‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ Review: The Dinosaurs, The Cast Are Bigger Than Ever, But at What Cost?

”There are just way too many characters to serve here so they all get the short shift.”

Jurassic World: Dominion is exactly what you have come to expect from this nearly 30-year-old franchise, which is to say, another lazy disappointment that only serves to highlight the magic of the original film. Hold on to your butts, folks!

The big selling point here is the reunion of original Jurassic Park stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. They’ve all revisited this franchise before, but never all three at once. Isn’t that exciting? I’m not too cynical to admit that yeah, it kind of is. But this unlikely trio of movie stars finds themselves starring in a very different kind of movie this time around — one with no real narrative purpose.

Colin Trevorrow, who directed the first Jurassic World under the watchful eye of franchise godfather Steven Spielberg, returns behind the camera once again after the otherwise trusty J.A. Bayona delivered a messy sequel with 2018’s Fallen Kingdom. But Dominion is simply the next evolution of this once-great, now-faded franchise.

For some reason, the conclusion of this epic dinosaur franchise is about… locusts that threaten the global food chain. Yes, you read that right.

An evil corporation called Biosyn has modified locusts with dinosaur DNA and not only are they eating American crops at an astounding rate, but they’re threatening to cross continents. It’s up to Neill, Dern, and Goldblum… and Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard… and their cloned “daughter” Maisie (Isabella Sermon)… and a helpful pilot played by DeWanda Wise… to save the world. From starving.

Nothing I write about this movie is going to prevent it from making a billion dollars, but it sure seems like this franchise has squandered any goodwill that was left. This is, to be frank, the new Transformers. OK, maybe not quite as bad or as dumb as those later Transformers sequels, but it’s right up there, as this entry is pretty much on par with Fallen Kingdom, which isn’t a compliment.

Image via Universal Pictures

There’s no question that Trevorrow delivers some stunning dinosaur battles and action sequences in this film. I can’t deny his ability to put together a setpiece. But there’s no sense of flow to this story, no sense of where it’s going or what it’s building to. It’s just a blitzkrieg of chase scenes. And this movie takes its transportation seriously. The cast is moving from motorcycles to planes to helicopters, and there are so many vehicles, you’d think it was a remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I guess Biosyn doesn’t offer direct flights to its dinosaur sanctuary in the snowy hills of Italy.

But seriously, Dominion feels very herky-jerky. Trevorrow will start introducing one idea, quickly grow bored with it, and then try to compensate by introducing two new ideas.  There’s a black market sequence that I actually liked, and it felt very Star Wars to me, but the same portion features a character played by the stunning Dichen Lachman who just disappears from the movie, making her feel like filler.

The script is also a bit self-serious, and it probably would’ve benefitted from some more humor, perhaps a Jake Johnson-type of character to crack a few jokes and play audience surrogate, pointing out the ridiculousness of what’s happening onscreen. Also, would it have killed Trevorrow to include a flashback and explain how we know Biosyn’s evil leader, Lewis Dodgson, played by the great Campbell Scott. It’s like Trevorrow thinks everyone seeing this movie reads Collider or something.

The original trio does what it can to elevate the proceedings, and Dern was the standout among them, at least until Trevorrow surrenders to Goldblum’s energy late in the game and just lets him do Goldblum things, which are always welcome. Wise slots nicely into this franchise, and her alpha energy only serves to highlight how flat and underwhelming Pratt has been of late, like he’s on action hero autopilot.

Scott actually nails his assignment as a near-perfect parody of Apple’s Tim Cook, and I enjoyed Mamoudou Athie as his young protege who is nothing like him deep down. Conversely, this movie strains itself bending over backward to accommodate a bunch of cameos from folks like Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, and Omar Sy.

There are just way too many characters to serve here so they all get the short shift. Ghostbusters made do with four guys, and even The Avengers kept it to six people. Those are manageable numbers, but at the end of Dominion, there are multiple hero shots of, like, eight people. With a ninth elsewhere.

Image via Universal Pictures

The other secret problem with this movie, and others in the franchise, is the kids, or lack thereof. Now I know what you’re going to say. What about Maisie? She’s a kid! Yeah, she is, but she doesn’t feel like a kid, she feels like an adult, with her posh British accent and proper way of speaking. And that has nothing to do with Sermon’s performance, mind you. It’s the way the character is written. It’s not her fault that Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards delivered iconic child performances in Jurassic Park, and that’s part of Spielberg’s magic. He’s great with kids, from Gertie (Drew Barrymore) in E.T. to Data (Ke Huy Quan) in Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom and Rufio (Dante Basco) in Hook. Colin Trevorrow made a movie with kids once. It was called The Book of Henry. The kids just don’t register in the Jurassic movies he has made.

You know what else doesn’t register? The awe-struck sense of timeless wonder that the world collectively felt upon seeing Jurassic Park, which Trevorrow has replaced with monster movie scares. I personally appreciated some of those scarier moments, but where Trevorrow fails is in building proper suspense for them. There’s no build-up in Dominion. No foreplay. It’s just wham-bam-thank-you and you don’t even get to say “ma’am” before getting whammed and bammed again. Nothing in Dominion approaches the scene in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex’s footsteps cause ripples in the water. This movie is just relentless and while some will find that a selling point, at some point, it all just starts to feel like noise.

Speaking of which, the music doesn’t get a workout as it should. Michael Giacchino does the score, and there’s one moment when the John Williams‘ classic theme comes up and it actually matters, but for the most part, the theme stays on ice, mainly because there’s no wondrous moment that calls for it. Indeed, that’s the biggest problem with Jurassic World Dominion, which most reviews will likely point out.

There is just no sense of magic anymore, no sense of wonder. And I get it, I’ve seen six of these movies and I’m not 9 years old anymore, but I can’t imagine a 9-year-old kid walking out of Dominion with the same sense of wonder as I did walking out of Jurassic Park. It’s just soulless summer tripe. A harmless popcorn movie, perhaps, but it’s high past time to encase this franchise in amber for a while, for each new installment does the original’s legacy no favors.

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