‘Jurassic World Dominion’ Spoiler Review: “An Interesting Failure”
The following review will contain spoilers for Jurassic World Dominion. For our spoiler-free review, click here.
Regardless of its high box office take, Jurassic World Dominion (yes, there’s really no colon in the title) has been far from a hit with fans and critics alike. Even our own Ernesto Valenzuela‘s 6/10 review couldn’t hide some semblance of disappointment. Call it the power of lowered expectations, but as I exited my packed morning screening, I realized I had enjoyed myself. Don’t get me wrong, Jurassic World Dominion is a failure. Yet, it’s an interesting failure marked by some great stuff along the way.
The first five minutes or so of Jurassic World Dominion immediately make it clear that it has no intention of honoring the setup 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (that one gets a colon for some reason) provides. In the span of a montage in the format of a “NowThis” video, we get a peek of dinosaurs living amongst humankind. As it turns out, they didn’t really vibe with us. Most end up in sanctuaries of some sort or in less densely populated areas. Yep, the dinosaurs broke loose and nothing fundamentally changed. What a payoff!
There’s a tidbit somewhere in there about illegal dinosaur breeding that reintroduces us to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). She is working to free some captured dinos with fellow dinosaur rights activists Franklin (Justice Smith) and Zia (Daniella Pineda). The two are, rather hastily, sort of ushered out of the movie as Dominion establishes the new normal for Claire and Owen (Chris Pratt). The two live in seclusion, with Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the clone of Jurassic Park’s co-founder’s daughter. Velociraptor Blue also makes a return, having asexually reproduced spawn her own child that Maisie dubs “Beta”.
The majority of the material revolving around the Jurassic World cast falls flat. Despite his iffy reputation in Hollywood, Chris Pratt can be a sturdy leading man. Yet Colin Trevorrow and co-writer Emily Carmichael lack a human touch in their screenwriting to define Owen Grady as a character at all. Howard and Sermon only fare a little better. By the time a group of goons kidnaps Maisie, how am I supposed to care when I barely know who these people are? Thankfully, there’s a set piece in Malta involving motorbikes, an underground dinosaur black market, and a knife fight to try and get Maisie back that almost makes up for things.
In this sequence, as Claire and Owen both race against time and possible mutilation, the promise of the as-advertised concept of Jurassic World Dominion comes to fruition. Trevorrow is an above-average action filmmaker who has a reasonably strong eye for spectacle; the more the movie lets him run loose the better he is for it. Malta also introduces us to the film’s best character: pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise). She’s basically Han Solo; you know, wise-ass rogue with a heart of gold. There’s nothing wrong with that, every good blockbuster could use a Han Solo or two.
Jurassic World Dominion somewhat makes up for its lackluster Jurassic World gang-focused narrative with an additional storyline focusing on the original Jurassic Park narrative. Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) discovers a bizarre large locust in West Texas. She enlists the help of old friend/flame Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to go to genetics company Biosyn, whom she suspects is making the locusts. There they meet CEO Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). If that name seems familiar, it’s because he’s the man who recruited Nedry to steal data in the original film, albeit played by a different actor. Scott is a delight here, a great big ball of neuroses recalling the similarly unhinged Jesse Eisenberg Lex Luthor performance. That connection to the original film is just the cherry on top.
Sattler and Grant get help from old friend Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). He gives them a key card to get down to the lower levels of Biosyn to find out what’s really going on here. There, they discover that the locusts are being bred to destroy non-Biosyn crops. Therefore, giving Biosyn control of the world’s food supply. They run into Dr. Wu (BD Wong), who credits himself for creation of the locusts, now repentant. They also find Maisie, who discovers she is not a clone made in a lab per se. Instead she’s actually the daughter of Charlotte Lockwood, via asexual reproduction. Wu believes her DNA could be the key to helping stop the locusts. Oh yeah, and Beta is there, even though the movie kind of forgets about her.
In these stretches of the movie, Jurassic World Dominion is a slam-dunk. Not quite nostalgia bait, the story of the original trio feels like the first proper Jurassic Park sequel ever. A group of well-defined characters getting wrapped up in another case of genetic engineering gone amok. What’s not to love? Not to mention, Dern, Neill, and Goldblum are in top form, not missing a beat in their ripe old age. Moreover, I find it fascinating how the World movies give such importance, hell, a full-on arc to Dr. Wu. You almost forget that the other cast exists, even when Maisie is there. It’s just an outstanding, frequently goofy adventure.
Eventually, and to a large degree unfortunately, the Jurassic World and Park casts collide as the former makes their way to the Biosyn facilities/dinosaur sanctuary. It’s easy to say from there Jurassic World Dominion becomes a mess, but that’s not really accurate. The film instead more or less collapses into spectacle. A series of vignettes play out that are meant for audience enjoyment, to varying results. A scene where Claire must hide from a clawed, violent Therizinosaurus is a real nail-biter. Likewise, the villain getting poison sprayed on him by three separate Dilophosaurs feels delightfully nasty. On the other hand, Dominion fumbles what’s supposed to be its iconic new dino, the Giganotosaurus, by failing to distinguish him from the T-Rex.
Spectacle stacking on top of spectacle, all roads lead to the two cast’s union. As the ridiculous amount of characters stand together, staring in awe at a T-Rex and Therizinosaurus versus Giganotosaurus showdown, Jurassic World Dominion becomes two things. The first is the epitome of Hollywood excess. The second is pretty damn watchable. By the end of the picture the world is at peace, the characters all go their separate ways, and the movie will leave your mind in two weeks. Still, for that time watching it, it’s a mess, it’s kind of a slog, and it’s really really fun.
The experiment of elevating Colin Trevorrow to some kind of blockbuster maestro likely won’t pay off. Jurassic World Dominion will likely go down as an unmitigated disaster critically. At some point, you just have to admit that a dinosaur movie on this scale will always have something in it for you. The filmmakers behind Jurassic World Dominion were so preoccupied in thinking about what kind of movie they could make that they failed to consider what kind of movie they should make. At the very least, that gets us a harrowing Hollywood case study with some genuinely great stuff as a bonus. – James Preston Poole
Jurassic World Dominion is now in theaters.