‘Jurassic World Dominion’ Is A Prehistoric Blockbuster (Movie Review)

Jurassic World Dominion finally hits IMAX and normal-sized screens after production woes that included multiple shutdowns due to COVID. Like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, this Colin Trevorrow-directed flick is marketed as an “epic conclusion” to the iconic series that changed VFX forever in 1993 with Spielberg’s top-notch direction. The hook for the third World pic is twofold: the dinos are finally (no, really, they are this time!) off the island, and a trio of original cast members have returned. True, Jeff Goldblum showed up for a couple odd judiciary scenes in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but now he, along with Laura Dern and Sam Neill, are key players in Dominion. Jurassic World actors Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and a host of others are back too. A trailer that featured a pair of DNA spliced velociraptors chasing motorcycle riding Pratt in Europe was intriguing. Universal hopes the nostalgia factor and audience’s seemingly endless love for dinosaurs will be more than enough to make this movie another smash hit at the box office. But is the film any good – or at the very least fun?

The short answer is no. Bloated, scattershot, and certainly one of the ugliest big-budget blockbusters in years, Dominion is less fun but plenty grating. This is the kind of event film that’s chock full of big moments with little to no downtime. The now de-facto “dino attacks randos” opening is solid enough, taking place aboard a medium-sized freighter ship. The sight of a ginormous jaw as it chomps down on a cage filled with seafood is merely adequate, not inspired. After about 40 minutes of the “real story,” I felt the whole endeavor would be just that: short bursts of some fun in a sea of aimless plot threads.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. The plot goes from A to B to C perfectly fine. Claire and Owen are off to save their adopted daughter/clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) and Blue the Raptor’s baby from evil poachers (or whatever). Meanwhile, Dr. Alan Grant (Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Dern), and Dr. Ian Malcom (Goldblum) find themselves at a research facility looking for evidence that a recent giant locust swarm is the fault of a faceless corporate entity that’s meddled in DNA yet again, and to the shock of no one. The head of “BioSyn” (ah, I see what they did there) is Lewis Dogson (Campbell Scott), last seen exchanging payment with Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry in the first Jurassic Park. Eventually, the two plot threads come together, and along the way, plenty of silly humans get chased, eaten, and stomped on by dinosaurs.

It’s a solid foundation for a big IMAX adventure, yet director Trevorrow can’t find a compelling way to shoot it. Too often, a brownish haze fills the screen, perhaps an attempt to hide some of the less effective FX work. Remember all the strong shadows and pops of colors in J.A. Bayona’s Fallen Kingdom? All of that is gone. Even the crisp yet ultimately generic look of Trevorrow’s first World is curiously absent. It’s a strange choice. I suppose one could argue the golden color palette is reminiscent of the amber casing that adorns Jurassic posters? Still, basing a two-and-a-half-hour film on a visual nod to an amber mosquito cane is extremely limiting.

Even weirder — Trevorrow’s ease with his cast and a looser directing style is gone now. There are no small moments like Jake Johnson in the first World discussing his t-shirt or Dino toys. Those scenes can feel improvised or, at least well, human. Maisie might have been revealed to be a clone in the last entry, but she also liked to tease her maid by pantomiming a t-rex. We know these films are about spectacle, but those quirks were features in the previous films, not bugs.

The score by Michael Giacchino (Lost) is less a proper musical aid and more a series of jerky orchestral loops. This is a far cry from the incredible and memorable theme we heard earlier this year in Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

The script by Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim: Uprising) isn’t really the problem. Sure, yet another shady bio-company run by yet another tech bro is pretty tired, but it works as a way to get all the main characters in another isolated area with dinosaurs. It’s funny how effortlessly the recent Godzilla films have managed to put their Project Monarch monstrosities anywhere: a city, an island, etc., and it works 100%. The failure of the Jurassic scripts to get the dinosaurs out of the park environments since the 90s is truly one of the greatest disappointments in modern franchise history (That said, Fallen Kingdom is quite good at bringing something new in this regard). If one just goes with such narrative repetition, the script is certainly capable of setting up serviceable set pieces. At least on paper, anyway.

But who cares about all that technical stuff, right? If you love the cast of Jurassic World and Jurassic Park, how can this go wrong? For my money, Howard’s Claire is still the only mildly interesting character in the new series. To her credit, she delivers solid character work in several key moments, with the actor conveying a ton with her eyes. A mid-film sequence with Claire on her own by air and by sea is a highlight.

The original cast, however, can’t seem to catch a break. It’s nice to see Dern and Neill rekindle some of their onscreen chemistry, but plot-wise they’re stranded, with not a lot to do beyond putting on disguises and talking science mumbo jumbo.

The big chase scene involving Owen (Pratt) escaping the aforementioned velociraptors is functionally fine but utterly lacking in thrills or suspense. I suspect the big reason for this – and I give props to Trevorrow and his team for trying – is that dinos barreling down a small, realistic European-looking street is an uncanny valley issue. Think of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt on a motorcycle in Mission Impossible: Fallout or Craig’s 007 in No Way To Die in a similar chase. It’s striking how unconvincing Dominon’s set pieces are. Camera placement and movement should have a purpose beyond “this is what a guy on a motorcycle being chased by dinos looks like.” There needs to be narrative invention as well. Still, points for trying.

Jurassic World: Dominion is loud, unaffecting, and wholly forgettable, not because the story is lame but in execution. On paper, I think there’s a theme of how several characters are trying to contend with their own questionable actions in past films. B.D. Wong’s character, Dr. Henry Wu, is for sure on this wavelength. Yet, for the most part, it’s just lip service instead of visual layering. I realize that’s a lot to maybe ask from such a movie like Dominion, but I only bring it up as it’s a big part of the story’s theme. Plus, Godzilla: King of the Monsters actually managed to be thematically sound and crazy fun. Of course, if Colin Trevorrow and his team infused this sixth film with new life and purpose, I wouldn’t be complaining.

Reviewers note: the screening I attended was not IMAX or Dolby Vision. Therefore, it’s entirely possible audiences that pay for premium screens will have a better experience with deep blacks and strong color saturation. 

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