Neill, Dern, and Goldblum Return, but Jurassic World Dominion is Sadly Dumb Without the Fun
There is not one film born from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park that I have not on some level enjoyed. Starting with Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award-winning sensation directly adapted from Crichton’s novel, all the way through 2018’s goofy, somewhat self-contained prehistoric horror creature-feature Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I’ve always found things to enjoy about each installment in the series.
This makes my reaction to Jurassic World Dominion lamentably frustrating. While there are some strong moments, and even if a couple of the major set pieces do work well, there is a contrived, unrelenting stupidity to this latest sequel that drove me batty. It’s as if returning director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed) and his core creative team – notably screenwriting collaborators Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim: Uprising) and Derek Connolly (Kong: Skull Island) – didn’t know what to do after the events of the last film. They rehash ideas and scenarios from the past adventures as if they were afraid to do anything new or inventive, instead choosing to rely on a plethora of same-old, same-old to keep their audience mindlessly entertained.
What am I getting at? Fallen Kingdom concludes with human clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) releasing all of the surviving Jurassic World theme park dinosaurs out into the world, saving them from certain death. This act fundamentally changes everything. No longer is humanity separated from the prehistoric by giant walls built on secluded islands out in the middle of a vast ocean. Now dinosaurs may roam where they please, the implications of this undeniably intriguing.
But other than a few early hints as to how nations around the globe have decided to deal with the sudden change in the food chain status quo – including an admittedly bonkers set piece in Malta featuring two escaped Tyrannosaurus rex and a lethal trio of a trained Velociraptors – Trevorrow and company do precious little with this concept. They retreat back to the relative safety of a secluded compound run by a secretive biological conglomerate where dinosaurs roam freely yet are still cut off from the rest of the world, and that’s too bad.
Even with reuniting the core Jurassic Park triumvirate of Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) for the first time since Spielberg’s original picture, precious little matters. While we get a few new dinosaurs, specifically the enormous Giganotosaurus and the razor-clawed Therizinosaurus, most of the narrow escapes and feats of daring-do fail to generate suspense or tension. There’s a high been-there, done-that quotient, and it’s a problem Trevorrow, even with a massive budget and a skilled core of visual technicians, is never able to overcome.
There are two main plots, both melding together into one once all of the characters run into one another at this top-secret high-tech dinosaur hideaway. In the first, Grant and Sattler end up back together when they are invited to tour the Biosyn facility run by philanthropic billionaire Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) by their old friend Malcolm. He’s uncovered a connection between the corporate behemoth – tasked by the world’s major governments to study dinosaurs – and a plague of mutant locusts currently devastating grain crops in the U.S.
The second involves Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). They’ve been living in seclusion to protect Maddie and the velociraptor Blue from nefarious entities that would like to study and potentially dissect the both of them. When kidnappers snatch the teenager along with Blue’s newborn baby raptor, Grady and Dearing immediately take off after them in hot pursuit. After a brief stop in Malta where they reunite with fellow former Jurassic World animal wrangler Barry Sembène (Omar Sy), they find themselves on a plane to the Biosyn compound courtesy of rogue ace pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise).
Obviously, Dodgson is up to no good. It is also readily apparent that, no matter what his intentions, keeping dinosaurs – not to mention those pesky mutant locusts – in a single compound, no matter how large it may be, is going to prove to be a very bad idea. Things break down. Creatures get unleashed. People get eaten. Grant, Sattler, Malcolm, Grady, Dearing, and Watts join forces to save the day. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
I’ve grown to like Howard over the course of her three Jurassic World appearances, and even though Dearing should have gone to jail after the first film, she’s still developed into a rather interesting character who I enjoy spending time with. But it may have been a mistake to put her and Pratt into the same story as Neill, Dern, and Goldblum. That trio generates chemistry by walking into the same room. Their collective magic leaps off the screen. Pratt and Howard? Their supposedly tender embraces and sensual kisses have all the affection of a root canal, and it’s as if their two characters have grown further apart during their trilogy instead of closer together.
There is still fun to be had here. I’m always up for an angry Tyrannosaurus rex smackdown, and that animal’s face-off against the Giganotosaurus is well worth the wait. That aforementioned Malta action sequence is pretty terrific, while almost any scene between Neill and Dern warmed even the most hardened corners of my heart and urged me to cut this sequel some slack.
But this is the first time I’ve been truly disappointed by one of these dinosaur adventures. As silly and as inane as many of the other entries have been, even at their worst they’ve remained dumb fun, giant B-movies reveling in old school giant monster histrionics reminiscent of goofy 1950s efforts like Them!, Tarantula, and The Deadly Mantis. Unfortunately, more often than not Jurassic World Dominion is dumb without the fun, and that just makes me sad.
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)