Jurassic World: Dominion Will Be Worth Rewatching As Long As I’m Not Sober
Jurassic World: Dominion is a movie I’ve been hoping would be good for a long time. The return of major legacy characters was reason enough for me to get excited. Unfortunately, it’s far too concerned with repeating or acknowledging past franchise triumphs in lackluster ways, which leads to the new material often falling flat. At times the experience could be deflating and tedious. Yet some moments were undeniably fun, as long as you’re prepared for late era Fast and Furious with dinos. Somehow, while thinking about what a mess it is, I accidentally convinced myself I may want to see it again… however, I may not want to be sober when I do so.
It’s interesting how haphazardly assembled the movie is. There are two distinct plots going on with two unrelated sets of characters. They’re not related in a thematic sense and are quite sincerely different subgenres altogether. Unsurprisingly, plot A is made up of the Jurassic World sequel characters while the returning trio from the original 1993 classic make up the key figures of plot B. What is surprising is how long they stay separated. These two casts don’t sync up until very late in the picture. It’s as if they wrote two different sequels with the same villain and ending, did a coin toss to see which one they should make, but the quarter inexplicably kept landing on its side, forcing them to make both movies.
The wild part is, neither of these plots leans into the scenario the previous film set into the motion. That’s bonkers to me for three reasons. 1) It’s a major reality shift in the universe of these movies. 2) The last movie ended by emphasizing what a big deal this was. 3) Even people like me, who didn’t much like the last movie, thought the sequel tease was interesting. Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly (co-workers of Fallen Kingdom) opened the door to a slam dunk concept: what are the ramifications of dinosaurs and humans cohabitating the entire planet? Taking this trilogy from a theme park called Jurassic World to a literal Jurassic World seemed fine, even as I left the theater disappointed.
This game changing development also provided a great excuse to get the legacy characters back in the fold, as to manage this global change you’d probably want to get experts with real world experience involved. Instead, the folks behind Dominion said, “what if we went back to another facility with enclosed dinos, copied the rooftop chase from a 2007 action movie, and showed a lot of big bugs?” Can’t say I saw that one coming. Especially since Trevorrow pens the script alongside Emily Carmichael, with story by credit going to both Trevorrow and Connolly. They use their own set up from last time as merely a backdrop that gets touched on briefly off the top, and again at the very end. What fills up 99% of the movie are two separate stories that could have happened without dinosaurs roaming the earth.
Truly, if this movie had just *one* of these plots, and was 90 minutes, it would have been a lot more fun. The dopier elements would be even more forgivable thanks to a focused narrative and better pacing. There’s a lot to be said about keeping B-movie dino goofiness and blockbuster nonsense concise (look no further than Jurassic Park 3!). Instead, Jurassic World: Dominion clocks closer to two and half hours, which makes certain beats feel as though they drag on far longer than they actually do. It also doesn’t help that the OG crew is what had my attention, as their natural chemistry and more defined personalities blows the World characters out of the Raptor pen. That being said, I want to give credit to the filmmakers for making me care about Blue and her baby, because for some reason I didn’t want anything bad to happen to those damn velociraptors. Sure, it’s easy to make us root for animals in unfair situations, but these are killing machines and I felt bad for them. Which is a good thing because plot A involves getting back Baby Blue from some baddies.
Another positive from this section of the film is Bryce Dallas Howard. This is the best she’s been in all three of these, although it very much feels like they didn’t know Claire the character fully until this time out. She’s not as nuanced or interesting as she deserved, but Howard majorly elevates what she’s given. Chris Pratt is fine. He plays “generic action guy who looks like Chris Pratt and has no other personality traits” as well as you’d hope someone getting paid to perform would. Isabella Sermon is back as Maisie Lockwood, the young girl who found out was a clone in Fallen Kingdom. In the four years since the events of that last film, she’s been taken in by Owen and Claire, who are raising her while trying to keep her safe from the evil folks who want to study her. Sermon gets plenty to work with, which I won’t spoil for you, and she does good work. Justice Smith also returns, although in a much smaller role, and I’m going to say he’s a much more welcome presence than he was last time. In Fallen Kingdom, he was given weak material and his character got annoying at times. This time out, I wish we had more of him, but there are simply too many characters for him to have major screentime. The major addition to plot A is DeWanda Wise, who becomes an essential character and is one of the best parts of the movie. The industry needs to get her more work.
Now, plot B is where the movie really exposes how poorly thought out this whole thing is. It feels like a B-movie that could have had nothing to do with the Jurassic movies whatsoever. It finds Laura Dern back as Dr. Ellie Sattler, who is trying to stop a new breed of locusts from destroying the world’s food supply. It’s actually not awful, as at its best it has shades of movies I love such as Arachnophobia. However, it also has nothing to do with why people come to see these movies. Yes, genetic mutation stuff is involved, but these oversized bugs are given way more attention than the dinosaurs are in plot B, which is a lot of the movie. The good news is plot B has Laura Dern, who is having a blast being back as Sattler in a meaningful way (she has a small role in Jurassic Park III). Sattler goes to recruit Alan Grant (Sam Neill), to help her put an end to this rising locust problem. At first Grant is, of course, reluctant to get involved, before he realizes how serious the problem is.
They quickly surmise that [evil made up company X] is behind the development of the locusts, and that it’s an elaborate plot to control the world’s food supply. Which sets the two on a journey to infiltrate said company and find a way to stop this nightmare. What’s so funny about all this is that they came up with all this as a way to get these characters back in the franchise, when the last movie already established a massive problem to solve: dinos roaming the earth freely. They created a contrived conspiracy plot complete with a rising bug pandemic rather than stay in the pocket. WILD. I get it, the movie wants to say the dinosaurs can become part of the world’s new normal, but the movie’s opening minutes that briefly establish life with them among us is more interesting than anything else in the movie. There’s a whole movie to be made about how people would react to this culture shift. It could have seen our heroes searching for a scientifically responsible way to manage the dinosaur’s habitat needs while showcasing the impacts that would have on us and other creatures. As ever, there would be plenty to do with stopping both dinos and humans from killing each other in droves. Alas, a few microscopic peeks at such things is all we get.
The best thing to be said about plot B is how much Dern lights up the screen, even in the face of mediocre dialogue and silly sequences. She’s the true lead of this part of the film, and her reunion with Sam Neill works better for me the more I sit with it. There were sparks while watching it, but more than anything it’s just nice to know that these two performers reconnected and got to have a good time making a movie together. Alan Grant is now a character who other characters talk about being cool and smart more than the movie actually shows us that. Still, we get some moments that almost remind us how great this character was in the original movie (or even how fun to watch he was in Jurassic Park III, which if you can’t tell I think is a lot of fun). While Sattler and Grant don’t get the reunion they deserve, they make the most of it. Which oddly makes me root for them even more.
Perhaps this is why as we got further into the movie, I became disappointed every time we went back to plot A, which could have been titled Jurassic Taken: The Bourne Dino Legacy. Not only are Pratt and Howard globetrotting to get back two abducted parties, but there’s a rooftop chase sequence that is ripped straight from The Bourne Ultimatum. While I was laughing in disbelief during that sequence, it’s also the kind of ridiculous goofiness that has replay value, even if only via a YouTube clip. The real problem with plot A is that while some pieces of the action are engaging, much of it is choppy and uninspired. It blurs together so quickly that I was hoping certain scenes wouldn’t have an action beat, not because I was worried for the characters, but because I wanted to move along. Action scenes shouldn’t be something you get through, especially not in a Jurassic movie. If plot A was its own movie then this would be the entire journey, and it would have worked more smoothly. There wouldn’t be something else I was more interested in to get back to. The spy thriller type material they’re doing is fine, I’ve seen it done worse, but that doesn’t mean it was done well either.
Now what these two plots have in common is the villain, which is a cooperation led by Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). Scott is an actor I always enjoy, and he chews the scenery well, although of course his character is written thinly. Under his employ is Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), which again could have easily worked if plot A or B were their own movies. Whether Malcolm was going to be interacting with strangers or his old friends, his presence would have brought the boost of Goldblum goodness the film so desperately needs. Goldblum very well could have been the best part of this movie, but his role is far too small to truly earn that distinction (if only because Dern and Dallas Howard are doing everything they can to make their arcs work).
Both times I chuckled out loud were thanks to Goldblum third act line readings, and a third time I nodded along as the crowd laughed together in unison for the first and only time. Of course Goldblum is almost always a welcome spark of unique charisma, however I also watched him phone in his performance in the (disheartening and abysmal) Independence Day: Resurgence, so it was great to watch him be true to form as a classic character. While all three of the legacy actors are solid, Goldblum is easily the one who feels the most at home, because his specific style is baked into what makes Dr. Ian Malcolm such a cinematic treasure. Where Dern and Neill are at the mercy of writing that is about as clever as a teenager phoning in a writing assignment minutes before it’s due. There’s some fun to be had with the crews (finally) merging near the end, but by then you know everything that is going to happen because we’ve seen all this before, only much better. If seeing these casts team up and some solid dino action late in the game will be enough to make you happy, then you’re in luck. If you’re expecting a major improvement over Fallen Kingdom…then buckle up, because this jeep is a bumpy ride that finds a way to turn what used to be awe inspiring creations into a bloated, disappointing journey.
I wanted to love this movie. Instead I was given an assembly of nonsense that intermittently found a way to keep me engaged. It relies on cheap nostalgia and the mimicking of better material to get to the finish like, and yet…I find myself open to watching it again. Maybe even excited to do so? Not because it’s good, but because it’s hard to believe it actually exists this way. I may want a few drinks however, as there’s definitely a drinking game or two in here (a shot every time Dominion references a previous Jurassic film would kill you). I may need to rewatch it simply to make sure I didn’t hallucinate it. Surely they’d find a better way to end the “Jurassic era” right?
Jurassic World: Dominion is now in theaters.
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