Starring: Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy), Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help), Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Laura Dern (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Jeff Goldblum (Thor: Ragnarok), Mamoudou Athie (The Get Down), Scott Haze (Venom), Dichen Lachman (Altered Carbon), Daniella Pineda (Cowboy Bebop), Campbell Scott (The Amazing Spider-Man), Isabella Sermon (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Justice Smith (Pokémon: Detective Pikachu), Omar Sy (Lupin), DeWanda Wise (The Harder They Fall), BD Wong (Mr. Robot)
Director: Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)
Writers: Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim: Uprising) and Colin Trevorrow
Runtime: 2 hours 26 minutes
Release Date: 10th June (US, UK)
Synopsis: When their adopted clone daughter Maisie is abducted by the power-hungry genetics company BioSyn, dinosaur trainer Owen and activist Claire must travel to their top-secret research facility to rescue her. Meanwhile, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler and paleontologist Alan Grant head to BioSyn with their own motive: find evidence the company is manufacturing an ecological disaster in order to take control of the world’s food supply.
I think most everyone can agree that the original Jurassic Park was a great film and a landmark in the history of visual effects and blockbuster filmmaking. What’s more contentious, however, is whether any of its sequels come even close to matching its quality. After two immediate follow-ups that mostly just flailed trying to reverse-engineer the success of the first, the Jurassic World series was a chance to reinvogorate the franchise and view it from a fresh, modern perspective. In a way, it succeeded in that aim, but only in that it has veered the story into weird and increasingly baffling directions. Whilst the first was a decent but forgettable summer romp with a few odd segues into WTF territory, the second entry Fallen Kingdom went completely off the rails and is still (to me, anyway) one of the worst Hollywood movies of the last five years. Regardless, they were both billion-dollar hits, and so now we inevitably reach the final entry of the trilogy Dominion, uniting the stars of both the Park and World eras and ending the story started in 1993. Will this entry finally redeem the franchise and give us a movie worthy of the Jurassic name? Short answer: no. Long answer….I mean, just keep reading and you’ll find out why!
One of the biggest flaws of Fallen Kingdom was that it was basically just a set-up for the next movie, crafting an overly-complicated series of events that led to dinosaurs being released into human civilization, then only teasing us with the possibilities of what that could lead to. That build-up, unfortunately, doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things for Dominion. The first act only briefly explores the impact of reintroducing dinosaurs to the modern world (mostly through an expostion dump prologue disguised as a NowThis viral mini-doc) before revealing the true source of Dominion‘s conflict: locusts. Yes, the movie franchise defined by dinosaurs has seemingly run out of ideas for what to do with them, demoting them to mini-boss fodder and shifting focus to genetically-engineered super-locusts who threaten to cause a global food shortage. The giant insects certainly make for an intimidating foe, but the movie places so much import on them that it’s easy to forget at points you’re supposed to be watching a Jurassic World movie.
Once we break into act two and the story splits into two narratives, its trajectory radically shifts even more. For a solid chunk of the movie, it basically becomes an espionage thriller as Owen and Claire chase after bad guys through the streets of Malta whilst Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler sneak their way through a secure lab, and even the presence of dinosaurs doesn’t make it seem that far removed from scenes that otherwise feel ripped straight from a Brosnan-era Bond film. The two storylines ultimately converge in the third act, where it finally starts to feel like a Jurassic Park movie again, but very much one we’ve seen before. It quickly devloves into yet another adventure on an island research facility for our heroes to encounter dinos both new and familiar, and you have to wonder why they even bothered making Fallen Kingdom if they weren’t going to take full advantage of its ramifications.
It is indeed a far less silly film than its immediate predecessor, even as it retains its dumber concepts like laser-targeted dinos, but it lacks any real spark of creativity and mostly just settles for compentently trundling along to the next action sequence. It moves at a good clip, rarely feeling its two-and-a-half hour length, and there’s no stretch where it gets boring or goes off on a tangent or springs some horrible twist, but…there’s really not much else to it. Most bafflingly of all, as the film’s plot is mostly centred around conflicts introduced and solved in Dominion rather than those from the prior films, it ultimately ends pretty much right where it started. Aside from some minor character development, you could literally stop watching the series at Fallen Kingdom and miss NOTHING of value; for a movie that’s marketing itself so heavily on returning cast members and being the “epic conclusion of the Jurassic era”, that’s pretty pathetic.
Much like Steven Spielberg did with Jaws, the initial draw of Jurassic Park may have been the prehistoric beasts but people remember it because of its characters. Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and Ian Malcolm were a phenomenal trio, each with their own idiosyncrasies and evolutions that kept the movie interesting in between all the high-concept spectacle, and it’s yet another element none of the subsequent entries have captured. With Dominion, it’s almost like the filmmakers are aware of this fact and just went, “F*ck it, roll out the dumptrucks of cash and get the original stars back!” Seeing the return of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum (this time for more than just a quick cameo!) is quite something at first, picking up the characters again without missing a beat whilst still giving them a sense they’ve evolved since we last saw them. Dern is especially good as she balances being the more mature and environmentally-concerned Ellie whilst occasionally slipping back to the more innocent adventurer we knew in 1993, whilst Neill turns up the curmudgeon levels even more to create a performance that will remind many of their own elderly fathers, and Goldblum…well, he’s just doing his Goldblum thing, so if you’re tired of that shtick, your mileage with him may vary.
When it comes to the newer cast, it really does seem like they ran out of ideas on what to do. Thankfully, they’ve at least dropped the bickering odd couple routine between Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, portraying them more as responsible surrogate parents to Isabella Sermon’s Maisie, but otherwise they’re just kind of empty shells of characters now. They have motivations and relationships, sure, but their function is now completely plot-focused with no real attempt to give them the slightest bit of introspection. Sermon continues to be a major focus as we learn more about her backstory and how it relates to the franchise mythos, but again she’s basically a walking MacGuffin but now with a generic rebellious teen streak. Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda return from Fallen Kingdom for little more than an extended cameo to write them out of the plot, Omar Sy briefly reprises his role from Jurassic World during the Malta segment before disappearing again, and of course BD Wong is back as Dr Wu for…a poorly-motivated redemption arc? Uhhhh…
But wait, there’s more! Dominion also introduces a few new faces to the series, and the quality of their characters varies even more wildly. Campbell Scott serves as the film’s human antagonist Lewis Dodgson, yet another “Steve Jobs but Bond villain” type so obvious that the film doesn’t even try not to pretend he’s the bad guy. Fans of the original film may recognise that name and yes, he is indeed meant to be the same Lewis Dodgson that hired Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry to steal dino DNA samples (where he was played by Cameron Thor, who was unable to reprise his role due to…y’know what, just Google it). However, he bears little resemblence to the original character and, beyond a brief Easter egg reference, him being Dodgson has no bearing on the plot; he could have been named Dr. Weirdo McEvilbad and it wouldn’t change much. Mamoudou Athie portrays Dodgson’s protoge Ramsey and does a comendable job with a role that’s mostly perfunctory, though it may have made sense for expediency to just give all his scenes to Wong instead. The film’s real MVP is DeWanda Wise as no-nonsense freight smuggler Kayla Watts. From the moment she walks on screen, she commands a presence no other character has and grounds the film amidst all the prehistoric chaos, calling out the main characters’ bullsh*t and just being an well-rounded badass. If nothing else, hopefully this will get Wise on enough people’s radar to give her a shot in a meatier franchise role.
There have been so many memorable action sequences in the Jurassic franchise, with even the weakest entries having one or two stand-outs to call their own, and with this being the supposed finale of the saga you’d hope they’d end it on a bang. Dominion certainly has a larger variety of set pieces than previous outings, mainly thanks to its globe-trotting narrative that shows us dinosaurs in environments never before seen in the series. The easy winner here is the Malta sequence, which spices up a Bourne-style chase over rooftops and on motorbikes with a variety of dinos rampaging through the streets and a frantic rush to catch a plane mid-takeoff to cap it. It’s a ludicrous but very well-staged bit of action, and that’s unfortunately where the movie peaks. Right after that, we’re back to familiar jungles and research labs with all the familiar beats of trying to remain quiet as a dino passes before having to dash to safety. Even the final dino-on-dino showdown is a pale copy of the T-Rex vs. Indominus Rex from the end of Jurassic World, but with lower stakes and a less unique locale. At that point, I would have happily taken something dumb but fresh like, I don’t know, a T-Rex fighting a swarm of locusts that take the form of a T-Rex?
At least the movie looks and sounds pretty good. After Fallen Kingdom eschewed franchise tradition and went for a widescreen presentation, Dominion opts for the less-used 2.oo:1 aspect ratio and it really makes the movie pop, allowing for a good mix of wide vistas whilst also showing off the domineering presence of the dinosaurs. It still feels more like Colin Trevorrow’s style for certain, but it does bring back a little more of that Spielberg feel with its more tempered and wondrous gaze on these prehistoric creatures, as opposed to the commercial excess of World. Whilst it certainly far more favours digital effects than the original films, there’s a lot more practical work here than in the last two films; I especially loved how they used classic animatronics in a scene set in the 80s. The sound design and mixing as expected is phenomenal, being easily the biggest reason to bother seeing this in a cinema, and Michael Giacchino continues to have fun riffing on John Williams’ themes in fun and interesting ways (though it really loves to overplay the classic theme every time there’s a nostalgic moment).
Jurassic World Dominion has at least learnt some lessons from the failings of Fallen Kingdom, crafting a warmer and more audience-pleasing entry that will appeal to certain wings of the fanbase, especially with its bountiful doses of nostalgia that are thankfully more character-based rather than just “hey, remember that thing?” However, it’s ultimately far too safe and unremarkable to be anything more than a harmless distraction. The original Jurassic Park was summer popcorn fun, but there was subtelty and nuance to its tale of man’s hubris and science gone awry. Much like the first Jurassic World, Trevorrow’s eye is far too focused on the spectacle and not enough on the potent mix of Michael Crichton dystopia and Spielberg whimsy that made audiences fall in love with the series. If Universal intends to continue this series in some form, I hope they take their time and don’t hit that greenlight until they have something that’s a true evolution of the premise that also captures the heart of what made the 1993 film a modern classic.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/10