‘Jurassic World Dominion’ Review: Forget It Grant, It’s Dinotown

They were so preoccupied with whether they could, etc.

Of the five unnecessary sequels to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic Jurassic Park, Jurassic World Dominion arguably begins with the most potential. Each previous sequel basically starts with the same conflict: What are we gonna do about that island what got taken over by dinosaurs? The obvious answer, “Leave it the hell alone,” is always ignored, leading to more running and screaming and biting. But, boring as the film itself might have been, 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom did, at least, end by radically changing the status quo of the series and releasing the captive dinosaurs into the wild. In Dominion, set four years later, dinosaurs are everywhere, incorporating themselves into our modern-day ecosystems in destructive, funny, and sometimes beautiful ways. A movie exploring the wonder and terror of a world shared with giant prehistoric beasts could be very cool, or at the very least should have to be different from the previous five films. And yet, Dominion does practically nothing with the world it inherits, and becomes just another bloated, boring adventure, with too many characters and surprisingly little interest in dinosaurs.

Spoilers ahead for the entire film.

Welcome to Jurassic Preserve

Dominion’s first act is its most interesting, exploring the new scenario left behind by Fallen Kingdom. Dinosaurs are now intruding into everyday life, wandering the forests and deserts of North America, too large, strange, or numerous for humans to easily displace or exterminate. For the first time in centuries, civilization can’t simply bulldoze past nature, we have to work with or around it, as demonstrated during an early sequence when a timber operation stops cold to guide a stray Apatosaurus out of the path of their trucks. We also follow the point of view of Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), a human clone introduced in the last film who is now a teenager and tired of being hidden away by surrogate parents Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). When Maisie and Beta (offspring of Owen’s beloved velociraptor Blue) are kidnapped by poachers for the secrets in their DNA, Owen and Claire embark on a transcontinental journey to find her. On her trail in Malta, they visit a dinosaur black market and are chased through the city by a pack of Atrociraptors trained by fashionably dressed evildoer Santos (Dichen Lachman). This is all new stuff, interacting with dinosaurs in unexpected places and exploring the weird new dinosaur-based economy.

But, before too long, their search leads them to a dinosaur preserve run by the shady Biosyn corporation, a contained and controlled environment where scientists study dinosaurs and secretly perform genetic experiments, just like in every other Jurassic movie. From this point in the film, it no longer matters that dinosaurs are running free on Earth. Instead of indulging further in a travelog of cool locations where one would not normally expect to encounter dinosaurs, we’re essentially back on the island, where the humans must try to survive a journey through the dinosaurs’ habitat. The opportunity to show us something that we have not already seen five times before is almost totally squandered. (There’s a certain irony that director Colin Trevorrow is so disinterested in the new ideas from Fallen Kingdom, given that his Star Wars: Episode IX script was thrown out in favor of one that all but ignored The Last Jedi.)

The trouble may come from the desire to work backwards from a generally valuable environmentalist message. Colin Trevorrow and co-writer Emily Carmichael close on a message of coexistence between humanity and nature, leaving us with uplifting images of dinosaurs and modern animals running, swimming, and flying together. They choose not to frame the world being overrun by prehistoric beasts as a disaster that needs solving, but a change that should be accepted or even welcomed. That’s a nice place to wind up at the end of the film, but it’s not the journey that Dominion is interested in taking us on. There is not a single character in the film whose opinion about dinosaurs is changed over the course of nearly two and a half hours, because that’s not actually what the movie is about. Instead, our heroes quest to find proof that Biosyn is responsible for the creating giant, genetically-enhanced locusts that are threatening the world with extinction-level famine, a threat that doesn’t require the presence of dinosaurs in the world at large nor in this film. 

Jurassic World Dominion

I Can’t Believe I’m Complaining About the Number of Dinosaurs in a Jurassic Park Movie

Jurassic World Dominion has both too many dinosaurs and not enough dinosaurs. The original Jurassic Park, like any good film, is brought to life through its characters, and that includes the dinosaurs. If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, then you distinctly remember which dinosaurs appear in the film, as each species is essentially a distinct character that serves a specific purpose. The brachiosaurus is a gentle giant that represents the splendor and glory of the park at its best, while the T-Rex is its mirror image, just as majestic but terrifying. The velociraptors are cunning pack hunters, embodying just how much John Hammond and company have underestimated the brilliance and adaptability of nature. Even the first Jurassic World understood this, with the genetically engineered Verizon Wireless Presents the Indominous Rex representing the capitalist impulse towards unsustainable growth.

Jurassic World Dominion throws new dinosaurs at the audience at every turn. We have two new apex predators, multiple different raptors from different eras in prehistory, an array of scientifically-distinct but near-identical “petting zoo” type dinos, and all manner of big big long-neck bois. Variety is great, but very few of these beasties stick around long enough or play a specific enough role in the plot to make a distinct impression. Mostly, they appear for just the length of time it takes to be identified by one of the expert characters on hand, and then they’re gone. There’s a laudable effort to incorporate more accurate “purebred” dinosaurs that have feathers or other characteristics informed by modern science, but after a while it begins to feel as if director Colin Trevorrow and company invited two dozen paleontologists to come in and pitch why their favorite dinosaur should be in the movie and said “yes” to all of them. As a result, the film has no “star” dinosaur.

Jurassic World Dominion

The Gangs, All Here

This “quantity over quality” problem is even more noticeable when it comes to the human characters. In an effort to bring the franchise full circle and cash in on the “legacyquel” trend, Dominion unites the core characters from the Jurassic World films with the three adult leads from the original Jurassic Park. Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Satler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) lead the investigation into the plague of giant locusts, eventually meeting up with Maisie, Owen, and Claire. By the film’s finale, the team of returning heroes also includes Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), the scientist who’s been behind Jurassic Park’s cloning experiments from the beginning.

Dr. Wu’s been on a redemption arc throughout the Jurassic World trilogy, and you know it’s complete because he now has beautiful feathered hair, like peak era Jackson Browne. The baddie this time around is also a “legacy character,” Lewis Dodgson, the guy who hires Newman Nedry to smuggle dinosaur embryos in the original film. He’s now the CEO of Biosyn, whose genetically-engineered crops will be the only ones left after his giant locusts have spread across the globe. Campbell Scott takes over the role from Cameron Thor, and plays the technocrat as a weird nerd who’s in charge of a lot of people but who can’t actually complete a sentence. So, y’know, a typical modern day supervillain. Omar Sy, Justice Smith, and Daniella Pineda also briefly reprise their roles from the previous Jurassic World films.

Of course, a saga-capping extravaganza wouldn’t be complete without a few new characters. First, there’s the kind-hearted Ramsey Cole (Mamoudou Athie), Dodgson’s protege who is so obviously a good guy from the second you meet him that his face turn could hardly be called a twist. The new character who gets the most time and attention is Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), a roguish pilot and smuggler with a heart of gold. Kayla feels as if Trevorrow and company, having failed to turn Owen Grady into the next Indiana Jones, decided to take a swing at making the next Han Solo. Just like with Grady, the effort to make her into a cool, action figure and cosplay-worthy hero is so transparent that the actual “cool” is lost, at least in the eyes of this cynical adult viewer. (Kayla also gets a throwaway line about getting Owen’s love for Claire because she “likes redheads, too,” a craven half-measure designed to imply that she might be gay while maintaining plausible deniability, because That’s Representation, Baby!)

None of the new characters are terribly compelling, just as the recurring cast of Jurassic World fails to rise to the expected level of “iconic.” But Dominion also forces us to confront the possibility that the heroic trio of the original Jurassic Park aren’t all that interesting, either. Yes, they’re each played by a terrific actor, but there’s no more need to explore their characters further than there would be to bring back, say, Dutch from the original Predator. We like them because they play an interesting role in an interesting story, but that story ended decades ago. Adding Grant, Satler, and Malcolm to the stew of Jurassic World Dominion offers no benefit other than the novelty of seeing the two casts united. Apart from the quirky Dr. Malcolm — who is basically written as Jeff Goldblum in this film — they’re no more specific than any of the new additions. If you’ve been waiting 29 years to see Alan and Ellie kiss, your patience has paid off; Otherwise, I’m not sure what you’re going to get out of this.

I’d like to believe that this is finally the end, that Dominion is truly the conclusion of “The Jurassic Era” as the advertising suggests. Creating a worthwhile sequel to Jurassic Park is such a fool’s errand that even Spielberg himself couldn’t pull it off, and returns have only diminished ever since. But, let’s not kid ourselves. Jurassic World Dominion has already grossed over $400 million dollars worldwide. This franchise won’t be extinct until we are. Somewhere on the Universal lot, there’s a Dr. Wu noodling with some algorithm, working to unlock the secret of Jurassic Universe, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Money finds a way. Money always finds a way.