Jurassic World Dominion
The sixth film in the dinosaur franchise reteams OG stars Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum — but even that can't save its extinction-level struggles.
June 09, 2022
When Jurassic World Dominion was being written, three words must've come up often. No, they're not Neill, Dern, Goldblum. Those beloved actors reunite here, the trio appearing in the same Jurassic Park flick for the first time since the 1993 original, but the crucial terms are actually "but with dinosaurs". Returning Jurassic World writer/director Colin Trevorrow mightn't have uttered that phrase aloud; however, when Dominion stalks into a dingy underground cantina populated by people and prehistoric creatures, Star Wars but with dinosaurs instantly springs to mind. The same proves true when the third entry in this Jurassic Park sequel trilogy also includes high-stakes flights in a rundown aircraft that's piloted by a no-nonsense maverick. These nods aren't only confined to a galaxy far, far away — a realm that Trevorrow was meant to join as a filmmaker after the first Jurassic World, only to be replaced on Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker — and, yes, they just keep on coming.
There's the speedy chase that zooms through alleys in Malta, giving the Bond franchise more than a few nods — but with dinosaurs, naturally. There's the plot about a kidnapped daughter, with Taken but with dinosaurs becoming a reality as well. That Trevorrow, co-scribe Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim Uprising) and his usual writing collaborator Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed) have seen other big-name flicks is never in doubt. Indeed, too much of Dominion feels like an attempt to actively make viewers wish they were watching those other movies. Bourne but with dinosaurs rears its head via a rooftop chase involving, yes, dinos. Also, two different Stanley Kubrick masterpieces get cribbed so blatantly that royalties must be due, including when an ancient critter busts through a door as Jack Nicholson once did, and the exact same shot — but with dinosaurs — hits the screen.
What do Star Wars, Bond, Bourne and The Shining have to do with the broader Jurassic Park film saga, which started when Steven Spielberg adapted Michael Crichton's book into a box-office behemoth? That's a fantastic question. The answer: zip, zero and zilch, other than padding out Dominion as much as possible, as riffs on Indiana Jones, The Birds, Alien, Mad Max: Fury Road, Austin Powers, the Fast and Furious movies, cloning thrillers, disaster epics and more also do. In nearly every scene, and often at the frame-by-frame level, another feature is channelled so overtly that it borders on parody. And, that's on top of the fact that recycling its own history is just Dominion 101. There's no theme park, but when it's mentioned that dinosaurs are being placed in a sanctuary, everyone watching knows that the film's human characters will get stranded in that spot, trying not to be eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex and the like.
From all of the above, a loose narrative emerges — an overstuffed and convoluted one, too. A few years on from 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, people are endeavouring to co-exist with dinosaurs. Unsurprisingly, it's going terribly. Run by Mark Zuckerberg-esque entrepreneur Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott, WeCrashed), tech company BioSyn owns that safe dino space in the Italian Dolomites, although palaeobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, Marriage Story) and palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill, Rams) also tie the firm to giant dino-locusts wreaking existence-threatening havoc. Plus, ex-Jurassic World velociraptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, The Tomorrow War) and his boss-turned-girlfriend Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, Rocketman) head BioSyn's way when the adopted Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) — who links back to the first Jurassic Park thanks to Forbidden Kingdom's ridiculous storyline — is snatched. Oh, and mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, Search Party) works there, as does cloning whiz Henry Wu (BD Wong, Mr Robot).
Just by finally managing to corral Neill, Dern and Goldblum back together, Dominion already had three exceptional elements going for it. None of its powers-that-be give the returning stars much to do, though, other than help the movie up its fan-service nostalgia quota. They're still among the best parts of the film because Neill and Dern's chemistry still sparks, and Goldblum's line delivery is still as winning as ever — because they're actors as talented as Neill, Dern and Goldblum, basically. They certainly make more of an impression than Pratt and Howard, who are saddled with the dullest versions of their characters yet. Also standing out far beyond the movie's top-billed duo: The Harder They Fall's DeWanda Wise as pilot
Han Solo Kayla Watts, plus Archive 81's Mamoudou Athie as BioSyn employee Ramsay Cole, who is assigned to show Sattler and Grant around. If this franchise doesn't go extinct after this giant lizard-sized crater, fingers crossed that Wise and Athie are its future.
Six movies and three decades into all things Jurassic, this dino series now has itself a dino problem as well. Dominion shoehorns dinosaurs into pale imitations of other pictures, gets Pratt to break out his now-routine raised hand movement at Blue and her baby Beta, and has various characters point out how big different creatures are. It doesn't seem to care about its jurassic-era critters, however, which are treated as an afterthought. Despite boasting bigger and new species, the film's dinos also look less impressive and distinctive than they ever have in this franchise. It doesn't help that Dominion arrives so soon after David Attenborough's Prehistoric Planet, which basked in observational nature-doco intimacy even with all of its animals merely CGI renderings. Here, the pixels and green screen of it all are bland rather than awe-inspiring or frightening. And when Dominion does glimmer visually, it's always aping another movie (but with dinosaurs) or lifting iconic shots straight from other Jurassic films.
Being generous, you could say it's fitting that Dominion is the mess it is. Life finds a way and all that, even to give an awful feature some purpose. Mirroring the saga's own repeated narrative, Dominion rampantly splices together disparate parts and gleefully reanimates the past — and it pays a price for doing so, and carelessly. But making a film this trying clearly wasn't the point, even if that end result neatly matches the movie's themes. Also, displaying any depth about anything at all seems to concern Trevorrow as much as serving up a logical plot and directing coherent action setpieces, aka not at all. There's always been a hefty case of Frankenstein-meets-slasher flicks to the Jurassic realm, but smartly, thoughtfully, thrillingly and entertainingly when it's at its best — so, back in 1993. Dominion is a devolution, and primarily shows that bloated blockbuster franchises keep finding a way to chew up screens, time and attention, no matter the consequences.