Talking Movies: Jurassic World: Dominion

Talking Movies

Released: 10 June 2021
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Universal Pictures
Budget: $185 million
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Campbell Scott, Isabella Sermon, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum

The Plot:
After being set into the wild at the end of the last film, dinosaurs now live amongst us and a thriving black market has arisen. When poachers kidnap the infant of Owen Grady’s prize Velociraptor, Blue, and the teenage clone he and Claire Dearing (Howard) have been rising in isolation and a swarm of genetically-engineered locusts threaten to cause a worldwide famine, they must team up with faces old and new to infiltrate a dinosaur conservation site and put a stop to both plots.

The Background:
In 1990, writer Michael Crichton penned Jurassic Park, a cautionary tale about the dangers of genetic engineering that saw the long-extinction dinosaurs returned to life through science and running amok in a theme park; the novel was well received and its concept caught the attention of famed director Steven Spielberg, who spearheaded the production and not only revolutionised computer-generated special effects on film by marrying CGI with complex animatronics, but also an incredibly profitable and one of the most influential movies on its era. Naturally, the film led to sequels, however these weren’t as well received and the franchise lay dormant for the better part of twenty years until being revitalised by director Colin Trevorrow with the ridiculously successful Jurassic World (ibid, 2015). Following this success, Spielberg and Trevorrow collaborated on a plan for a new trilogy; however, although reviews were notably mixed for the sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (ibid, 2018) yielded an impressive worldwide gross of $1.310 billion, which all but guaranteed a third entry. Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly penned a story that tackled the question of how the world reacted to dinosaurs being loose among the populace, how that impacts society, and the promise of different dinosaurs and genetic monstrosities being featured. Alongside crafted something of a redemption story for new generation of protagonists, Trevorrow brought back the three protagonists from Spielberg’s groundbreaking film, and actually used the down time afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic to make changes to the film based on fan feedback. After numerous delays, Jurassic World: Dominion released to the tune of a $1 billion box office; however, the film was met with disappointingly low reactions, with reviews criticising the film as a shameless cash grab that was largely derivative of its predecessors and, while many of the effects and action sequences were praised, it was largely seen as squandering its primary premise.

The Review:
The Jurassic franchise has long suffered from the law of diminishing returns; the first was a blockbuster hit, a visual spectacle that captivated an entire generation and kicked off a short-lived fascination with dinosaurs across a variety of media. The special effects, interpretation, and behaviour of its impressive dinosaurs continues to be influential to this day, with many other books, comics, videogames, and documentaries utilising a similar presentation, no matter how scientifically inaccurate they may be, simply because of how realistic and detailed the effects were at the time. Unfortunately this success didn’t really carry through to the sequels; while they all made a massive profit, critical and audience reactions dipped as the film’s failed to really recapture the magic of the first, and the franchise laid dormant until Colin Trevorrow was somehow, able to revive it. I think, for me, one of the reasons for the series growing quickly stagnant was that the films didn’t really try anything new; we were always back on an island, with the same dinosaurs only with a bigger, more vicious carnivore each time and when they did try something new, it was either ridiculous (like weaponizing dinosaurs) or not as big a part of the plot as it should’ve been…like dinosaurs free in the world.

Owen and Claire are drawn back into the world of dinosaurs when Maisie is kidnapped.

I’d like to say that Jurassic World: Dominion bucks this trend but that’s not entirely true. Like the ending of the second and third films, the movie is framed around the idea of dinosaurs no longer being confined to a faraway island, but this plot point isn’t explored in any great detail. Instead, a newscast and a few scenes throughout the beginning set the stage, showing that these genetically resurrected creatures are caused sporadic havoc and deaths across the glove as humans and animals alike struggle to adapt to their presence, but it’s not long at all before we’re back in an isolated jungle and contending with new carnivores. Since the last film, Owen and Claire had retired to a secluded cabin where they keep Maisie Lockwood (Sermon) isolated in order to protect her from the government and malevolent corporations like Biosyn Genetics, who would seek to study or destroy her since she’s a human clone. Naturally, she’s a typical rebellious teen; tired of being cooped up and their lack of trust, she often defies them to journey beyond her limits, but she forms a bond with Blue’s asexually-produced baby, which she names “Beta”, which the two are found to be nesting nearby. While struggling to find a way to be good parents to Maisie, Owen and Grady are horrified when Biosyn mercenaries kidnap both Maisie and Blue and waste no time in calling in old favours and accepting help from pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), who is seeking to atone for her part in the kidnapping.

Characters old and new must join forces to survive Biosyn’s newest and biggest dinosaur yet.

Their quest first takes them to Malta, where they witness first-hand the cruel depths of the dinosaur black market and clash with dinosaur smuggler Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman), who has weaponised Atrociraptors who attack anything they’re directed to via a laser pointer to give us an excuse for a thrilling chase through the claustrophobic streets (and to still have antagonistic ‘raptors, but it wouldn’t be a Jurassic film without that). However, while the likes of the Mosasaurus and Apatosaurus cause a bit of a nuisance, the real threat to our society ae these genetically-engineered locusts; spliced with dinosaur DNA to be much bigger and aggressive, these ugly bugs have been swarming across the country devouring any crops that aren’t manufactured by Biosyn, raising concerns for the returning (and now divorced, in one of a handful of all-too-brief nods to the second and third films) Doctor Ellie Sattler (Dern). Having been invited to Biosyn’s secluded dinosaur preservation facility by chaotician Doctor Ian Malcom (Goldblum), who has been working closely with Biosyn director Doctor Lewis Dodgson (Scott), to keep the dinosaurs safe and study them for medical purposes. Ellie brings along her old flame and associate, Doctor Alan Grant (Neill), reuniting the original Jurassic Park trio for the first time since 1993, and the three investigate Biosyn, which is secretly manufacturing the locusts. Malcolm, and his protégé Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie), have been working to scupper Dodgson’s plot to profit from his monstrosities, and the group infiltrate his facility to acquire concrete proof of his illegal activities. Dodgson was also behind the kidnapping of Maisie and Blue, though this was primarily the will of his lead geneticist, Doctor Henry Wu (BD Wong); having spent a lifetime recreating dinosaurs and cobbling together genetic abominations, Wu seeks to study Maisie and Blue’s unique genetic properties in order to destroy the locusts, though naturally the original protagonists are less than trusting of him due to his previous acts.

Unfortunately, we don’t really get to explore how dinosaurs have impacted the wider world.

If you were a fan of Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Doctor Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) from the last film then you’ll be disappointed to learn that they only get a brief cameo at the start of the film before disappearing entirely; in their place is Kayla, a mercenary pilot who inexplicably develops a conscience because she draws the line at kidnapping. Dodgson (who you may remember from his brief scene in Jurassic Park where he was played by Cameron Thor) is now this quirky, Steve Jobs-esque character who presents the image of a benevolent philanthropist but actually seeks to profit from the research he stole from Jurassic Park (many of the dinosaurs are from both islands and that can of shaving cream finally makes a reappearance). The real story, as ever, is the dinosaurs; this time around, we get to see how cruel they’ve been treated as poachers and other undesirables chain them up for sport, sell them, and even cook them up on the black market, though they’re allowed to roam freely at Biosyn’s secluded hideaway, where they’re even fitted with special chips to call them back to base in the event of an emergency. This time around, Wu has managed to (somehow…) resurrect a few dinosaurs in their purest form, without the need for other DNA to fill in the gene sequence gaps, meaning dinosaurs like the Pyroraptor now sport feathers; one of the most impressive shots of the film is dedicated to the mammoth Dreadnoughtus; and the entire site is also protected by a vaguely-defined air protection system that keeps the Quetzalcoatlus’ at bay (and, when it’s deactivated, they cause a pretty intense, if unbelievably survivable, plane crash). In addition to the long-awaited (for me, anywhere) return of the venom-spitting Dilophosaurus and the series staple, the Tyrannosaurus rex, was also get some fearsome new dinos: a bunch of vicious Dimetrodon stalk Grant, Ellie, and Maisie in the cave sunder the facility, Claire has a close encounter with the horrific long-clawed Therizinosaurus, and Biosyn have even brought back one of the largest and most aggressive carnivore ever known, the Giganotosaurus, which acts as the film’s primary dinosaur antagonist to rival the T. rex in the same vein as its predecessors, the Spinosaurus and Indominus rex.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Pretty much all of Jurassic World: Dominion’s marketing focused on three key elements: dinosaurs out in the world, the return of the original protagonists, and the rescue of Beta. Unfortunately, the film struggles a bit to juggle these elements in a satisfactory way; it almost feels like there’s two scripts stapled together as Ellie and Grant’s side mission feels a little tacked on to the primary concern of  simple kidnapping plot, and both of these take precedence over the concept of exploring what it means to have dinosaurs roaming through cities and suburbs. Sadly, this latter aspect is barely touched upon; we get some cool shots of them flying between skyscrapers and lumbering alongside elephants and such, and the stuff with the black market and the lip service of his disruptive it all is there, but it’s largely secondary compared to the locust swarm, which just isn’t as interesting when you’ve got Allosaurus’s stomping around. While it’s great to see the original trio back (and Goldblum toned his performance down a little), it does feel like a bit of a rewrite could’ve seen Franklin and Zia (or even Claire) will their role; I appreciate the filmmakers going all-in with trying to make this the biggest Jurassic film ever by bringing them back and having them team up with their younger counterparts, but their interactions are a bit weak (Ellie and Claire team up to reset the facility’s power, much like in Jurassic Park, while Grant reluctantly helps Owen and Maisie capture Beta to take her home) and all of them inexplicably survive the most unbelievable situations (with Malcolm now able to not only stand his ground against a Giganotosaurus but even toss a flaming spear into its mouth).

While the locust and kidnapping plots don’t land too well, the dinosaurs look as fantastic as ever.

So, while Biosyn’s facility might not be on an island, we are effectively back in Jurassic Park/Jurassic World for the majority of the film as Dodgson has built an advanced laboratory and sanctuary for the wild dinosaurs so he can study them alongside his team of scientists. Thankfully, the dinosaur effects look fantastic; there were some moments where it was clearly CGI, but others where I wasn’t so sure and there appeared to be a decent amount of animatronics and physical effects used throughout the film. While it’s hard to believe that Claire, Owen, and Kayla survive half the stuff they endure as they’re being chased, ejected, or crashing and there’s numerous times when the protagonists ae able to dodge, outrun, and even fight back against not just the smaller dinosaurs but the bigger ones too, there’s a decent amount of tension applied in certain scenes (particularly Claire’s escape from the Therizinosaurus). This time around, much of the carnage could’ve been easily avoided were it not for Maisie once again wreaking havoc by releasing a dinosaur, in this case Beta, even though Wu is clearly trying to atone for his mistake with the locust by studying the two (a fairly invasive and simple procedure, if the ending is anything to go by). Instead, her actions cause a chain reaction that see Dodgson reluctantly incinerate his locusts to cover up his involvement, which causes a forest fire when they are bizarrely able to stay flying and functional when ablaze. Though he tries to escape, he’s set upon by the Dilophosaurus’s and the protagonists are caught between another gigantic showdown as the T. rex and Giganotosaurus duke it out to decide which is the alpha male. Thankfully, the Therizinosaurus is also on hand this time to ensure that the T. rex remains the undisputed king and the film ends basically the same way as all Jurassic sequels do: the dinosaurs live on in the remains of the sanctuary as protected species and life will just have to find a way to co-exist with dinosaurs in the world.

The Summary:
I went into Jurassic World: Dominion just hoping that it’d be better than Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and, thankfully, it was…but not by much. As I say, the law of diminishing returns and normalising the dinosaurs to such an extent that it’d not even worth properly exploring what it means to see them out in our world rather than confined to an island really keeps the film from properly living up to its potential and exploring new avenues. We almost get that when Owen and Claire are tracking Santos, but it’s not long before we’re basically back in Jurassic Park again and going through the same beats as the first and third movies. The larger plot of the locust swarm is pretty weak and seems to be a ham-fisted way of tackling global concerns regarding food and the environment; even though they’re posing a real threat to our survival, no amount of locusts is every going to be as visually impressive or interesting compared to friggin’ dinosaurs! Seeing Grant, Ellie, and Malcolm return to the franchise, and in prominent roles, was great; they slipped back into it nice and easily and had some fun interactions with their younger counterparts, but again this really does feel like forced pandering and a way to cash in on nostalgia. The new dinosaurs, particularly the sadly under-utilised Pyroraptor and the pretty horrific Therizinosaurus were great additions, but the Giganotosaurus really didn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before from the Spinosaurus and Indominus rex besides giving the fan favourite T. rex something new to chomp away at. In the end, Jurassic World: Dominion is a decent enough action/monster film; it drags a bit a suffers from pacing issues, and there was some weird lines and delivery sprinkled throughout, but the effects were pretty awesome and there was a lot of fan service laced throughout. I, personally, would’ve liked to see more explicit references to the second and third film and feel it could’ve done with being a bit shorter, or spending more time exploring the impact dinosaurs have had on our world, but it was enjoyable enough for what it was and a decent enough note for the franchise to finally (hopefully…) go out on.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Jurassic Park: Dominion? Did you enjoy seeing the original cast come back or did you think they were a little unnecessary to the overall plot? What did you think to the threat of the locusts and do you think it was a mistake to not focus ore on the dinosaurs’ impact on the world? Which of the new dinosaurs was your favourite and were you disappointed to see the film was effectively set in another dinosaur park? Are you a fan of Jurassic Park’s sequels or do you consider the first one to be the best? Would you like to see another film in the franchise or do you agree that it’s time to let it die? Whatever your thoughts on Jurassic Park, sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

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