JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION review by Mark Walters – the new trilogy tries really hard to end strong

JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION review by Mark Walters – the new trilogy tries really hard to end strong

When JURASSIC WORLD hit theaters in 2015, it became a box office smash hit earning over a $1.6 billion dollars in box office worldwide, and effectively revitalizing the popular Universal Studios franchise. That film met with heavy criticism, with one of the frequent jabs being that in many ways it seemed like a thinly-veiled remake of the original JURASSIC PARK from 1993. The sequel, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, hit theaters in 2018, and delivered a darker and almost charm-less experience for moviegoers, yet still earning a respectable return at the box office. This summer we’re getting what the studio is calling the epic conclusion, the big selling point being it has the two trilogies’ generations uniting for the first time. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are joined by Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill, and also returning to the director chair is Colin Trevorrow, who helmed the first JURASSIC WORLD, but has served as co-writer on all three films of the new trilogy.

Taking place four years after the events of FALLEN KINGDOM, the story of DOMINION opens with “news” footage explaining the dinosaurs are now all over the world, and society has just sort of adjusted to it. And while the powers that be have done their best to handle their presence respectfully, there are of course some bad actors doing things like illegal trade and breeding… because people are awful, and that’s to be expected, right? When they’re not trying to thwart pesky dinosaur breeders, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are now living in heavily-wooded seclusion and acting as surrogate parents to Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), a clone girl we met in FALLEN KINGDOM who just wants to live like a normal human. Owen and Claire are trying desperately to keep her safe and off the grid, and are also keeping an eye on Owen’s favorite raptor named Blue, who now has a child of her own she seemed to produce asexually… Blue and baby “Beta” are just living in the woods next to Owen and Claire’s cabin… because of course. Elsewhere, a couple of farm kids are attacked by giant locusts living in and eating up their fields. The person called in to investigate is Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who deduces the newest dinosaur genetic research company BioSyn (…get it? Biological SIN?!) must be behind this, especially since the neighboring fields remain untouched by the new locust menace because they’re using BioSyn’s seeds. So she concocts a plan to travel to BioSyn’s secret island, and asks her old friend Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to join her in hopes of finding a DNA sample for the locusts and maybe discover a way to stop their aggressive behavior. Meanwhile, Owen and Claire are caught off guard when some hired bounty hunters steal Maisie and Beta. They eventually figure out they were kidnapped and taken to BioSyn, where a Steve Jobs-like man named Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) hopes to study them. Oh, and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is currently giving lectures to BioSyn staff, so as you can guess, all of our heroes are eventually going to come together on the BioSyn island… and of course, all hell will break loose.

The first half of DOMINION is a bit rocky, introducing (or rather re-introducing) a lot of characters and story elements to keep up with, and moving at a breakneck pace to get us to the crowd-pleasing scenes that Universal is clearly using to sell the film. I saw this with a full house, and one big takeaway is how much the crowd responded (enthusiastically) to seeing the original cast again. But as exciting as that aspect is, it also (I’m sure unintentionally) serves as a repeated reminder of how bland the newer cast members are. I’ve always felt the Owen and Claire characters were a bit underwritten, as we know little about them outside of they used to date, drifted apart, and now seem to have just accepted being together. But there’s no tension or any real emotion with them, they’re just kind of there. It’s not that Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard aren’t good in the roles, they’re just not given much to work with other than run from danger and look scared. Meanwhile, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler still have the charm Spielberg found with them in the original film, and there are genuinely heartwarming clap-worthy moments with those two that should put a smile on the faces of the original movie’s fans. Even Jeff Goldblum feels like he’s fallen right back into his groove playing Ian Malcolm, and once the three of them reunite, there is a sort of movie magic there that can’t be denied. Sadly, the other new characters introduced in this film aren’t terribly interesting either, or just feel a tad underwritten, save for DeWanda Wise as a rugged pilot who initially is part of the problem, but ends up helping our heroes when they need an assist. She’s a fun new character, and has good chemistry with the other actors.

One thing the film tries to do is retcon some of the more unusual elements introduced in FALLEN KINGDOM, in particular Maisie’s origins, but it also pushes the ongoing narrative a bit away from the dinosaur angle with the new locust story, implying BioSyn may be trying to control the world’s food supply… to be honest, I’m still not sure what the villain’s plot was. The BioSyn island apparently houses all these dinosaurs and is using implants in their brains to control them, but somehow that’s not the focus of the story. That might be the biggest flaw in DOMINION, as the overall narrative seems to lack focus, and comes across as more of a collection of moments than a straightforward film. I mentioned earlier that the first half was a bit rocky, as the second half seems to be more entertaining and fun, primarily because the two generations of casts get together and must work together to survive. But even then it feels like one action scene after another just for the sake of creating excitement. And some of those scenes do feel like stuff we’ve already seen before in the franchise, giving the entire production a redundant feel. I’m honestly not even sure if I liked the film or not, though I think my exit comments to the studio reps at the screening were kinder than most.

JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION may rank as the best of the new trilogy for some, or perhaps the worst depending on how you perceive it. I feel like this new trilogy hasn’t been all that great anyway, rather mildly entertaining with a really flawed middle chapter. To me, the charm of the original cast helps elevate DOMINION just a bit above the previous two outings, but that’s not saying it’s a great film. One element I miss is how in the original JURASSIC trilogy, when we saw new dinosaurs, the characters name dropped what they were and what they could do, sort of smartly educating the audience amidst the carnage… this film doesn’t even attempt that, I think name-checking only one of the new dinos, and not saying much else about it other than it’s big and mean. Heck, there’s a new dino with three long claws on each hand that looks really cool, and they never say anything about what it was… a Wolverinasaur? One high point is Michael Giacchino’s pulse-pounding score, which does its best to elevate the intense scenes, and feels pretty strong compared to his previous work on the new franchise.

I’m sure it’s hard making these movies for modern audiences, as they’re following off a beloved and established franchise, and let’s face it, people these days are REALLY picky when it comes to pop culture entertainment. I admire Trevorrow’s attempts to stick the landing and infuse this outing with some pretty solid fan nostalgia, and he does give the original cast pretty considerable screen time too, it’s definitely not a quick cameo. But I just never felt wowed, even the action scenes (of which there are plenty and they all look technically complex) just didn’t seem that intense or dramatic, more like they were going through the motions. Part of me wonders if the ambition of this “final” chapter outweighed its destiny. There actually is a lot to like here, but it’s mixed into a pretty frustrating pot. Oh, and at two hours and 26 minutes, it’s amazing how tedious some of those action sequences can get. My final word on it is simple, if you liked the other two JURASSIC WORLD films, you’ll probably enjoy this too, but if you were hoping for a big finish to this new trilogy, just make sure to temper your expectations.


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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.