Let’s talk about the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park. It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking, the best part of the entire Jurassic series, and it’s simple. Two kids enter a kitchen, two velociraptors follow, and they maneuver around each other in a small, well-established area. You can track where each raptor and each kid is, often seeing them in the same shot, and the tension comes from the almost unbearable feeling that there’s no way for the children to get out without going through some razor-sharp claws.
What the rest of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies never figured out is that simplicity would’ve been their greatest strength, because people come to these movies for one very simple reason: dinosaurs are cool. 10-year-olds know it. 80-year-olds know it. We all show up to these movies because watching dinosaurs come to life evokes a combination of such overwhelming awe and fear that they’re impossible to resist.
Pair that with solid storytelling fundamentals and you’ve got yourself a great movie, so in theory all the Jurassic films should be slam dunks. We got lucky when the first was made by the guy who wrote the fundamentals of modern monster movies, and to be honest, we probably didn’t deserve a dinosaur flick where he was operating at the top of his game. That the rest don’t live up to it is more a given than a dig, but even when throwing out the high bar that is Jurassic Park, Jurassic World Dominion is a bitter disappointment because, while it brings the dinosaurs, it fails to tell a solid story.
Allegedly wrapping up the Jurassic World series while bringing back your favorite characters from Jurassic Park, it was supposed to be a rousing end to the incessant attempts by rogue businessmen and scientists to bend dinosaurs to their will, but Dominion ultimately succumbs to a similar kind of arrogance. It makes the fatal mistake of thinking bigger is better, stuffing an overcomplicated plot, too many characters, and even more gigantic, dangerously engineered dinosaurs into a movie that completely disregards the lesson of simplicity the kitchen scene gave us. Nothing in Dominion is simple, including the locusts, and it drags the movie away from the simple pleasures of dinosaurs.
In the way of our toothy friends are the usual suspects. Chris Pratt’s Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire have adopted clone kid Maise (Isabella Sermon) and are trying to keep her from the grasp of the new evil corporation that owns the dinos, Biosyn. Meanwhile, Laura Dern’s Ellie suspects Biosyn of unleashing giant locusts to wipe out all crops not grown with their seeds, so she tries to infiltrate their facility to find proof with the help of her old friends Alan (Sam Neill) and Ian (Jeff Goldblum).
That means you spend an unexpected amount of time on giant locusts, and even if you enjoy a good ecosystem destruction threat like I do, the teasing end of the last movie where dinosaurs were unleashed across the world always feels like it should be the focus and not…locusts. And oh yeah, the locusts are kept at the main dinosaur sanctuary Biosyn has established, so of course the movie spends most of its time at this sanctuary (aka a park) instead of with the dinosaurs hanging around the cafés of Europe.
I cannot emphasize enough what a missed opportunity this is. Never mind the false advertising of switching the series name from Jurassic Park to Jurassic World and continuously getting stuck in more parks, the whole unimaginative scenario plunks you into similar set pieces as you’ve seen in all the other movies instead of indulging in the chaos that would’ve come from people being chased by dinosaurs literally anywhere else in the world.
More detrimentally, though, these set pieces, the backbone of the series, feel perfunctory in construction, lacking the neatness that would lead to more satisfying thrills. The fundamentals of tracking each character and dinosaur, establishing the ways out, and then letting them move around whatever area they’re in is chopped up by today’s penchant for overediting and overreliance on CGI, with the limitations of the latter taking away from both the awe and fear the stars of this show should inspire.
Some life is breathed into the movie by newcomer DeWanda Wise as a Han Solo-style smuggler, who has no more character development than anyone else in the movie (aka about two lines of motivation) but brings the easy swagger that’s always been missing from Pratt’s Owen. Mamoudou Athie also makes an admirable but doomed effort to do anything with the strange goings-on within Biosyn, which is completely destroyed by the tired and frankly offensive portrayal of its neurodivergent figurehead, who is offered up for gross laughs.
At the end of the day, though, there are still dinosaurs, and they do take bites out of humans and each other. There will always be a baseline pleasure in that, even when marred by terrible action, a tired plot, and ambivalent characterization (and locusts).
Release: available in theaters on June 10th
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writers: Colin Trevorrow, Emily Carmichael
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, Isabella Sermon, Campbell Scott, BD Wong