rescue Maisie from kidnappers. It contains a number of intriguing ideas, including a dinosaur-themed black market (like something out of a “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” film) where criminals buy, sell, and eat prohibited and endangered animals. It’s undone, though, by a sloppy undertone of comic-book Orientalism and a seeming inability to even see, let alone capitalize on, material that’s rich in both comedy and tragic promise. Michael Giacchino’s score is full of frightening Arabic-African “exotic” tropes as if setting up an R-rated prison drama in which Owen serves a “Midnight Express” sentence for hashish possession in a Turkish prison.
When you consider what Spielberg or even his favorite second-unit director Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III”) could have done with an action scene that throws Owen and the main abductor into a combat pit where onlookers stake on dinosaur fights, it gets gloomy. It could’ve been a mini-masterpiece of action, slapstick, and social commentary, with the pit audience reacting angrily when their regularly scheduled dino-fights are disrupted, then gleefully shifting gears by betting on the two humans fighting it out, making new odds and passing fistfuls of cash while baying for blood. Trevorrow examines the situation and notices the following:
Trevorrow even manages to recycle one of the only clever gags in his “Jurassic World”—a comment on the summer blockbuster’s 40-year budgetary and spectacle escalation, in which a great white shark, the creature at the center of Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking 1975 film “Jaws,” is eaten by a mosasaurs the size of a skyscraper—not once, but three times. Every time Trevorrow does something like this, it feels like an even more desperate attempt to remind us of how much fun we might’ve had during “Jurassic World,” which wasn’t all that fantastic, to begin with, even at its best moments, was reheated cultural leftovers.
There are also instances in which characters (most notably Malcolm) link BioSyn’s capitalist rapaciousness to the movie you’re viewing. However, they lack the humor and levity that fueled comparable material in “The Lost World.” They appear to be curdled with self-loathing and understanding of the show’s hollowness. Malcolm chastises himself for taking the company’s money to work as their in-house philosopher/guru even though he knows they’re cynical corporate exploiters, and Goldblum’s voice has a self-lacerating edge to it that makes it sound like the actor is confessing to low personal standards rather than the character.
And, like Goldblum, there are times when Sam Neill appears embarrassed to be onscreen, or at the very least perplexed as to what he’s doing in the story—although, to be fair, the script never convincingly explains why Allan, a reluctant action hero in his previous two “Jurassic” appearances, would leave the dinosaur dig site where Ellie finds him, other than the fact that he’s from the earlier films and needed to be here for nostalgia-marketing
Worst of all, the series fails to adequately address its most intriguing question: how would our civilization alter if dinosaurs were introduced? The first section of the film crams everything “Dominion” has to say about the subject into a TV news montage, including a little girl being chased on a beach by baby dinos (a nod to “The Lost World”), a couple releasing doves at their wedding only to have one of them snatched out of the air by a pterodactyl, and pteranodons nesting in the World Trade Center.
Ninety minutes of footage like this, with no characters or plot at all, would almost certainly have been a better artistic use of a couple hundred million dollars than “Jurassic World: Dominion,” which will undoubtedly be a smash on par with all the other entries in the franchise, despite doing little more than the bare minimum you’d expect for one of these films, and not very well.