Sloppy screenplay reduces dinosaurs to costars in their own movie, delivers decent fan service and great fx if not a fully satisfying film.
We genuinely wanted to enjoy Jurassic World: Dominion – and we fully expected to. After all, we loved Jurassic World and, though Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was disappointing, it left the door open for an interesting sequel that could have gone in a new direction. Jurassic World: Dominion initially seems interested in going through that door; unfortunately, it soon retreats to familiar territory (almost literally so) with results that feel too much like another walk in the park.
The movie is still reasonably good at delivering excitement and suspense, and the special effects are breathtaking in rendering the awesome beauty of prehistoric creatures. As entertaining as these aspects are, however, they are not enough to satisfying expectations raised for a satisfying conclusion not only to the Jurassic World trilogy but also to the Jurassic Park franchise.
Instead, it has now become apparent that the Jurassic World trilogy pretty much went the way of the Star Wars sequel trilogy: after a long hiatus, a new team of filmmakers came in to jump-start the series, sticking close enough to the original template to satisfy expectations while adding enough details to give their version its own personality, enhanced with contemporary style and technology. In both cases, the initial installments were fabulous entertainment, but then came the sequels, and everything went sour. Not because the sequels were completely terrible but because, absent the joy of resurrecting a long-dormant franchise, it can be a daunting challenge to craft a story the justifies the existence of yet another film – beyond the need to pad the studio’s bottom line by churning out guaranteed money makers, of course.
Jurassic World Dominion Review: What Went Almost Right
You can bitch all you want about the first Jurassic World, but we maintain it is the best movie in the franchise since Jurassic Park; in fact, at this point in time, it is perhaps even more entertaining, if only because its luster has not been dimmed by intervening decades. Unfortunately, the follow-up, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a bit of a mess that seems to have little idea what to do after blowing up Isla Nublar. The film does, however, have one great moment when Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) faces the fateful decision of whether to let the dinosaurs die or save them by releasing them upon the world. It’s like a dramatic enactment of a thought experiment (a la the Trolley Problem) that raises tricky moral and ethical issues. What is the right thing to do – prevent the current disaster at the risk of creating an even greater disaster later? As Dr. Ian Malcolm has said, “Sequelae are inherently unpredictable,”
Initially, Jurassic World: Dominion seems poised for a return to greatness, because the opening scenes suggests it will explore the consequences of Claire’s decision, moving away from the isolated island scenarios of the previous films in favor of depicting the prehistoric creatures roaming the world at large – some wild and free, others rounded up and captured, and still others ruthlessly exploited. In other words, the world is substantially, visibly different from before (something the MCU has been consistently bungling for several years now). And the question is: what are the characters going to do about it?
Sadly, this question is never fully answered; in fact, the film goes out of its way to avoid it. No one ever questions, much less upbraids, Claire for her decision, which goes unchallenged, even by the returning characters from Jurassic Park, whose experiences should give them legitimate reason to object (the most we get is a throwaway line from Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm: “Jurassic World – not a fan,” which is maybe an inside joke for those who prefer the original film to the reboot). Consequently, there are few dramatic sparks when the new and old casts meet; without this tension, the film reduces itself to fan service depicting the characters as little more than a mutual admiration society interrupted by the need to run away from dinosaurs at regular intervals.
Jurassic World Dominion Review: What Went Wrong
The trailers for Jurassic World imply that the plot revolves around the quest to rescue Beta, the offspring of Blue, the raptor trained by Owen (Christ Pratt) in the previous films. This has some potential, reminding us of the responsibility both Owen and Claire carry on their shoulders for their past actions, which led to a situation in which a trained if not domesticated raptor could give birth in the wild.
However, the actual plot has nothing to do with Blue’s baby; literally, that element could be entirely removed, and the story would play out exactly the same. Instead, the real MacGuffin in Jurassic World: Dominion is Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the cloned child of Charlotte Lockwood (Elva Trill), who is kidnapped along with Beta, her presence rendering the young raptor completely redundant.
There is some lip service from Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) about why both kidnap victims are vital to his work, but it makes little sense. Charlotte Lockwood (Elva Trill) created a virus that would alter Maisie’s DNA, saving her from the genetic disorder that ultimately killed Charlotte. Apparently, the brilliant geneticist did not bother to leave useful notes even though she videotaped her experiment, so presumably, Wu hopes to do a little reverse engineering on Maisie to learn how the virus worked so that he can use it to fix a “mistake” of his. Well…okay, maybe we buy that. But the notion that Beta is vital as well because, like Maisie, she is a clone with the exact same DNA as her mother is more than a bit dubious (recall that all the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are clones).
Why does Hu need to know this? It turns out that the ecological disaster threatening humanity in Jurassic World: Dominion is not dinosaurs but genetically modified locusts that have been devastating privately owned farms across the Midwest while conveniently ignoring farms that use seeds engineered by Hu’s employer BioSyn. Since the locusts seem to have been genetically engineered to do exactly this, in order to increase BioSyn’s bottom line, it’s not totally clear in what sense a “mistake” has been made; we’re just supposed to feel that Hu has had a change of heart somewhere along the line.
So Hu, instead of Claire, becomes the character who has to atone for past sins, but he remains too much on the sidelines to provide a solid emotional catharsis (though it is nice that he turns out not to be a villain). Without the proper focus on his moral dilemma, the locusts wind up being merely a plot device to activate the story. Instead of exploring the moral implications on unleashed genetic power, the film uses the insects to absolve Claire of any culpability for her decision in Fallen Kingdom; releasing the dinosaurs seems to have no devastating impact on the world or much relevance to the events of Jurassic World: Dominion. (as Freud would say, it has been “wished away.”)
In fact, the new storyline has so little relevance to the previous Jurassic World films that it almost feels as if another script had been rewritten to make it part of the franchise, bending itself out of shape in order to reassemble the characters from the new and old trilogies while also tossing in as many prehistoric creatures (including non-dinosaurs) as possible. Consequently, Jurassic World: Dominion feels like a series of reasonably entertaining but hardly enthralling action sequences, strung together in the service of a plot which reduces dinosaurs to costarring status in their own film.
At least we get a new evil billionaire (wonderfully played by Campbell Scott so that we’re never sure whether he’s channeling Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or some combination of the three). Interestingly, the character comes closer to the John Hammond of Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park than character played by Richard Attenborough in the 1993 film, who was softened into an avuncular Disneyesque good guy.
Jurassic World Dominion Review: At Least the Dinosaurs are Great!
Jurassic World: Dominion attempts to make up for the irrelevance of its dinosaurs by having them intrude at every possible juncture. The result is somewhat akin to those old Ray Harryhausen fantasy films in which the stop-motion monsters would at regular intervals because the scripts were written to tie together the special effects scenes that Harryhausen wanted to animate. The difference is that, back in the old days, audiences had to wade through lots of tedious dialogue scenes to get to the good stuff; in Jurassic World: Dominion, the creatures rush on screen so frequently and so fast that it’s like a demented vaudeville show, afraid of losing audience interest.
The scenes probably would have had bigger impact with better dramatic context, but on their own they are quite impressive. The dinosaurs are rendered with a level of detail that makes them utterly convincing (including both CGI and live action creatures, so well integrated that it is difficult if not impossible to tell them apart). Their movements and, in some cases, expressions give them some sense of personality that makes them seem alive onscreen, aided by intimidating sound effects. Some of them even get to sport feathers like real dinosaurs!
Stand out scenes include the opening and closing sequences, which are amazing in their depiction of dinosaurs in the wild acting like real animals instead of movie monster. Claire’s dipping beneath the surface of a pond to evade a hungry predator is a real nail-biter, and the Quetzalcoatlus attack on a plane in midair is spectacular.
The set piece most obviously thrown in for its own sake – it clearly does not need to be there – is also one of its most enjoyable. A brief diversion into 007 territory, with Owen and Claire tracking down a black market dino-trade, leads to a stunt-filled motorcycle chase, which is so on the nose it feels as if footage was simply lifted from a Bond film and then doctored to add dinosaurs and Chris Pratt instead of Daniel Craig.
Unfortunately, this diversion into James Bond territory serves as the cutoff point after which the movie abandons any of living up to its potential. Up till this point, Jurassic World: Dominion seemed to be making at least some attempt to follow through on its premise, portraying a world changed by the presence of dinosaurs, which turn out to be not only threatening to humans but also threatened by humans, having become as exploited as any other animal, bought and sold on the black market and even forced into (presumably) lethal fights for entertainment purposes. (One of the film’s best visual jokes takes place when Owen and one of the main villains end up duking it out in a ring intended for a dino-fight, and you just know the bad guy is going to end up getting what he deserves.)
After this, however, the third act takes us into another isolated dino-land, this time a preserve rather than a theme park, with results that feel too much like the same old thing one more time.
Jurassic World Dominion Review: Where is the prologue?
One mystery plaguing Jurassic World: Dominion is the absence of the prologue, released as a coming attractions teaser weeks before the film’s release. Presumably cut to shorten the film’s running time, the prologue would have added context to set up the otherwise arbitrary battle at the climax.
Like Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World, Jurassic World: Dominion offers a new, bigger therapod to challenge the supremacy of Tyrannosaurus Rex. The problem here (as in Jurassic Park III) is that the new threat, Giganotosaurus is too obviously just an example of a sequel trying to one-up its predecessor. Worse, Jurassic World: Dominion winds up by shamelessly cloning the end of Jurassic World, again featuring the T-Rex in a three-way fight to the death with an ally helping to take down the new predator.
What made the ending of Jurassic World work was that it was deliberately satirizing the sequel strategy of mistaking bigger for better by making Indominus Rex an embodiment of this very strategy – a monster genetically engineered to entertain jaded audiences turned out to be a disaster for audiences who came to see it (just like – at least figuratively – many real-life movie audiences attending sequels). Thus, the Indominus Rex in was effectively set up as an abomination – a modern Frankenstein monster spliced together genetically, resulting a rapacious creature that killed everything regardless of hunger. It was something that clearly should not exist, and audiences could easily root to for its defeat.
The Giganotosaurus, on the other hand, is simply another dinosaur – no more or less deserving of empathy or disdain than any other dangerous creature. Except for two things:
- The entire world has grown up thinking of T-Rex as the King of the Cretaceous, and nobody wants to see the king dethroned.
- This is not just any T-Rex but the recurring character who has saved humans previously by killing off raptors in Jurassic Park and Indominus in Jurassic World.
Consequently, any rooting interest the audience feels has little to do with the film itself, which depends on past associations to do the work for it. Including the prologue would definitely have helped Jurassic World: Dominion work on its own terms. The sequence, beginning 65-million years in the past, features a fatal confrontation between Giganotosaurus and Tyrannosaur Rex, including a tracking shot that closes in on the latter’s eye as life fades out. That is not the end of the story, however, for we have seen a prehistoric insect take blood from the T-Rex, and when the prologue jumps to present day as the dinosaur shows up at a drive-in, we realize that this new T-Rex is the clone of the one killed in the Cretaceous period. The prologue would have acted like Chekov’s Gun, setting up expectations for the conclusion by providing context. During the final battle, there is even a zoom into the Rex’s eye, mirroring the previous shot but showing the contemporary Rex’s eye flashing back to life before the animal rises to confront its rival. In effect, an ancient score is about to be settled and, cornball though it may be, it gives the audience a reason to care about the outcome. Instead, as it now stands, the final fight is just an arbitrary retread.
Jurassic World Dominion Review: MX4D
As a big-budget summer blockbuster, Jurassic World: Dominion is being screened in various Premium Large Formats designed to tempt viewers to shell out a little extra cash in order to experience something extra when watching the film. Options include IMAX, Digital 3D, 4DX, and MX4D. We recommend the presentation at the TLC Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, which offers screenings in MX4D – some with 3D, some without.
Though the screen is much smaller than IMAX, it fills the field of view from every seat in the relatively small theatre, immersing viewers in the images. The beautiful 3D cinematography is so clear and sharp that watching the film is like looking through an enormous window. There are none of the double images that plagued old-school 3D in the 20th century, and the post-production conversion process has reached a point where it no longer creates any obvious weirdness (such as convex surfaces appearing concave). Since the 3D was added in post-production, there are no gimmicky shots of pterodactyls flying off the screen or raptors jumping into your lap, but the sense of depth is convincing, helping to provide a sense of scale that makes the dinosaurs seem big even when at a distance.
MX4D provides motion simulation from the seats, augmented with some in-theatre effects, such as strobing lights and spritz of air. Unlike our recent experience with 4DX at Regal Cinemas during a screening of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, MX4D does not rock you so hard that you rattle your brain and spill your popcorn; it actually provides a reasonably convincing sense of moving in synch with the action on screen. The process is not on all the time – mostly during major action sequences, so you can relax during the dialogue in anticipation of the next plane crash or motorcycle jump.
In a sense, one could gripe that MX4D turns the cinema experience into feature-length theme park ride, and obviously all the live effects are not going to compensate for a bad movie; however, the overall effect is very immersive, making you feel like a participant in the action, not just a laid back observer. No doubt the film looks great in IMAX as well, but MX4D takes movie-watching to another level.
Jurassic World Dominion Review: Conclusion
Our dissatisfaction with Jurassic World: Dominion may partly be a matter of raised expectations: we wanted something more than just fan service, and the ending of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom gave us reason to expect something completely different from what came before. Even the gimmick of uniting the new characters with the old had potential (it worked great in Spider-Man: No Way Home); unfortunately, any dramatic possibility in that area goes unfulfilled. Dr. Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern), and Dr. Malcolm should be dubious and even angry about Owen and Claire’s involvement with Jurassic World, and considering the number of people they have seen gored to death by genetically resurrected dinosaurs, they should be at least ambivalent and more likely outraged about Claire’s having released the dinosaurs. This could have set up an interesting antagonism that the characters would have needed to work through in order to find a way to keep themselves alive.
The action scenes are enjoyable enough, but without sufficient dramatic context they are just enjoyable eye candy, unlike Jurassic World, which really made it feel as if the climactic battle was about something – with the (relatively) natural dinosaurs battling it out against the genetically engineered monster meant to replace them in the public eye. For us, Jurassic World remains a benchmark illustrating how a blockbuster do all the expected blockbuster stuff while still throwing in enough clever pop-entertainment elements to make a crowd-pleaser that is truly pleasing. With all the groundwork laid for it, and with the promise of wrapping up the trilogy, Jurassic World: Dominion could have done much more.
Ultimately, Jurassic World: Dominion falls prey to the problems satirized in Jurassic World. As we wrote about the previous film:
Jurassic World works because it is almost as much about Jurassic World the film as it is about Jurassic World the tourist attraction. The premise is that audiences grow jaded with familiar wonders; this attention-deficit-disorder requires an ever increasing escalation of scale in order to continue selling tickets; unfortunately, escalation can lead to disastrous results for audiences, who end up being assaulted instead of entertained.
Unlike its predecessor, Jurassic World: Dominion is not a film about the problems plaguing sequels; rather, it is a problem-plagued sequel.
Our rating of Jurassic World: Dominion
Great dinosaur action – in 3D and MX4D – make this a pleasant romp for fans of the franchise, but the movie never follows through with its best ideas and ultimately fails to deliver a fully satisfying close to the franchise (not that we really expect Universal to stop making Jurassic movies).
Jurassic World: Dominion (Universal, 2022). Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Screenplay by Emily Carmichael & Colin Trevorrow; story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow, based on characters created by Michael Crichton. Cast: Christ Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, Isabella Sermon, Campbell Scott, BD Wong, Omar Sy Rated PG-13. 146 mins. US release date: June 10, 2022.