Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Jurassic World: Dominion

Josh Reviews Jurassic World: Dominion

Jurassic World: Dominion picks up the story four years after the end of the previous film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Dinosaurs have spread across the world, mixing with our civilization — and other animal species — with often violent results.  A genetics company, Biosyn, has created a secured preserve in the mountains in Italy, where dinosaurs can be brought and allowed to live safely; the company is also working on new gene research that they hope can lead to important medical advances.  But this company might also be up to no good, connected to the kidnapping of Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard)’s adopted daughter, the genetically engineered Maisie (Isabella Sermon).  Additionally, Dr. Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) suspects that Biosyn is responsible for a terrifying new breed of enormous locusts that is destroying crops across the glove.  On the search for evidence, Ellie reunites with Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).  Jurassic World: Dominion was directed by Colin Trevorrow (returning from the first Jurassic World film) and written by Mr. Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael.)

In my review of Prey, I wrote about how the Predator series was one of several sci-fi franchises with one disappointing sequel after another.  I should have included Jurassic Park on that list as well.  I still remember the joyous shock of seeing Jurassic Park on the big screen when it came out, and I still adore that first film.  But I haven’t found any of the sequels to be satisfying.  The Lost World is too long and unfocused, lacking both the narrative energy and the great characters of the first film.  Jurassic Park III is a taut adventure but it ends way too abruptly, feeling like the first two-thirds of what might have been a great movie.  Also, other than the welcome return of Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant, the other characters are flat and mostly uninteresting.  Jurassic World was beautifully made but it’s absolutely nonsensical, with one idiotic development after another.  Characters do incredibly stupid things for no other reason other than to move the plot forward, and often have completely different personalities from scene to scene because that is what the plot requires.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was even more stupid and, even worse, it was dull and boring.

Jurassic World: Dominion is easily the best of this new trilogy of Jurassic World films.  But, wow, that doesn’t exactly make it good.  It’s beset by the same problems that were so detrimental to the previous two Jurassic World films: one-dimensional characters and nonsensical plotting.

[Note: I watched the extended edition of Jurassic World: Dominion.  This version apparently adds around 14 minutes of footage to the theatrical version.  Here’s a list of many/most of the changes.  I never saw the theatrical version, so I can’t compare the two, but based on that list I think most of the added scenes were good and benefitted the film.]

Let’s start with what’s good.  The film looks absolutely beautiful.  It’s incredible how far visual effects have developed in the two decades since the original Jurassic Park film was made.  (And that first film had amazing visual effects!!)  Jurassic World: Dominion is jam-packed with many different dinosaurs, exotic locations, and big action sequences, and everything looks absolutely convincing.  Right away the film’s visuals wowed me, with the incredible opening sequence of a variety of dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.  That long, leisurely take spotlights a number of different dinosaurs, in their natural habitats, and it’s absolutely brilliant.  [Note: that prologue was apparently missing from the theatrical version; that was a big mistake, as it might be my favorite sequence in the film!]  The film is packed with memorable images: a T-Rex walking through a drive-in movie; a brontosaurus lost in the snow; a pterodactyl attacking an airplane… and so many more moments that feel iconic and are brought to life with incredible realism.  The film also has some terrific action sequences; I think the best one was an exciting chase through the streets of Malta.

My favorite aspect of Dominion is that we get, at last, the return of Alan Grant, Ellie Satler, and Ian Malcolm.  They’ve all appeared in the series after the original, but never all together like this.  (Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm was the lead of The Lost World and appeared in a cameo in Fallen Kingdom, while Sam Neill’s Alan Grant was the lead of Jurassic Park III, in which Laura Dern’s Ellie Satler had a cameo.)  But it was never the same, not having all three characters together.  No characters in any of the other Jurassic Park/World movies have come close to equalling how great these three were in that first film, and so it is a pleasure to see them all finally brought back together.  All three actors — Sam Neill, Lauren Dern, and Jeff Goldblum — remain incredible performers operating at the height of their skills, and they bring this movie to life whenever they’re on screen.  I am so glad the decision was made to bring them back and in such a major way.

I was interested in aspects of the story’s set-up at the start of the film.  Clearly Colin Trevorrow and the makers of this Jurassic World trilogy have been intending all along to explore that title literally.  While I thought it was weird that releasing dinosaurs into the world at the end of Fallen Kingdom was treated as a heroic act, I was interested at first in the idea of this film’s exploring what it would be like for dinosaurs and humans to try to co-exist.  That one sad scene of the brontosaurus, lost in the snow, did more to create a sense of sympathy and empathy for me towards those dinosaurs than the previous two Jurassic World films in their entirety (which were clearly pushing the idea of trying to see the dinosaurs as animals and not monsters).  I liked the idea of breaking out of the box of the stories of all the previous Jurassic Park/World films, in which the dinosaurs were kept in a contained area.

At the same time, I was also intrigued by the other story set-up at the start of this film, of the monstrous locusts threatening the world’s food supply.  The idea of the natural environment out of control and turning against us feels like a very of-the-moment and scary idea, and it felt like a natural extension of the original Jurassic Park concept that some other type of genetic-engineering gone awry might be as dangerous, if not more so, as the recreated dinosaurs.

I wish the film had better explored either idea.  The global scale of the film was pretty quickly shrunk when our heroes, along with most of the dinosaurs, find themselves in Biosyn’s nature preserve.  I wish it wasn’t so immediately obvious that Biosyn — and its head, Dr. Lewis Dogson (Campbell Scott) — were the villains. I wish the geography of the film was clearer.  Where exactly do the opening scenes with Owen and Claire (in which he surrenders a dinosaur to poachers, while she breaks dinosaurs out of an illegal facility) take place in relation to the cabin where they’ve been hiding Maisie?  If hiding Maisie was their top priority, why did they leave her alone while going on these adventures?  Why is there the extended mid-movie stop in Malta, as opposed to Maisie and the little Velociraptor’s being brought directly to Biosyn’s preserve, wherever that was located?  (After watching the movie I read on line that the Biosyn preserve was located in Italy, but that wasn’t clear to me when watching the film.)

I wish the film’s narrative flowed more smoothly, as opposed to being beset by the same head-scratching narrative leaps and apparent incongruities that so bedeviled the previous two Jurassic World movies.  Here’s a prime example: the bizarre scene in which Claire meets Kayla Watts (the pilot played by DeWanda Wise).  Claire and Owen are investigating a secret spot where dinosaurs and dinosaur-related things are bought and sold.  It’s all highly illegal and very dangerous.  Claire and Owen are trying desperately to find the kidnapped Maisie before something even worse happens to her.  And so it’s super-weird that Claire apparently decides to take a bathroom break in this den of scum and villainy… and then to show a photo of Maisie to this woman who she doesn’t know.  This scene exists for plot reasons: the movie had to connect Claire and Kayla, and to give Kayla a reason to help Claire & Owen.  But the scene makes zero narrative or character sense.  It sticks out like a sore thumb.  The film is full of pieces like this that just don’t connect.  Here’s another example: it seems clear early on that Dodgson is suspicious of Ian Malcolm (we see Dodgson watching Malcolm from above, when Malcolm sneaks Ellie the wristband that will give her access to Biosyn’s secret areas), but he doesn’t do anything and seems surprised later at Malcolm’s betrayal.  After Ellie and Alan Grant find the locusts and accidentally set them loose, Dogson summons Ian and the tour-guide Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie) to him.  I assumed he knew Ramsay had helped Ellie and Alan, because how else would they have gotten away to cause trouble when Ramsay was supposed to be their guide?  But then, again, Dodgson does nothing and later still treats Ramsay as a confidante.  Huh??  These and so many other plot points didn’t make sense to me.

Most problematically, while this film boasts a terrific cast, and the actors all seemed to be giving it their all, there’s not a single character in this film with any true depth, or who shows any sort of character development or journey over the course of the film.  (OK, maybe there’s one: I guess Kayla decides to help Claire and Owen.  That’s a change in a character, though we don’t get to know her well enough to understand why…)

It’s so fun to see the main Jurassic Park trio again, and the actors’ charisma makes their scenes fun to watch.  But none of them actually have much if any depth in the film.  It’s a pleasure to see Ellie and Alan get together at the end, but that’s because I have great affection for those characters from the original Jurassic Park.  They don’t actually go on any sort of emotional journey here.  We don’t see either of them face up to whatever was keeping them apart before now, or why they were afraid to commit to a relationship to one another.  We don’t get to understand what any of these three really think about the dinosaurs now, twenty years after they first encountered them.  Do they think they’re abominations, or do they think they’re endangered animals who should be protected?  I wish we got some of that depth.

And then there are Claire and Owen, who are basically ciphers.  Again, I really like both these actors.  Bryce Dallas Howard has become a terrific director (she’s been doing great work in the Star Wars universe), and it’s fun to see that she still also has great acting chops.  And Chris Pratt is always fun to watch.  But after three movies, I know next to nothing about these characters, and Dominion doesn’t really give us any reason to care about them or root for them.  Chris Pratt’s Owen barely even has any dialogue of any substance in the movie!!  (Also, I still think his passion for domesticating velociraptors is insane, and would have made him a villain in the original Jurassic Park trilogy.  If Alan Grant was behaving in character, I think he would have been horrified at this idea, but the film just has him smile and move on when he finds this out… sigh…)

Other thoughts:

  • Can someone explain to me how the dinosaurs got all over the world?  I can maybe believe the pterodactyls could able to cross oceans (though oceans are BIG!!!!!)… both the rest of the lumbering land-dinosaurs??  I don’t really buy the central premise of this movie that the dinosaurs have spread across the globe…
  • Seeing as how our current understanding of dinosaurs is that they might have had feathers, rather than being the scaly lizards they were often depicted as being, I liked that one of the major new dinosaurs in this film — the therizinosaurus — had feathers.
  • I enjoyed Campbell Scott’s performance as Dr. Lewis Dodgson, though I wish Dodgson was a more layered character.  Interestingly, after seeing the movie, I realized that Dodgson had appeared in the original Jurassic Park!  He’s the guy meeting with Nedry early in the film.  (In Jurassic Park, Dodgson was played by an actor named Cameron Thor.  Thor is now a registered sex offender — ugh — so the role was recast for Dominion.)  It’s a fun piece of connection, though Campbell Scott’s Dodgson is a TOTALLY different character than the thug-like mercenary we saw in Jurassic Park.  This Dodgson is more of a Silicon Valley type, a sort of absent-minded genius who also has no scruples.  (Actually, the character is very reminiscent to the character Mark Rylance played in Don’t Look Up.)
  • Speaking of connections to the original Jurassic Park, I was pleased to see Dr. Wu (BD Wong) again.  They’ve used Dr. Wu in both previous Jurassic World films, and so I was happy to see this sequel pick up that character thread.  I was intrigued to see a more humbled Dr. Wu in this film.  But I can’t believe the movie seems to let him off the hook for all the death and carnage he’s caused in the previous movies.  And I wish his humbling hadn’t happened off-screen, between movies!  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to actually see Dr. Wu’s journey in this film?  To see him decide to face up to all that he’s done and try to take a stand and make amends?  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting had Dr. Wu been the insider helping our heroes inside Biosyn, rather than the new character we’d never met before, Ramsay Cole?
  • That being said, I really enjoyed Mamoudou Athie’s work as Ramsay Cole.  This young man has wonderful on-screen charisma.  His force of personality makes Ramsay a character of interest, even though he has very little to actually do in the film.
  • Same goes for DeWanda Wise as Kayla Watts.  I love seeing these new characters of color brought into the mostly-white Jurassic Park series.  Ms. Wise is terrific, bringing tremendous energy to her scenes.  I wish the movie gave her more to do.  I’d like to see Ms. Wise and Mr. Athie star in the next Jurassic Park sequel!
  • I was happy to see Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda brought back from Fallen Kingdom (albeit in very small roles), and I was also happy Omar Sy back as Owen’s fellow velociraptor wrangler from Jurassic World.  Basically the only character from this whole Jurassic Park series who I wanted to see but didn’t was Ian’s daughter Venassa from The Lost World.  (Wouldn’t it have been fun if the Kayla Watts’ character had been a grown-up Vanessa?)  It might have also been fun to see a grown-up Lex and Tim from the original Jurassic Park, but I think their stories were completed in that first film and I didn’t need more of them.

Is this the end of the Jurassic Park series?  Although the film has been advertised as the conclusion to the saga, and a character says “let’s end this” at the end of this film, there’s nothing really in Dominion that feels like it would stand in the way of further movies.  I don’t feel the film actually resolved the central question of these Jurassic World films as to whether dinosaurs could successfully be re-integrated into the modern-day world.  And there are plenty of dinosaurs left across the world at the end of this movie.  So I’d bet we’ll see more films at some point in the future.  Is that a good thing?  I’m not sure.  It feels to me like the premise of dinosaurs in present-day is so juicy that lots of great movies could be made exploring that.  But the track record of this series, following the spectacular original film, is pretty weak…

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