Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

JUNE 8, 2022


I blame Jaws 2 for the continued success and (more specifically) my continued support of the Jurassic Park franchise. See, I know Spielberg has made better films than the 1993 original, but for me personally it remains my 2nd fave of his filmography (after, yes, Jaws); a film I can throw on any time and be almost as enraptured as I was the night I saw it (a school night no less!) as a young lad of 13. I feel that's an important thing to note - by 13 I was already moving beyond loving every movie I saw just because I saw it, so while I don't doubt nostalgia plays a part in my love of the film, it's not like Shocker or something where my adolescence is doing the bulk of the work. Jurassic Park is a legit great adventure movie, silly plot and all. And by reteaming its core trio of Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm for the first time since, Jurassic World Dominion could have easily been my favorite sequel.

And that's where Jaws 2 comes into play. As much as I love Jaws, I think Jaws 2 is a solid followup (3D and Revenge you can burn in a fire) that is probably the best a sequel to Jaws can be especially without Spielberg or 2/3s of its own iconic trio. And so I go into each Jurassic Park sequel with the hope that someone can measure up and make the "Jaws 2" of this franchise; a sequel that is a step down but still something I can fully enjoy. But alas, I've never gotten it, and worse, I can't ever even decide which one of the now five followups is my "favorite", for lack of a better term. I just rewatched them all (for World and Fallen Kingdom, it was my first rewatch since theaters) and all I can tell you for sure is that Jurassic Park III is my *least* favorite. After that I might as well just toss the other four movies in the air and jot down their order of landing to determine their rank. My disappointment with each film just helps the next one; my expectations are pretty low, so when it's merely "fine" it almost seems like a win.

Which means yes, Dominion continues the tradition of the others, in that it never registers as a good or even pretty good movie as a whole, but has some borderline great sequences that keep it from being a total waste of my time, some great model/CGI hybrid work to bring the dinos to believable life (which is why 3 ranks last, I think - the FX in that one are by far the weakest in the series), and a couple of characters I enjoy hanging out with for a bit. But like the others, it also never once justifies its own existence; the films make money and therefore Universal makes more of them, but it's clear that no one has any genuine ideas to go along with them anymore. Jurassic World's "What if the park opened? And was so successful/incident free that people were actually getting bored of it?" is a genuinely fun idea that has shoddy execution, but apparently they should have just let the park run normally, because Fallen Kingdom was mostly just a retread of Lost World and Dominion bungles things further by barely utlizing its predecessor's twist of letting them all go free on the mainland.

Sure, there are many scenes or little vignettes that show what a world with dinosaurs is like (presented via "Now This" episode in the first few minutes), but for the most part it's treated kind of like the "blip" in Spider-Man: Far From Home, where we get a few gags about it and then largely move away from the idea, hoping no one notices or at least minds that THAT stuff would likely be far more interesting than what we get instead. Writer/director Colin Trevorrow even has the audacity to stage the film's final hour in an isolated compound nestled between some mountains in Italy (I think? There's a LOT of locations to keep track of in this one; it's practically Bondian), rather than finally dive into the idea that dinosaurs are just kind of wandering around populated areas. So for large chunks of the film, its central hook (man and dino sharing the planet) is irrelevant, and it feels like a copy of a copy.

Same goes for its other selling point, which is that it brings back our OG faves and has them mesh with the new characters (Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Isabella Sermon, the clone girl from Fallen Kingdom), but Trevorrow bungles that too, since the fact that it happens is technically a third act spoiler. Hell, the characters barely even interact with their own friends; Alan and Ellie spend most of their time away from Ian, and Owen and Claire are also repeatedly split apart by going off on their own adventures (by choice or circumstance). I didn't clock it exactly but I'd be shocked if the scene where they finally all come together occurred earlier than the 100 minute mark in this 2.5 hr film. And then almost instantly they split up again, though at least in different pairings (the two women go off - and pass the Bechdel test, which is in the news again for very dumb reasons - to reboot a system while Grant and Grady do their own mission. Malcolm just sits in the control room), so most of their interaction is limited to introducing themselves or offering cringey dialogue ("You're the guy who trained raptors!" is I think the only direct line Grant gives to Grady). A better writer would have found a way to get everyone together by the hour mark at the absolute latest, letting the second half (and change) coast on the thrill of seeing all these people join up for the first time to face a new threat. I feel there's another movie about six characters from different movies that did just that? Forget the name, came out like a decade ago.

Why does it take so long, you might be asking? The answer is, of course: locusts. Confused? Yeah, me too. For some goddamn reason, Trevorrow decided that the plot should revolve not around dinosaurs, but genetically enhanced locusts that are wiping out crops in the midwest - except for those that are being grown with Biosyn products. Biosyn, you might barely remember, is the rival company that paid Nedry to steal the embryos in the first movie, and now that InGen is in tatters due to the Jurassic World incident, they're the top guns in this field. It's even the same guy running the show, Dodgson (of "We got Dodgson here!" fame), but he's now played by Campbell Scott doing a whole Steve Jobs thing, feeling nothing like the guy we briefly met almost 30 years ago. Anyway, in public they're this super altruistic company, protecting the dinos and researching cures for cancer and such (no covid mention, even though it was shot after the whole thing began - guess they didn't have the stones). But Ellie (going off a tip from Malcolm, who is working there for reasons I never quite tracked) believes the locusts are their doing, so she recruits Grant to get to the bottom of it. And - I don't need to tell you this, but just in case - she's right!

Meanwhile, Owen and Claire are raising Maisie the clone girl out in the woods somewhere, and BioSyn wants her too, because she can unlock more genetic whateverses. Long story short, Trevorrow almost seems like he'd rather point his camera at anything besides the potentially fun idea of seeing Ian Malcolm hit on Claire Deering, or Owen Grady argue with Alan Grant about how we should interact with velociraptors. Or, you know, dinosaurs. It's the longest movie but I swear the dinos have less screen time than they have since the first film, where they were understandably withheld for key reveals. Even the film's big new baddie, a Giganotosaurus, only appears in a couple of brief scenes.

Worse, they're largely devoid of any real thrills or danger. They keep saying this is the last movie, so I'm thinking OK, maybe they'll kill off Ian or even Alan just to raise the stakes a bit, Scream 5 style. And when Dr Wu reappears out of nowhere (now working for BioSyn and seemingly regretful about his evil actions), I thought for SURE he was a goner. But no. There's only one human death of note in the entire film, and even your kid can probably guess who it would be. And it's off screen anyway, so you don't even get the cheap thrill that we got when previous human villains like Gennaro or Ted Levine got their just deserts in the previous films. There's a certain nonchalance from the actors (Pratt in particular) that keeps a lot of the action scenes from ever feeling as perilous as they should, as if they were being roped into a TV special or Universal Studios ride instead of a blockbuster feature film. Kids won't be scared by the movie, they'll just be bored.

But again, it does have some solid standalone sequences. There's a bit where Owen and Kayla (a new character; a merc who becomes an ally) are trapped on rapidly cracking ice with a raptor closing in on them, and a fun scene where Grant, Ellie, and Maisie are making their way through a cave system that's been overrun with some other kind of smaller dino (kind of like a raptor, Deinonychus maybe?). It's not an overly elaborate scene, but the sometimes puppet-y effects and Neill's occasional indifference to them makes it feel like a family making their way through an actual theme park ride, so it tickled me. They even manage to get some of the awe back to the proceedings, like in an early scene where Maisie comes across a pair of brachiosauruses who have wandered into a construction site, with the workers dropping everything to help lead the beasts to safety.

So like most of the other sequels, it doesn't fail to give us "moments", but it once again doesn't manage to become a successful whole. And since it's almost a half hour longer than the others, that's asking a lot, especially nowadays when the smarter of us are being a little choosier with how long we opt to spend inside an enclosed room with a bunch of strangers with their mouths open to shovel popcorn in. This should - and seemingly very easily COULD - be one of those "This is why we need theaters" kind of movies, but right now Top Gun 2 is taking that crown. More than once I felt the film was being restrained; maybe they weren't comfortable shooting in covid times (they had only just started shooting when the world shut down, picking back up in late summer 2020 before we had vaccines and such) and had to rework some things? But then again, Trevorrow had no such restrictions when he made his first film (or the second, which he didn't direct but still wrote and produced) and those have a lot of the same problems, so I can't quite bring myself to believe the pandemic was the only issue here. Ultimately, it's nice to see Grant and the others again, and there's nothing in the movie that made me flat out angry, but I checked my watch several times, and that shouldn't be the case when you consider the elevator pitch for this film. I'm used to these movies being kind of dumb, but I've never considered them boring.

What say you?

P.S. Minor spoiler here: given the appearance of a certain iconic prop from the first film, I guess the Telltale Game is now canon?

P.S.S. Since they cut it from the movie, instead of the trailer here's the "prologue" that was shown in IMAX last year.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen any of these news ones but this really sounds like a damn mess.


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