The Jurassic Franchise Ends Not With a Bang but With a Dull, Wet Thud.


There’s a scene early on in Jurassic World Dominion where Laura Dern, reprising her role as Dr. Ellie Satler, spots something amazing. She stands up in her jeep, mouth agape and rips the sunglasses from her face in order to get a better look. The action is meant to invoke the scene in the first Jurassic Park where Sam Neill does the same at the first sight of a live dinosaur. Here, however, director Colin Trevorrow fails to achieve the same build up and release as his predecessor Steven Spielberg did, resulting in a callback that just feels perfunctory. Jurassic World Dominion is full of scenes like that: callbacks meant to invoke the good times we’ve had with previous films in this series, but really only serve to remind us of how much better the other movies were. Trevorrow knows all the notes, he just doesn’t know the music.

Admittedly, a director working at the top of their game would be hard-pressed to make something worthwhile out of the mess that is Jurassic World Dominion‘s script. It’s as though the filmmakers had three or four ideas for different Jurassic World sequels, couldn’t decide between them, and decided to just use them all. Certain individual elements work fine. I appreciated the globe-hopping James Bond-esque adventure in the first half of the film. It fulfills the movie’s promise of opening up the world to living dinosaurs. But by the second half, it’s just back to an island crammed with dinosaurs (mostly of the huge carnivorous variety). That this ‘island’ is a hidden valley in the Pyrenees is besides the point. For all purposes, it’s an island.

So why are we going back to this island again? Well, you may recall Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. There, we were introduced to Mae (Isabella Sermon), a young girl who turned out to be a clone of the daughter of the man who helped finance the first Jurassic Park. Mae has gone into hiding, where she’s looked after by Grady and Claire (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, respectively, reprising their roles from the first two Jurassic World movies). Bad men are hunting for her, and wouldn’t you know it, they find her and drag her off to Italy where the evil tech guy Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) hopes to… something, something, profit! from her DNA.

Meanwhile Dr. Satler is investigating swarms of super locusts that are devastating American farmlands. These locusts may or may not be related to genetic experiments conducted by Dodgson’s company Biosyn (not too on the nose, that name is). She reconnects with Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and the two jet off to Biosyn’s headquarters in the Pyrenees to investigate. There they link up with Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), and the trio work together to gather evidence of Biosyn’s wrongdoing. Along the way they run into Mae, who’s escaping from her captor’s clutches, and shenanigans ensue.

Of course, all along the while, there are dinosaurs. There are big dinosaurs and small dinosaurs, young dinosaurs and old dinosaurs, dinos in the snow, dinos in the water, and dinos in the air, new dinosaurs and returning favorites.  All of the clumsy fan service and Jurassic tropes could be forgiven if the dinosaur action were any good. The closest the movie gets to any kind of exciting action set piece is a raptor/motorcycle chase through the streets of Malta the digital VFX looks so rough (throughout the movie it looks rougher than I remember any of the previous films in the series looking).  It keeps the action from really hitting home.  

Few of the actors come off looking any better. Chris Pratt has always been ill-served by this franchise. Movies like Guardians of the Galaxy demonstrate how he can blend goofy, charming, and action-hero modes to good effect. Here, however, he’s just called upon to be the stoic hero, and that stance isn’t his strongest suit. There are some early scenes where he’s playing the dad with Mae that he lets his charm come through, but they’re dispensed with once the action gets going. And honestly, none of the legacy cast fares not much better. Goldblum can do this sort of role in his sleep, and Dern is fine, but Neill seems to have lost all interest in the endeavor once his check cleared (and is it just me, or has he forgotten how to do an American accent?). 

The new characters are just fine, though their motivations are muddy. I get why Biosyn PR flack Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie) acts the way he does, but less clear are the reasons why mercenary pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) risks everything to help our heroes. She gives some half-hearted explanation at one point, but she might have been honest and just said that she’s helping because the script told her to.

And that’s the biggest problem with Jurassic World Dominion (besides the lack of a colon in the title). Things just happen, not for any sort of narrative cause and effect, but because the screenplay requires them to so the plot can advance. It’s lazy, clumsy storytelling and that’s what sinks this supposedly final chapter faster than a hungry Mosasaurus.