JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

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Jurassic World Dominion promises an adventure it doesn’t deliver. Through five films in this globally successful franchise, we’ve watched genetically revived dinosaurs wreck a theme park—twice—visit San Diego, and roam around an island. Now, finally, the filmmakers seemed ready to give us loads of dinosaurs among us, a truly Jurassic World.

Yet Jurassic World Dominion doesn’t care about that. We see new species that the artists, visual effects, and special effects teams render thrillingly. But these creatures aren’t integral to the plot in a meaningful way. They’re more like scenery, fighting for screen time in a loopy plot about bugs.

Locusts to be specific, and they’re large—about the size of a forearm. The creative teams do a credibly creepy job with them, too, but they feel like they belong in another movie.

The bugs appear within roughly the first fifteen minutes, so I don’t consider this a spoiler as much as a warning. Dinosaurs walk the Earth, but Jurassic World Dominion gives bugs dominion over the plot. It’s like watching a Godzilla movie where people fend off huge termites while avoiding Godzilla’s feet and atomic breath.

It’s massively disappointing, given the end of 2018’s Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom. There, a character released the dinosaurs without considering the consequences. Closing shots showed a Mosasaurus swimming after surfers and a lion face-to-face with a T. Rex, one king of the beats roaring against another. Jeff Goldblum’s chaos scientist Dr. Ian Malcolm from 1993’s Jurassic Park observed: “Welcome to Jurassic World.”

Jurassic World Dominion picks up four years later, using the real-life social media news site NowThis for a campy, unnerving, and enticing recap. We see a thriving underground dino trade, high-fliers nesting atop New York City’s World Trade Center, and newlyweds releasing doves that pterosaurs snap up like drive-through nuggets. Do they gobble up the bride and groom?

Who knows? That’s the movie’s problem. My 12-year-old son and I love dinosaurs (and Godzilla, for that matter), and we wanted to see a dinosaur-dominated world. Imagine pterodactyls perched on the Statue of Liberty—or people donning armor to go grocery shopping. Does grocery shopping even exist anymore? How are people surviving with these beasts around?

Pretty well, it turns out, except those chomped during a chase or two. Instead, Jurassic World Dominion focuses on Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott, We Crashed), the wealthy head of Biosyn, a genetics company that’s converted an old amber mine in Italy into a refuge for dinosaurs that aren’t running wild. Naturally, he isn’t the humanitarian he appears to be.

We learn Dodgson’s up to no good once the locusts swarm a Texas farm. Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), another Jurassic Park alum, notes the bugs are genetically altered. They eat only crops that Biosyn doesn’t fertilize, threatening the world’s grain supply.

Malcolm now has a job at Biosyn, lecturing workers on creating responsibly. He invites Sattler there to help get to the bottom of the bug business. She brings along paleontologist and old flame Dr. Alan Grant (a returning Sam Neill) for good measure.

Meanwhile, the first act picks up another thread from Fallen Kingdom: Maisie Lockwood, the young teen who is the cloned daughter of a Jurassic Park founder. Maisie (Isabella Sermon) now lives off the grid with ex-dino wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a Jurassic World administrator turned animal activist. Their neighbors include Blue, the velociraptor that Owen raised from a hatchling, and Blue’s own offspring, an adorable ankle-biter that Maisie names Beta.

When poachers for Biosyn kidnap Maisie and Beta, Owen and Claire race after her, eventually meeting up with the Jurassic Park old guard. Jurassic Park Dominion has some fun interplay between them, but there’s too little of it. Franchise newcomer DeWanda Wise (TV’s She’s Gotta Have It) is a firecracker as a nervy pilot, but other “girl power” moments between Ellie and Claire feel forced, as do a heap of Easter eggs, from Goldblum’s unbuttoned shirt to a can of Barbasol still knocking around from the first film.

Director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) keeps the globe-hopping action moving at a brisk pace, likely so viewers don’t ask many questions. The action sequences are effective, easy to track and edited with a blend of wide and closer shots, some with teeth snapping right at the screen.

Yet the story lacks teeth: There’s no cohesion, or satisfying setups and payoffs. The script by Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim: Uprising), from a story by Derek Connolly (Jurassic World) and Trevorrow, spends a chunk of time on Maisie’s teen angst and identity crisis. It also gives Dodgson an unsatisfying motive.

Why waste time on corporate intrigue? Surviving dinosaurs running amok would be plenty. The artists and effects crews here create a striking menagerie, including a feathered dinosaur that seems to swim as well as fly, a huge pterosaur called a Quetzalcoatlus, and a biped with Wolverine-style claws. They also bring in a Giganotosaurus, a beast larger than a T. Rex.

The carnivores and herbivores rarely mix, though. Blue hunts a rabbit; Parasaurolophus run alongside horses. It’s as if these creatures operate in their own worlds.

The original Jurassic Park was a fun and suspenseful adventure with themes about power and reproductive control. This story has a natural evolution: These creatures could make us extinct because of our own ignorance and hubris. Coexist, one character says—but Jurassic World Dominion doesn’t explore how to do that, or doesn’t want to go there. The franchise unleashed a cataclysm, like Dawn of the Dead, I Am Legend, or the Planet of the Apes saga, then backed away from the follow-through. It’s enough to drive some dino fans buggy.

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.