I was admittedly in no rush to see this but finally got around to the conclusion of the dinosaur saga on Father’s Day and it was, more or less, exactly what I expected. Jurassic World Dominion clearly wanted to cash in on nostalgia, but it struggles with tone as it doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be.
I typically summarize the overall idea myself, but I wanted to highlight something by using the IMDB summary that reads, “Four years after the destruction of Isla Nublar, dinosaurs now live–and hunt–alongside humans all over the world. This fragile balance will reshape the future and determine, once and for all, whether human beings are to remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures in a new Era.” Yeah…no. That is not what this movie is about.
Are there some dinosaurs that made it off the island and do now co-exist alongside humanity? Sure…at least to some degree…but that so-called “fragile balance” is barely an element of this narrative at all. It is less than 5% of the story and there’s no struggle for dominance atop the food chain. In fact, there’s yet another human-controlled dinosaur habitat where the creatures live in relatively plush captivity, but captivity nonetheless. That doesn’t sound like a power struggle to me.
I understand Colin Trevorrow, Emily Carmichael, and Derek Connolly not wanting to go the full Planet of the Apes route with the story, but there was room to adapt and apply some aspects of that here. Sprinkle in some Godzilla-esque humanity vs. nature and you’ve got a good template that raises some tactical and moral questions about what to do with a situation that was created due to our hubris as a species. Even half of that is a far more interesting idea than the kidnapping action/adventure rescue mission we end up on, against the social commentary backdrop of evil tech/big pharma.
The idea of a genetically manipulated global food crisis is actually very interesting and timely if you read the news. It drives home the point that Campbell Scott’s frighteningly familiar villain, Lewis Dodgson, is super evil despite his supposedly philanthropic exterior but a manufactured food shortage seems out of place with the world we are presented with.
That disconnect grows larger as a motorcycle chase through the streets of Malta gets us away from the familiar tropical setting, at least briefly. Visually, it looks strikingly similar to scenes in The Bourne Ultimatum, Skyfall, and a couple of the Mission Impossible movies. As if the filmmakers said, “Let’s do that! But with dinosaurs!” It’s a solid action sequence with clear intent that they are trying to appeal to those other crowds, but it’s missing the point. What was missing from this franchise wasn’t action and those other deficiencies are more noticeable in contrast.
By this point, it’s abundantly clear that the studio and the filmmakers don’t have a solid understanding of what made the original Jurassic Park a great film. If they do, they don’t have the ability/willingness to articulate and adapt that. That left this trilogy hopelessly handcuffed to GCI boosted dino-action and nostalgia. With the current studio model, it’s all about return on investment. As long as these movies continue to gross billions of dollars, there is no incentive for them to actually be any good. Audiences continue to show up to watch dinosaurs do dinosaur things and the humans are just sort of there. That’s essentially the exact opposite of the original film, where you care about the humans and the dinosaurs are the catalyst. So, it makes even less sense to bring back the original trio of stars and not know how to use them.
On the bright side, Jeff Goldblum is the best part of the film besides the visual effects. Watching him essentially make fun of the movie while it’s happening is the kind of self-awareness that could have benefitted the script as a whole. I don’t know if it was just his delivery as a performer or if it was written that way, but he’s the only one who knows what kind of movie he’s in. Sam Neill and Laura Dern try their best but what should be a touching and heartfelt reunion was shoehorned in and doesn’t give their history any respect. There’s a lot of tension between their characters in the original and when we are reintroduced to them again here, it’s like starting from scratch. You may as well not even set it up if you’re not going to have it pay off.
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard never had much romantic chemistry and that hasn’t evolved over the course of the three films. He has better chemistry with newcomer Kayla Watts and this must have been pretty obvious because his and Howard’s whole character dynamic was shifted to the role of adopted parents for Maisie Lockwood, a clone from the end of Fallen Kingdom, and they work better in tandem like that. Unfortunately for them, at his point in the series, they’re along for the ride with everyone else. There’s no character development and no real depth. They are mostly there as bodies connecting plot points.
That’s already six characters that all need writing but, for some reason, this film decided to introduce several new ones and bring back a couple more. The story was either lacking some connective tissue and the extra characters were a stopgap to help explain certain things or having a big ensemble cast was always the plan and there were too many mouths to feed. Either way, the cast bloat is a real problem. There are some cool new additions like DeWanda Wise who plays Kayla Watts, a pilot who smuggles dinos, but she’s just kind of thrown in with no reasonable backstory to justify her participation in the story. It was as if they drew concept art for the character, thought it looked cool, and just went for it. Dichen Lachman’s dino-gangster, Soyona Santos, suffers from all the same issues and would feel much more at home as a Bond villain.
For lack of a better term, there’s so much meat left on the bone with this film and the franchise as a whole. The sizeable cast and dipping into the nostalgia pool require a lengthy runtime and never address the underlying themes of the series. The DNA of the original adaptation is such fertile ground but, despite attempting to walk us back through many of the once iconic moments, the Dominion and the rest of the Jurassic World trilogy spent most of its screentime fundamentally missing the point.
Recommendation: If you are a fan of the franchise, then you’ll get plenty of dinosaur action and the kind of character callbacks you’d expect from the trailers.
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