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More is depressingly less in Jurassic World Dominion, a legacy sequel that tosses in frequent winking nods to the 1993 Steven Spielberg thriller that started the dinosaur franchise and yet completely loses sight of the heart and humanity, the rapturous awe that made it so unforgettable. Whatever goodwill superfan director Colin Trevorrow earned with 2015’s enjoyable reboot, Jurassic World, he pulverizes it here with overplotted chaos, somehow managing to marginalize characters from both the new and original trilogies as well as the prehistoric creatures they go up against in one routine challenge after another. Evolution has passed this bloated monster by.
Universal’s sixth installment in a series that has long since left the Michael Crichton source material behind will no doubt make a fortune anyway; longtime Jurassic junkies certainly aren’t looking to reviews for guidance. But they deserve better; at least a modicum of respect from filmmakers convinced that everyone watching has the attention span of a gnat.
Jurassic World Dominion
Release date: Friday, June 10
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Campbell Scott, Isabella Sermon
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenwriters: Emily Carmichael, Colin Trevorrow
The Spielbergian Jaws trope of patiently building suspense by keeping the deadly creatures out of sight for as long as possible is anathema to this movie and its juvenile instant-gratification approach. There’s no mystery, no steadily mounting dread, just a succession of rampaging mayhem triggered with anesthetizing inevitability.
In one moment early on, Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who was revealed in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to be a genetic clone, gives a group of Sierra Nevada Mountains loggers a tip to lure a pair of brachiosauruses away from their work site. The astonishment on the human faces as these majestic gentle giants lumber off on their sweet, herbivorous way recalls the poetic power of Spielberg’s original. But the new movie elsewhere is engineered for only the most soulless of thrills. It almost never stops to breathe.
Like one of the dangerous experiments with genetic modification of scientist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), the screenplay by Emily Carmichael and Trevorrow splices together the DNA of countless different movies but cooks up a genre mishmash with no discernable identity of its own. On top of the Jurassic Park core elements, the writers drop in bits of the Indiana Jones, Bourne and Alien series, and a Maltese black-market dino-traffic hangout straight out of the Star Wars cantina. There’s even a mutant locust plague that recalls … The Swarm?!
Those big-ass crossbreed locusts start decimating crops across the American heartland, quickly multiplying to the point where Dr. Wu, who developed the freak species, warns of an impending food shortage. But to Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), his weirdo corporate boss at tech conglomerate Biosyn, global famine is just an unfortunate side-effect. Crops grown from Biosyn seed are untouched by the locusts, as intended, paving the way for the company to control the world’s food supply.
Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), last seen in 2001’s Jurassic World III, learns of the locust phenomenon while studying soil science and sustainable farming. When she traces the bugs’ genes back to the cretaceous period, she reconnects with her former flame, paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and they fly to Biosyn headquarters in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. Their former associate, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), is working as a consultant there, preening like a rock star during lectures for the company’s young scientists. But he’s also been slipping Ellie intel about the food shortage threat.
Along with the giant lab facility, the Biosyn complex includes a vast sanctuary, a valley of lush vegetation ringed by snow-capped mountains, where international governments have agreed to relocate the countless prehistoric species that have been breeding like rabbits since they were liberated from the gothic Lockwood mansion at the end of Fallen Kingdom. Exactly how those dinos have multiplied and spread across the planet in four years remains a hazy detail, though the surviving velociraptor known as Blue has reproduced without a mate thanks to her strand of monitor lizard DNA.
It’s through Blue’s baby, named Beta, and Maisie that the second storyline comes into play. Both are abducted near the cabin where Maisie has been living under the guardianship of former Jurassic World park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
Before the whole gang gets thrown together in the labyrinthine tunnels and forests of the Biosyn sanctuary, there’s a bunch of minimally engaging plot preamble involving teenage Maisie’s rebellious need for freedom; the worldwide poacher market for exotic prehistoric species, of which there now seem to be dozens; and the nefarious mercenaries on Dodgson’s payroll to bring in both the baby raptor and Clone Girl, who holds the key to DNA manipulation. Or something.
That requires a detour to Malta for Owen and Claire, where they go into action-hero mode fending off attacks from human and animal predators, including a ruthless smuggler named Santos (Dichen Lachman), confusingly dressed in cocktail attire while she’s busy laser-tagging folks left and right to make them raptor targets. The film’s biggest set-piece is a dual chase through the ancient streets of the Maltese capital Valetta, with Claire in the back of a pickup and Owen on a motorcycle.
There’s some nail-biting excitement in the will-they-or-won’t-they make it scene in which they race to board a cargo plane bound for the Dolomites, captained by unflappably cool pilot-for-hire Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise). The writers count on pre-existing affection for the holdover characters, rather than giving them anything interesting to do beyond interchangeable “Oh no! Another dinosaur!” encounters. That allows charismatic newcomers Wise and Mamoudou Athie as Dodgson’s savvy head of communications, Ramsay Cole, to walk away with the movie, simply by virtue of bringing something different to the table.
Frankly, aside from the droll humor Goldblum brings to slick, shamelessly vain Dr. Malcolm, I could have ditched the old crew and taken an entire spinoff led by Kayla and Ramsay. The other newcomer, Scott’s Dodgson, is a pallid villain we’ve seen far too often lately, the socially stiff, egomaniacal CEO in the Bill Gates/Jeff Bezos/Elon Musk mold, who half convinces himself that the capacity for scientific and medical discovery in his work justifies the greed and the God complex.
The storylines feel rote, both separately and when they converge; a sameness sets into the action, whether it’s Ellie, Alan and Maisie in an abandoned amber mine or Owen, Claire and Kayla out in the wilderness sanctuary. Trevorrow keeps rolling out different dinos, including some old favorites not seen since the first movie, and new entries like the fearsome giganotosaurus, a late-cretaceous bad-boy theropod that has the distinction of being history’s largest terrestrial carnivore. Meh. In the apex-predator hall of fame, it might be bigger and meaner but ends up being no more terrifying than the good old T-Rex.
That’s because the storytelling lacks imagination. Scene after scene follows a familiar narrow-escape template, with no menace lingering for more than a few minutes, whether it’s a feathered pyroraptor (I’m including these names strictly for the dino nerds — you’re welcome) on a thinly frozen lake prone to cracking, or a bunch of flaming mega-locusts falling from the sky.
Despite all the breathless panic, most of the fixes seem too easy, like Claire glancing at a bank of computer monitors and conveniently exclaiming, “This is the same system we used at the park!” I actually started to miss watching her flee dinos in heels, given that she’s in sensible boots this time.
The dinosaurs are certainly varied in type and the CG work is solid enough for the most part, though some of the smaller, cuter species like the baby nasutoceratops look more like merchandizing opportunities than actual creatures. There was an artfulness to all this when Spielberg did it, with far less advanced technology. Now it all just looks like digital paint-by-numbers. There’s no magic. Even the abrupt swerve into classic monster horror that director J.A. Bayona attempted in Fallen Kingdom showed more invention than anything happening here.
Editor Mark Sanger and composer Michael Giacchino keep the story hurtling along, possibly hoping that if it moves fast enough no one will mind the colossally dumb plotting. At least there’s delicate distraction when John Williams’ original theme music is piped in over Ellie and Alan’s halting romantic reconnection, serving as a reminder of a real movie. As for this one, extinction beckons.
Production companies: Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, in association with Perfect World Pictures
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Campbell Scott, Isabella Sermon, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Scott Haze, Dichen Lachman
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenwriters: Emily Carmichael, Colin Trevorrow
Story: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, based on characters created by Michael Crichton
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley
Executive producers: Steven Spielberg, Alexandra Derbyshire, Colin Trevorrow
Director of photography: John Schwartzman
Production designer: Kevin Jenkins
Costume designers: Joanna Johnston
Music: Michael Giacchino
Editor: Mark Sanger
Visual effects supervisor: David Vickery
Live action dinosaurs: John Nolan
Casting: Nina Gold
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