Hot on the heels of the mega-hit “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Jurassic World: Dominion” is the next big blockbuster on the 2022 summer movie calendar. It’s predecessor, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” was a monumental disappointment, lacking the awe and wonder that made even the lesser Jurassic installments entertaining. And its story devolved into something too absurd, even for a movie based on a modern day dinosaur amusement park.
Still, “Fallen Kingdom” earned well over $1 billion at the box office and a sequel was all but assured. Enter “Dominion” which takes place four years after the events of the previous film. To “Fallen Kingdom’s” credit, it did leave the series in an interesting place. If you remember, dinosaurs were suddenly loose across our country. The fabulous Jeff Goldblum pops up in a cameo (reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm) and tells a U.S. Senate committee that we have entered a neo-Jurassic Age where humans and dinos must co-exist.
That leads to “Dominion”, an ambitious movie that attempts to bring together the old and the new. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the “Jurassic World” movies while Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum are reunited from the “Jurassic Park” films. It’s a cool idea and there are moments of nostalgic glee even for a lukewarm Jurassic fan like me. But “Dominion” is a weird movie that struggles to find a rhythm. There’s entertainment to be found, but you have to wade through some messy parts to find it.
With so many characters, director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow backs himself into a corner. He has to introduce each in a way that gives them stakes in the story. He has to develop them so that they have purpose beyond just refilling their character’s shoes. So we get the film’s first half that is literally and figuratively all over the map. It does set the table for its better second half, but getting there is a bit of a chore.
The most disappointing thing is how “Dominion” never really lives up to its promise. Ian Malcolm’s words in the “Fallen Kingdom” cameo made it sound like “Dominion” was going to give us mankind and dinosaurs fighting to co-exist. Instead the bulk of the movie once again moves to a fairly confined space and again features an overambitious (and in this case utterly mad) scientist who never questions what he’s doing. It fits with original writer Michael Crichton’s sharp critique of genetic tinkering. But it doesn’t expand on Crichton’s idea in the way it advertised.
The movie sets its two batches of character on different paths before inevitably bringing them together in the final third. Everyone’s favorite (and I’m quite sure only) Velociraptor trainer Owen (Pratt) and former Jurassic World park manager Claire (Howard) are living a secluded life high up in the the mountains. They have adopted young Maisie (Isabella Sermon), the world’s first successful human clone (I had completely forgotten her angle). But when a group of baddies kidnap Maisie, Owen and Claire set out to find her.
Meanwhile, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Dern) is secretly studying a destructive swarm of giant prehistoric locusts. She traces their origin to an evil corporation called BioSyn that is headed by the slimy Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). Ellie wants to link Dodgson to the swarm and convinces her old colleague, paleontologist Alan Grant to help. And it just so happens Ellie has an inside man – mathematician and smooth-talker extraordinaire, Ian Malcolm (Goldblum).
As things play out we do get a cool action sequence in Malta (although the story surrounding it is pretty absurd). That’s where we’re introduced to a new character, Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise). She’s a pilot-for-hire who out-of-the-blue decides to help Owen and Claire. Kayla adds a little toughness to the story but not much else.
All roads eventually lead to the BioSyn laboratories and dinosaur reserve where the movie finally picks up a little steam. There, Ellie, Alan, and Ian are reunited and do a little super-sleuthing. That also happens to be where Maisie is being held. You can probably already see how all of the character pieces start coming together. The final act plays much more like a traditional Jurassic Park movie, with our heroes caught in a madman’s domain where dinosaurs are roaming free. Here we get some genuinely fun moments and it’s where the characters feel most like themselves.
Again, “Jurassic World: Dominion” is messy and it takes forever to get its footing. And I can’t help but be disappointed by it shortchanging the who “coexisting” angle. And there are logic questions galore. For example, I’m still trying to figure how the dinosaurs multiplied to such vast numbers and spread all over the globe in only four years. But “Dominion” is a pretty dramatic step up from “Fallen Kingdom”. There is a big variety of dinosaurs for old and new for fans. And we get plenty of scene-stealing lines from the terrific Jeff Goldblum (he’s also part of the funniest laugh-out-loud joke I’ve seen in a movie this year). But these things can’t fully cover the film’s numerous shortcomings. I can appreciate the ambition, but this is a case where Trevorrow and company bit off more than they could chew. “Jurassic World: Dominion” opens today (June 10th) exclusively in theaters.