The point of entertainment is not to wear you down, but you’d never know it from watching Jurassic World Dominion, directed by Colin Trevorrow. This is the sixth Jurassic Park movie overall and the third to hit, with its mighty, gnarled toes, since the franchise was rebooted with the 2015 Jurassic World. That film, also directed by Trevorrow, seemed far less soulless than this one: It at least allowed us some time to soak up the wonder of some of its images, like the sight of dreamily benign brontosaurus striding along a river, moving in peaceful harmony with canoes manned by human resort-goers. The movie also featured plenty of prehistoric beasties chomping down on unfortunate humans, if that’s what you came for. Yet even with all its blockbuster slickness, the movie didn’t crack you over the head with the relentless stupidity of its plot.
But a lot can change in seven years. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), directed by J.A. Bayona, was a lot more cluttered and less imaginative. And although Trevorrow—who, before he began making dinosaur blockbusters, directed the 2012 indie Safety Not Guaranteed—has retaken the reins, it’s too late to turn back the clock. Jurassic World Dominion features some acceptably excessive special effects, and even stretches for peak nostalgia value by bringing back OG Jurassic Park stars Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum. But if the film kicks off in a reasonably promising fashion, it becomes wearying after the first hour, and brings on major eye glazing not long after that. There’s so much plot, so many characters, so damn much Chris Pratt, that the dinosaurs end up taking a backseat. They’re the forlorn underdogs of their own film.
The story goes something like this: Dinosaurs of all sorts now roam the world, sharing space with humans for better or worse. Some want to kill them; others feel these long-suffering beasties deserve to live. In the latter group are Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former operations manager of the fallen Jurassic World dino-park, and velociraptor whisperer Owen Grady (Pratt), who live together in cozy, log-cabin seclusion. They’re the guardians and protectors of 14-year-old Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who possesses special genetic properties that make her a valuable commodity, vulnerable to kidnaping, which is exactly what happens. Desperate to find her, Claire and Owen end up in Malta—because of course.
But the real action will take place somewhere in the Dolomites, in the secret lab of creepy-serene Steve Jobs–Elon Musk-like Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), whose multi-zillion-dollar company BioSyn doesn’t sound sinister at all. BioSyn has fooled people into thinking it’s doing God’s work by creating a safe haven for persecuted dinosaurs. But all is not as it seems, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now. Investigating the rise of oversized, highly destructive genetically altered dino-locusts, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Dern) reconnects with star paleontologist Alan Grant (Neill) in an attempt to unlock the secrets of these crop-munching critters. Their search leads them to BioSyn HQ, where, upon arrival, they catch a few minutes of a drony Ted talk courtesy of dino-intellectual Ian Malcolm (Goldblum). Poor Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), also employed by BioSyn, lurks perpetually in the background, wearing a sad, droopy sweater indicative of every bad life choice he’s made.
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With so many humans bumbling around, there’s barely room for dinosaurs. Some highlights include a duo of apex predators going at it in a fight-to-the-death for universal superiority, though really, they’re tussling over one tiny deer carcass. Early in the film, there’s a rousing scene where Pratt’s Owen, back home in the Sierra Nevadas, does some mighty fine dinosaur wranglin’. He handily slides a lasso around a bucking dino’s neck, ultimately sidling up to whisper sweet nothings in its ear, whereupon it becomes as docile as a bunny. He’s so showily accomplished and aw-shucks sensitive that you just want to tell him to take it down a notch.
There’s a lot of noise in Jurassic World Dominion, as well as plenty of underwhelming special effects. None of the creatures look particularly magical or scary or distinctive in any way. Imagine surviving for hundreds of thousands of years, only to end up as one big dinoblur. Certain scenes borrow heavily from other franchises (Indiana Jones, Star Wars) without even bothering to fake a stamp of originality. The sight of Dern, Neill and Goldblum together again should offer at least a mild thrill of pleasure, but it’s weirdly underwhelming (though those who care about such things should note that Dern’s Ellie Sattler brings a really good scarf game). The best features of Jurassic World Dominion are two new characters, nerdy BioSyn genius Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie) and an ornery-cool mercenary pilot named Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise). They carry the movie as ably as they can, but they can’t save it. Jurassic World Dominion is the biggest, most excessive Jurassic Park–franchise film yet. But what good is a movie that leaves you feeling more flattened than entertained? That rumble you hear is the sound of millions of disgruntled, long-dead dinosaurs, rolling in their fossilized graves.
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