What drives the popularity of the Jurassic Park franchise is obvious. The characters are cool, and there is strong thematic messaging about the arrogance of mankind, but the big draw will forever be the dinosaurs. The jaw-dropping wizardry in Steven Spielberg’s original film from 1993 brought the prehistoric creatures to life in a way that audiences had never seen before, and moviegoers have been chasing that extreme high in the sequels ever since.
In that sense (one of many), Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World Dominion is an extreme low point. Gone is the awe and wonder from the moment where Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) see a herd of brachiosauruses for the first time. In the sixth chapter of the series, dinosaurs are little more than living guns and window dressing.
This is a flabbergasting development when one considers that this franchise has gotten to the point where dinosaurs have become a part of ecosystems around the globe, and you wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t develop a story about that world-changing development. And while that’s bad, the actual execution is even worse. Orchestrating two bland, wholly disconnected plotlines, Jurassic World Dominion reduces all of its legacy characters into blank sheets of paper walking through plot developments, resulting in a slog of a film with only a light scattering of memorable moments in its bloated two-and-a-half hour runtime.
The first of these plotlines follows up the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and finds Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) having taken on the responsibility of being the guardians for Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the young girl who we learned was a clone in the previous film. Together they have made a home deep in the woods of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, trying to keep Maisie safe from those who would like to take and study her – but this plan fails as a group of poachers discover her location and kidnap her (oh, and they also take the baby of Owen’s “pet” velociraptor Blue, but that development is ultimately given so little attention it might as well not exist).
Simultaneously in another part of the country, Ellie Sattler begins an investigation into swarms of giant locusts that are devastating crops – but curiously not those on farms that are grown using seeds made by the pharmaceutical conglomerate Biosyn. Theorizing that the insects are genetically modified using extinct DNA from the Cretaceous era, she enlists the help of her old friend Alan Grant, and the two of them make plans to go see Ian Malcolm, who has taken a job at the massive corporation.
By complete and total coincidence, all of the principal characters end up heading to the same location at the same time, creating a hollow meet-up of stars from different generations of the franchise that fails in any way to capitalize on or develop the personalities of the characters.
Jurassic World: Dominion has little to no idea what to do with its impressive lineup of established characters.
Like Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, Jurassic World Dominion features a constant stream of nods to fans and Easter eggs that suggest that there is a genuine love for this franchise behind the camera, but it’s bizarrely never demonstrated in the actual storytelling. The arc for Owen and Claire never gets more advanced than “they’re parents now, and they want their kidnapped daughter back,” and it all but ignores their past with dinosaurs – the exceptions being an opening sequence where Claire liberates some of these creatures from an illegal breeder, and moments where Owen tries to calm a threat by holding out his palm (which eventually just feels laughably goofy).
The worse sin, however, is treating the “legacy” characters like they’ve spent the last 20 odd years of their lives treading water. The only meaningful development highlighted in the lives of Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm is the revelation that Ellie has gotten divorced (her marriage previously revealed in Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III), and that’s clearly only included to clear the runway for a romantic pairing fans have been wanting to see develop for the last three decades (and the conclusion is just as hollow as the setup). It feels like the filmmakers were afraid that audiences wouldn’t recognize the three protagonists if they weren’t exactly how they were in Jurassic Park, and it’s hard not to feel shortchanged by their big reunion.
Without meaningful character development or interesting plotting, Jurassic World: Dominion is a two-and-a-half hour-long slog.
Because the distinct plots are so disparate and vague, Jurassic World Dominion feels like two poorly constructed movies in one, and it just bounces back and forth between them. The inclusion of various action set pieces motivates the direction of the film far more than any complex revelations or compelling twists (of which this blockbuster has exactly zero). The action figures just slowly move from scene to scene until the third act when all of the action figures can come together… and not really do much at all.
There are thrilling moments, including the introduction of the crazy locust swarm and a sequence where Claire has to hide in a bog from a hungry carnivore, but otherwise, all action and emotion is mutually exclusive. At one point in the first act, Ellie pets a baby triceratops and comments, “You never get used to it” – but Jurassic World Dominion sure does try its hardest to try and suck all of the awe and wonder out of the exercise with laser-guided dinosaurs and giant carnivore battles that continue to play out meaninglessly even after all of the human characters are long gone from the scene.
The blockbuster model for Jurassic World Dominion is very clearly Avengers: Endgame – a capstone project that is intended to reflect cohesiveness in the continuity – but it fails in so many ways where the Marvel film succeeds. Rather than constructing a story that effectively captures the full scope of the franchise and takes advantage of the principal characters’ beloved qualities, we instead get two high-concept ideas that are mashed together in a structure-less mess with bad pacing and boring action. The only silver lining is that it is all but guaranteed to be a massive hit, so perhaps one day we’ll actually get the movie about the global proliferation of dinosaurs that this feature was supposed to be.