What killed the dinosaurs? If Jurassic World: Dominion is any indication, they were all bored to death.
Following the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) are living off the grid with their surrogate daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). When Maisie is kidnapped by the seemingly benevolent but of course actually evil company
Umbrella Biosyn, Claire and Owen set off to rescue her. At the same time, Drs. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill), head to Biosyn at the prompting of Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to investigate a plague of bio-engineered locusts that threatens to destroy the world’s food supply.
There was something else going on, though. What was it? Oh, yeah. And dinosaurs have re-emerged all over the world and disrupted every ecosystem known to man. But the film ultimately doesn’t care about them, so why should we?
That might be one of the biggest problems in a film that at times seems like it’s nothing but mess. In a franchise who’s main selling point is dinosaurs, there isn’t really a huge focus on them. Notice how that plot summary paragraph doesn’t mention dinos at all? That’s because the film uses them primarily as plot devices and accessories. They’re set dressing and background extras. One could make the argument that at this point in the franchise, the dinos have been organically woven into the fabric of the narrative and become just another part of this universe.
Or, and hear me out here, you could also argue that director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow has the deluded idea that the real focus of the Jurassic World movies are meant to be pretty, stupid humans doing pretty stupid things. This might sound a bit harsh, but…well, it’s accurate. The Jurassic World movies have always involved people making unbelievably unwise decisions, and Dominion doesn’t seek to overturn that. One singularly bad choice by one character at the end of Fallen Kingdom resulted in the “dinos run amok” situation that frames Dominion, after all. A decision I might add that is never at any point brought up or that said returning character apparently feels any conflict over despite it essentially turning the entire planet upside down.
In fact, there is a distinct lack of narrative consistency displayed in Dominion overall. Every film in this modern trilogy has had a different antagonist that is wholly unrelated to any of the others, leading to films that are bound only by a handful of shallow characters. The setting of the Jurassic World movies always feels very haphazard and slapped-together. It’s not dynamic, it’s not organic. While Treverrow may have envisioned the Jurassic World films as a trilogy with an overreaching story arc, they certainly don’t feel like that in execution. Even within the confines of this film, Treverrow can’t handle the story threads in a meaningful way, and there’s huge pacing issues as the film jumps back and forth between them.
Am I reading too much into this film? Probably so. After all, a lot of us aren’t coming to the Jurassic movies for coherent storytelling, compelling characters, or consistent world-building. We’re coming for the dino mayhem and thrilling action scenes, right? Don’t bore us, get to the tyrannosaurus.
Well, Dominion does have dinosaurs, and they do menace the human characters, but in general there is very little excitement to be had. Chase sequences tend toward chaos, with a dizzying disregard for place or choreography, and many of the dino events seem like afterthoughts. It’s as if the action scenes are doled out every so often to break up the tedium of the plot and make sure the audience hasn’t fallen asleep, and many of them lack any sense of novelty or creativity. There are a few exceptions, such as a genuinely tense confrontation between Claire and a therizinosaurus or a standoff between Ellie, Alan, and Maisie against a pack of dimetrodons* in an underground cavern. But in general, there’s little here we haven’t seen before.
(*While I lack the breadth and depth of dinosaur knowledge I had as a 10-year-old, I still remember that I used to think the dimetrodon was one of the coolest things ever. And honestly, I kind of still do.)
But it’s when the film isn’t actioning itself up that things really, and I mean really, slow down. Dominion might have one of the most unambitious scripts I’ve come across in an action movie in a while. The story is flat, the dialogue is lifeless and generic, and the humor almost never lands unless it involves Jeff Goldblum. And even then, not all the time. (The man’s human and can only do so much, after all.) The opening scenes have the cadence and randomness of the first act cut scenes of a tie-in video game, and occasionally some of the same dodgy CGI. And on that note, there’s also at least one egregious instance of shoddy green screen effects, which makes me wonder where the $165 million budget went if not to top-tier special effects.
Presumably, a fair amount of that money went to paychecks for Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard (but let’s be honest and say it all probably went to Pratt). The studio might want to ask for a refund, because neither of them seem to be putting too much effort into their roles. Regardless of the merits of their characters, at least it could be argued that in the previous films, they had relatively distinct personalities. Here, they seem as muted and smoothed down as their Appalachian couture costumes. Michael Giacchino’s incessant, workman-like score does most of the emoting for them. Isabella Sermon brings more life to Maisie than she did in the previous film, however, even if her character never extends beyond “rebellious teenager.”
But the cast is so overstuffed that Pratt and Howard really don’t get much of a chance to show much of a personality in the first place. The scenes with Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum run entirely on nostalgia fuel, and they flirt with the idea of being extraneous. While it is charming to see all of them, and Goldblum tends to lift the energy of the film all on his own as is his wont, there’s a distinct air of obligation and inevitability to their scenes. However, all three actors seem game to be there, and they easily fit back into the groove.
BD Wong also returns, as he has for this entire trilogy, but he’s completely wasted by the narrative (and by his vengeful, spiteful hairdresser). The only supporting characters that make any kind of impression are the two new female characters, both of whom are under-utilized. DeWanda Wise is instantly likeable as Kayla, a pilot who helps Owen and Claire. She has a distinct and appealing look, and Wise is effortlessly charismatic. And then there’s Australian actress Dichen Lachman as Santos, a dinosaur smuggler who looks like a supermodel and acts like the yassss-iest, iciest bitch queen you ever met. Girl, give me more of her.
But none of the human actors can ultimately save Dominion from itself or the franchise’s slow, plodding march toward extinction. A constant theme in the films has always been the idea that humans are bringing something back that shouldn’t be. Say it with me: They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. Rarely has a quote been so metatexually appropriate.
FBOTU Score: 4 out of 10 / C-