The Jurassic Park franchise deserves most of the credit for making me love the movies. Steven Spielberg’s masterful sci-fi monster movie is my favorite film and remains a technical marvel. It works as an all-around masterpiece of action, adventure, sci-fi, and drama. For everything it gave to the world, it also opened Pandora’s Box when it came to its special effects and spectacle cinema. Fans of the franchise ride a roller-coaster in terms of quality. For every high point in the franchise, we seem to be mere minutes from disaster. The release of Jurassic World Dominion further blurs that line. While the film shows a marked improvement from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this one continues to struggle with story and plotting. Like its reboot predecessor, Jurassic World Dominion satisfies fans who come for Dino fights and nostalgia while leaving the rest of the audience a little cold.
Jurassic World Dominion picks up four years after the events of Fallen Kingdom, with dinosaurs running free across the land. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) live on the outskirts of a small town in the west. They attempt to help dinosaurs avoid poachers and have become dinosaur rights activists. They also hide Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) away from the world, with the world searching for the first human clone. Meanwhile, a plague of giant locus tears through the Midwestern fields, unless the seeds are supplied by mega-conglomerate BioSyn. Given their genetic traits comes from the age of the dinosaurs, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) recruits Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to help her prove their origins. Luckily, they have an invite to BioSyn’s campus thanks to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), where rescued dinosaurs are sent to roam free.
Over the film’s runtime, the two storylines become intertwined, as if two different movies are smashed together. It quickly causes problems and unexplainable choices by characters. The puzzling plot that keeps character motivations murky seems inevitable especially given the film’s penchant for maximizing the grandiosity of the creatures on screen.
This choice will ultimately lead to a split in the audience. Director Colin Trevorrow again chooses to utilize spectacle to patch together his film, and it is difficult to argue against the choice. No movie since the original Jurassic Park has been as effective at capturing the true majesty of these dinosaurs. Unlike his last foray into the franchise, Trevorrow ups the ante with more animatronic dinosaurs. Rather than a handful of dinosaurs, we are met with dozens of new species. This leads the film into a vignette structure, where characters run from one batch of killer creatures, only to be confronted with an entirely new threat. This hurts the film, but it provides enough action sequences to give the audience a fun time.
While Velociraptors and T-Rexes are abound, the new creatures often steal the show. At one point, characters are trapped in caves, wildly running from Dimetrodons. The sequences seemingly call back to Alligator from the 1980s, while providing audiences with a new visual threat. Some dinosaurs get feathers, others have giant knife-like claws, and even the Dilophosaurus (my personal favorite creature) makes a much-earned return. Combining the breadth of creatures designed for the film, with many showcasing unique physicality, opens the door for a far more inventive movie than the last two in the franchise.
However, while many of the visuals exceed anything Trevorrow has created before, the shambles of the story are simply too hard to overlook. The first choice harkens back to the novels, as Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) gets promoted to the big bad role. Playing Dodgson as an Elon Musk-type, both in his social awkwardness and his invention of a hyperloop transport system, seems like an odd choice. This stands in stark opposition to Crichton’s sociopath capitalist, who throws women over the side of a boat when he realizes they pose a threat to his operation. Outside of the Dennis Nedry brunch sequence in Spielberg’s original film, BioSyn and Dodgson have never been brought into the films. Outside of fanboy culture, there’s little reason to have started now.
This leads us down the many other plot holes that open because of the insistence of returning characters. Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda rejoin the franchise for 10 minutes (at most), only to be jettisoned off. Omar Sy, an international superstar, gets sidekick duty during a shaky-cam sequence out of The Bourne Ultimatum (down to the window jump but with Raptors). The reintroduction of these characters gives us something to help the scenes stand out, but there’s no reason they could not have been filled with new characters. One character that gets underdeveloped is Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie). While his character has some surprising turns, he gets no development and often is relegated to delivering critical information to the other characters.
However, DeWanda Wise simply steals the film from the returning cast of the Jurassic World films. Playing a former pilot turned smuggler, her Kayla Watts showcases a dozen badass moments and skills that prove integral to our characters surviving the movie. Despite the sizeable cast growth from the last films, Wise continually finds ways to stand out. She not only delivers many of the film’s funniest lines, but she brings a sincerity lacking from the rest of the cast. While other characters have to apologize when sentimental lines are crossed (“that was corny” comes out at least once), Wise delivers every line with confidence. Her character stands out because of her ability to skate between comedy and nuance, and hopefully, future films focus on her adventures instead of the returning cast.
This brings us to the T-Rex in the room, the legacy cast members. The original Jurassic Park film makes my heart swell every time I watch it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve owned action figures of Neill, Dern, and Goldblum. However, this movie bloats with their inclusion. Most of their dialogue comes in exposition dumps as they let us know where they are in their lives and how the world has treated them since the first film. We learn nothing new about the characters that justify their return to the franchise they began. The movie even pauses for a few seconds during their introductions, creating an almost sitcom-style applause break for those who wish to celebrate.
In addition to these editing choices, the film continues to drop information to “expand” the lore. In addition to relegating Ramsey to become a vehicle for exposition, at least two additional exposition dumps come as “Now This” branded Facebook videos. The film sags with a runtime 146 minutes (nearly 20 minutes longer than any other film in the franchise).
While Jurassic World Dominion struggles with story and plotting, it provides excitement and visual treats for action film lovers. While the first film could bend into an emotional human story of survival, it is time to acknowledge this franchise is not that anymore. In fact, Jurassic World Dominion shares more in common with Godzilla Vs. Kong, Alligator, and Jaws 3D than it does the original film. This will surely disappoint some, but this popcorn film will provide plenty of thrills for the family as a matter of pure spectacle.