When it was released in 1993, one of the reasons Jurassic Park became the mega hit it remains today is the sense of wonder and grand scale filmmaker Steven Spielberg achieved in introducing the world to a theme park and research facility that brought dinosaurs back from extinction. With its evocative score, sweeping filmmaking and revolutionary (for the time) special effects (plus a story of hubris and man-versus-dinosaur danger), the film was unlike anything modern audiences had seen before. Nearly 30 years on and now five additional films later, it remains the gold standard of the franchise and perhaps—just hear me out—could’ve stayed the only film to visit this doomed dinosaur park.
The latest installment in the series is Jurassic World Dominion, an over-stuffed, over-long creature feature that strays so far from the wonder that first enchanted us that it’s hard to see the connective tissue to its predecessor beyond the gimmicky writing that brings original cast members Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum back into action. Their storylines represent just one of the many messy threads filmmaker Colin Trevorrow and co-writers Emily Carmichael and Derek Connolly drum up to drag on the proceedings for a painful 2 hours and 26 minutes. Dern’s Ellie Sattler is now an environmental researcher; Neill’s Alan Grant is leading an archeological dig in Utah; and Goldblum’s charismatic Ian Malcolm is employed by Biosyn, a company that’s taken over management of the dinosaurs now living alongside modern society and researching ways to engineer them into peaceful beasts.
Elsewhere, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) have gone off the grid to live with their adopted daughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), the young girl born through DNA cloning experiments of her mother, Charlotte Lockwood. Maisie’s genetic material is incredibly valuable, and the powers that be at Biosyn are constantly on the lookout for her. And then there’s the dinosaur black market that’s popped up now that the creatures roam the earth, as breeders and brokers have created an entire economy around the people’s darkest urges. Within the film’s first few minutes, we’ve crisscrossed from the Sierra Nevada mountains to Malta and back again, as both Maisie and a baby dinosaur are kidnapped and transported halfway around the world to get transported to Biosyn so their DNA can be studied. Sattler and Grant are on their way to Biosyn, too, after discovering a genetically modified species of pre-historic locusts that are wreaking havoc on small independent farms, swarming and decimating everything in their path. Sattler is convinced if she can find the same locust DNA in the creatures at Biosyn, she can prove that this quickly escalating plague is manmade.
There is so much more to set the scene for Jurassic World Dominion that one can only imagine what tricks the writers had to employ to keep it all straight while they crafted the screenplay. In between all the convoluted plot points, there are the requisite action scenes and dinosaur threats, brief glimpses of something halfway engaging, like the thrill of a car chase through an ancient city, Owen and Claire racing to get off the island before killer dinosaurs snap them in two. Here in particular we meet the only actually compelling character in the bunch, pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), a woman with principles she’s not afraid to compromise for the right price, but enough of a backbone to stick up for herself and the people she loves. As the film slogs through corny setup after corny setup, eventually all of these different parties cross paths, and soon its seven people (eight? I’ve lost track) packed together trying to get out alive as, of course, Biosyn’s plans don’t go as expected and the world seems to be literally crashing down around them.
Nowhere in all of this movement and hullaballoo is a conversation about, well, dinosaurs. The film’s premise is that since they’re here, the world should probably get used to it. Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie) is Biosyn’s communications ambassador, explaining to us all the different technology the company has put into place to keep their specimens under control. And yes, there are glimpses of these giants, mention of a new apex predator even bigger than the T-Rex, and plenty of creature action scenes. But ultimately, the film is more about DNA science and Maisie’s rightful place in the world given her background than the inherent conflict of two dominant species trying to share in harmony a planet they’ve never had to defend from the other before. It’s a message so lost in the clutter of the script that the “epic” dinosaur fight scene in the film’s final moments is so much of an afterthought it’s forgettable.
It’s truly a treat to see Dern and Neill back on the trail of dinosaurs, and a few of the film’s action scenes are incongruously gripping compared to the rest of the messy film. But these moments are fleeting and not nearly enough to make up for everything leading up to and including the final challenge the troupe faces, a plot hole so gaping I almost wished for the film to fall into itself and disappear entirely. There’s no real reason for a film like Jurassic World Dominion to exist, but if it must, it could at least have the courtesy to be something mildly coherent with filmmaking elevated above a film student’s elementary vision for framing, pacing and character development.
Jurassic World Dominion is now playing in theaters.
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