Movie Review: Jurassic World: Dominion (Universal Pictures)

“You know that saying, ‘We’re three meals away from anarchy? Well, right now you could choose your last three.” Jurassic World Dominion is a 2022 release from Universal Pictures directed […]

“You know that saying, ‘We’re three meals away from anarchy? Well, right now you could choose your last three.”

Jurassic World Dominion is a 2022 release from Universal Pictures directed by Collin Trevorrow. The screenplay is written by Emily Carmichael and Trevorrow from a story by Trevorrow and his writing partner, Derek Connolly. It is the culmination of a series of films that began with Jurassic Park in 1993 and a direct sequel to 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The movie stars Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, and Laura Dern, who anchor an assemblage of talented actors: BD Wong, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Isabella Sermon, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, and Omar Sy reprise their roles. They are joined by Campbell Scott, Diechen Lachman, Dewanda Wise, Scott Haze, and Mamoudou Athie.

It’s been four years since the eruption that devastated Isla Nublar and the cat is out of the bag: all sorts of prehistoric animals have escaped containment and are seeking appropriate habitats in the Americas. Dinosaurs walk among us.  Humans have to learn to adapt to these ancient-but-new life forms which have encroached on their forests and fields, streams and skies, beaches and depths of the deep ocean. Like bears in the not-so-wild, many are trying to conform to urban environments; devouring strays, racing cabs on rain-slick streets, and eating from trash.

The corrupt corporation InGen, responsible for the misguided attempts to clone dinosaurs and create the theme park that led to the horrors of the first film trilogy has been surpassed on the world stage by the Biosyn Corporation. Headed by the idiosyncratic and inarticulate genius Lewis Dodgson, (Scott) Biosyn is at the cutting edge of GMO technology. The corporation has created an arcology in the Italian Alps for the dinosaurs and is trying to relocate as many of the rogue species as it can.

Farmers across the American Midwest are confronting a voracious plague of locusts the size of cats that is multiplying at a frightening rate. Scientists raising alarms about the viability of the food chain approach Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Dern). Chaos Mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) is on retainer to do TEDs at the main Biosyn campus. He unearths some corporate chicanery that has gotten his Spider-Sense tingling, and alerts Sattler. She understands the foreboding scale of the problem and is determined to dig deeper. She calls in Paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Neill) when it becomes clear to her that insects on that scale weren’t part of Hammond’s original program and are only attacking the crops of farmers who do not use Biosyn’s GMO seeds. Using Malcolm’s invitation to visit the arcology as cover, they voyage to the fortified Biosyn villa in a deep, dinosaur-dominated coniferous valley as the survival of the human race hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile, Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Dallas-Howard) are dealing with the more personal consequences of their actions in the last movie. The two have become inadvertent parents, raising Maisie Lockwood (Sermon) in a cottage in the woods and the child of the genetically modified velociraptor Blue in a forested glade. Blue shouldn’t have been able to reproduce alone, but nature always finds a way, as Dr. Malcolm said in the first film. Lockwood strains against the isolation of their backwoods mountain home and chafes at the restrictions Dearing imposes upon her without understanding who she is or why her adoptive mother is so insistent on her invisibility to the outer world.

Biosyn is hunting for both Maisie and Blue’s baby. Thinking that the most valuable genetic material in the world is contained in the blood of both children, Dodgson goes all-in on an extraction. In typical corporate fashion, this is contracted and subcontracted out. Nefarious blonde dinosaur exploiter Soyona Santos, (Lachman) who runs an underground black market dinosaur bazaar, hires hunting goon Rainn Delacourt (Haze) and his crew of mooks to capture and bring her the twin bounties. Santos has come up with a more direct method of weaponizing the raptors than the labor-and-time intensive techniques Grady has mastered, using shock implants and laser designators. Her captive prizes are airlifted to the arcology by a smuggler-with-a-heart-of-gold, Kayla Watts (Wise) who completes her contract but is chewed over by her conscience just in time for her to help Owen and Claire who have arrived to find their charges.

Can Grady and Dearing prevail upon Watts’ better instincts and convert her to their cause? Can they rescue Maisie and the blue baby and be off with no one the wiser? Can Alan and Ellie charm their way through the defenses of the arcology and discover the secrets buried deep within the corporate cores, or will Dodgson prove wise to their plans and feed them all to his predatory, prehistoric pets?

In 1993, the first Jurassic Park hit like a bomb. It exploded. No one had ever seen anything like it before. With some solid performances and a masterful (but minimal) use of CG plus the incomparable, in-screen practical effects of Stan Winston, along with deft-yet-deceptive direction from Steven Spielberg, the movie provided filmgoers with a unique cinematic experience. While the plot was filled with typical jump scares and a rather mundane corporate-espionage plot, Spielberg’s incredible use of the camera as well as control over the compositions made the average viewer oblivious to his more egregious manipulations of the scenes and the sets, such as the moment where a yawning cliff appeared on the ground where moments before a T-Rex the size of a school bus had stomped out of an enclosure after chomping down on a goat.

Five movies and twenty-nine years later, it’s fair to say that the magic is gone. There is no awe. Their colossal presence evokes a colossal ‘meh’. This is basically two movies shoehorned into one, with the old and new awkwardly pretzeled together. Trevorrow is no Spielberg. It’s one thing to disappear a herd of rampaging dinosaurs racing through the snow to focus on Grady and the suddenly single errant beast he attempts to lasso and bring in. It’s another thing to disappear an entire plotline. Santos’ laser-guided assassin-raptors are just dropped as a thread as soon as Grady and Dearing survive a ridiculous, simultaneous chase through narrow streets, racing for the airport runway where Watts’s twin-engine cargo plane waits for them.

Wise’s Watts is beautiful; she’s unflappable; she’s immaculately coiffed with great makeup. Even when sweating. Especially when wet. She and Dallas-Howard manage to look great in the face of absolute horror, submerged in scummy water or fighting for their lives. Wise has a great moment where she appraises the situation, says “nope” and gets right the fuck out. Dallas-Howard is chased by ravenous beasts, hangs on for dear life on a stampeding truck, escapes by air by a hair, ejects from a plane, hides from rapacious hunters underwater like she’s Dutch from Predator, and comes out of the muck positively glowing.

Watts is meant to be the Han Solo of this crew. She’s not in it for their revolution, sister, not at first. She’s even got a nifty vest. One of the more conspicuous problems with the film is its predictability and the inordinate coincidences that the movie is festooned with. Watts has a plane, which is why she’s there; so she can fly Maise to the arcology. When Owen and Claire need to find Maisie, Watts is there, because she has a plane and can fly them to the arcology. Jurassic World: Dominion isn’t dramatic. It’s painfully unsurprising in parts. It’s drama-ish.

Dodgson’s world domination plot is REALLY stupid. There is NO way Biosyn (sin, get it?) is going to get away with Dodgson’s bug-plague-plan. In Zach Snyder’s version of Watchmen, Veidt’s evil, secret machinations have every single explosion emanating from one of his facilities. People are going to figure that out. In this film, a plague of insatiable, giant, monster mutant locusts are eating only non-Biosyn GMO crops. Only one corporation can create such a gigantic, genetic horror? People are going to figure that out too.

 While Dodgson is trying to starve out the planet, his own scientists are in the process of pioneering technologies that would make Dodgson the richest man in the world. His dinosaur refuge has the potential to set up a cover story of unbridled philanthropy for Dodgson while the company capitalizes on the plans to manipulate Blue and Maisie’s genetics, but he’s not satisfied with that. His locust-plague plan makes no sense whatsoever and is incredibly self-destructive, but it IS impressively biblical.

The dinosaurs are supposed to be tremendously valuable, unable to reproduce, each one an incredibly precious, numbered, rare commodity- yet there are scores being tortured, used as gladiators and cooking stock in the bazaar.

There are several visual sequences as well as shot compositions that are designed to mirror instances in earlier movies, but the efforts seem forced and rather tired. Much of this film feels like it’s paint-by-numbers; one sequence feels like a bad Disney ride, halting animatronics included. With the exception of Laura Dern, the cast from the older movies looks like they’re acting through molasses. B D Wong seems stoned. Even Jeff Goldblum’s formerly frantic pointing seems somnolent.

The emotional beats don’t pay off. Everything is so telegraphed, it is hard to feel any resonance.  The film left this reviewer feeling hollow at certain points. There is also a disconnect between the score, composed by the able Michael Giacchino, and the images on screen. They don’t mesh well. There is a notable and striking moment where our heroes have battled into a wrecked observation post after temporarily driving away the agitated alpha predator that is destroying it while trying to eat them, leaving the team to gaze out onto a fire-ravaged hellscape. This scene is matched with music reaching a triumphant crescendo following the familiar refrains of John Williams’ theme from the original picture. Are they winning? It really doesn’t fit.

One of the few things this reviewer thinks is vitally important when making a sequel or a prequel to a movie is the filmmakers watching the films that come before.  Chris Pratt’s character, Grady has a schtick in the earlier movies: he’s trained a litter of velociraptors from birth to respond to him. They know his hand gestures, his body language; his verbal commands. This film just says, “Hey, fuck it.” Little Maisie does the hand gesture to Baby Blue as well as Big Blue. Pratt is sticking his hand in the face of any and every manner of dinosaur that he meets. There’s a super-silly sequence in the already silly bazaar scene where he just sticks his hand in the face of two allosauruses. They respond and back off like they know him instead of biting his arm off.

One of the more sustained criticisms of the Jurassic film franchise is its inaccurate depiction of certain dinosaurs. Trevorrow and his crew have responded to those complaints by conspicuously clothing several of the creatures in bright, gaudy feathers reflecting the updated scholarship and the evolution of the paleontological knowledge base that has grown since 1993. That being said, instead of small horses, IRL the fearsome velociraptors are the size of surly chickens.

This reviewer also thinks this movie rests on a fundamental misreading of both the mindset of the American public as well as people in the rest of the world. One is reminded of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, with its biting, brilliant satire of fascist imperialism. Faced with an existential conflict, there is NO way Americans wouldn’t arm up and go on a bug hunt. (“Do you want to know more?”)

There would be dedicated anti-dinosaur weaponry. Explosive rounds everywhere.  Spokesmodels selling anti-dinosaur guided missiles. Pay-per-view dinosaur hunts. 20mm cannons on the back of SUV’s. Technicals as far as the eye could see. Humans wouldn’t cringe. They wouldn’t coexist. They wouldn’t share their space. We don’t even do that with other humans.
 Jurassic World: Dominion suffers from logic failures, plot failures, brain failures, editing drops, and a poorly synched score. There are some nice effects, some exotic locales and some decent performances from the younger cast. Unfortunately, however, it’s just a giant mess of two thoughtless movies jammed together like peanut butter and chocolate in the old Reese’s commercials. Unfortunately, these two halves don’t end up tasting great together.

Jurassic Park was created by Michael Chrichton.

Jurassic World: Dominion opens in theatres everywhere June 10th.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.