Review: ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ fails to paper over its many cracks with nostalgia
If you’re in the mood for an action-packed blockbuster sequel that brings back iconic familiar faces and introduces engaging newcomers in equal measure, is packed full of nods, winks, and callbacks to a classic original while still telling a worthy story of its own, and deftly balances heartfelt emotional dynamics and timely themes with epic Hollywood spectacle, then go and see Top Gun: Maverick, because Jurassic World Dominion isn’t that movie, as hard as it tries to be.
Chris Pratt described the sixth installment in the franchise as the Avengers: Endgame of the Jurassic universe, and quite frankly, we’re disappointed that he made such a comparison when he was in both. There’s no denying that Dominion is a very well-made piece of cinema, with every penny of the estimated $200 million budget up there on the screen for all to see through a series of grandiose set pieces, sweeping locations dotted all over the globe, and plenty of critters (animatronic and CGI), but it’s overstuffed to the gills and often unforgivably uninteresting.
The biggest problem with the end product, though, is that returning director Colin Trevorrow (who also co-wrote the script with Emily Carmichael) can’t seem to decide if he wants to make Jurassic Park 4 or Jurassic World 3. In the end, he tries to stitch them together through a two-pronged narrative that eventually dovetails just in time for the third act, but it rarely works.
The ending of predecessor Fallen Kingdom put the mythology in a tantalizing position, one that we’d never seen explored before; dinosaurs were now free to roam the earth and seek to reclaim their position at the top of the food chain, which had the potential to upend the natural order of things, the planet’s ecosystem, and humanity as we know it. Instead, it’s all glossed over in an expository opening scene, and we’re right back to forests, facilities, dimly-lit caverns, and corridors all over again.
One half of the plot follows Pratt’s Owen Grady, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, and Isabella Sermon’s clone/adopted child Maisie Lockwood, with the latter being kidnapped by nefarious forces who seek her DNA at the behest of the evil BioSyn company. They also need Beta, the offspring of everyone’s favorite raptor Blue, so it’s off to the remote HQ fortress for the youngsters.
Reintroduced as some kind of dinosaur rancher or something and a vigilante/freedom fighter of sorts (it’s never really explained in any great detail, but does power a couple of fun segments), the biggest issue with the dysfunctional family dynamic driving the opening sections is that the key players in Jurassic World have always been completely and utterly one-note.
Owen is about the blandest action hero of the last decade, Claire’s most memorable contribution is still running away from a T-Rex in heels, and Maisie is the living embodiment of a MacGuffin. But don’t worry, because Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda from Fallen Kingdom are briefly back as *checks notes* Franklin and Zia, while Omar Sy returns as Grady’s best bud Barry to connect storytelling dots, and then gets instantly forgotten about.
Plenty of A-grade properties have unmemorable characters, but it comes into much sharper focus in Dominion once the original trio appear on the scene, although DeWanda Wise does the best she can with underwritten pilot Kayla Watts. Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler seeks out the help of Sam Neill’s Alan Grant to infiltrate BioSyn and expose the conglomerate’s desire to create a man-made global famine in order to increase profits, and her man on the inside just so happens to be Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm.
This is where the nostalgia and fan service gets ladled on thick, but the warm and fuzzy feelings that come with seeing these guys again, not to mention the Easter Eggs (Alan wears a blue shirt! Ellie takes her sunglasses off to gaze in awe at something in the distance! They reunite at a paleontological dig site! Ian smolders and reveals he slid into Ellie’s DMs!) only serves to remind the audience that the IP is fast running out of gas, as if the only option left was to combine the two sides of the saga. That makes it come across as cynical more than anything else, as opposed to a logical creative decision, while also highlighting just how dull the Jurassic World crew are by comparison.
The best ideas in Dominion are the ones that get abandoned, which is a damning indictment of the exercise as a whole. There’s a whole dinosaur black market that exploded in the aftermath of Fallen Kingdom, but it only serves as the basis of a single scene. The villain played by Campbell Scott is Lewis Dodgson (Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson over here!), and there are hints through his exchanges with BD Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu that new layers could be added to the events of Jurassic Park that would inform and potentially retrospectively impact the overarching lore, but it’s swiftly dropped in favor of more corporate double-crossing and running through undergrowth.
There’s an entire world to play with (it’s right there in the title), but in the end, Dominion confines its back half to yet another walled facility populated by dinosaurs. We’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt five times already, so as fun as it regularly is to see Neill, Dern, and Goldblum bounce off each other with a twinkle in their eye, we’ve already seen them do it better three decades ago.
Some of the action sequences do sing, to be fair, with the highlight being an extended foot pursuit through the streets of Malta that evolves into vehicular mayhem, a soaring getaway, and then an aerial assault, with Claire’s nerve-wracking escape from the Giganotosaurus also worth a mention. Speaking of which, each new Jurassic entry is obligated to make its erstwhile big bad a larger, scarier, and altogether toothier proposition, but so many people mention that it’s the heftiest and deadliest predator on the planet that you’re half expecting someone to say “Giganotosaurus is so hot right now”. Don’t fret, however; Rexy gets her moment in the sun, with the old girl continuing to prove that she’s still got it during a half-baked climactic showdown.
It’s entirely up to your own personal taste and preference as to whether or not Jurassic World Dominion is the worst of the six to date, but it’s unquestionably the biggest missed opportunity. Seeing the two eras collide was supposed to be a giddy delight, but the core crew and the Pratt roster have instead been parachuted into a formulaic setup with uninspired execution, one that ends up being considerably less than the sum of its parts.
'Jurassic World Dominion' has its moments, but the latest installment in the franchise squanders what should have been a slam dunk.