3 out of 5 stars

The Jurassic Park franchise has been trying to recapture lightning in a bottle ever since Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original became a phenomenon and transformed VFX in the process. It was my generation’s Star Wars (1977) and the five sequels that followed have been of mixed quality, if always entertaining, incredibly successfully, and occasionally offering a nice surprise. I’m of the opinion Jurassic World (2015) was a fantastic rebirth of the franchise, with a story set inside a functioning park full of holidaymakers for whom dinosaurs (much like CGI beasties) are no longer a big thrill. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) has its supporters and was superbly directed by J.A Bayona, but the first half played like a denouement to World and the second was nonsense about billionaires auctioning prehistoric animals for laughably low prices.

Colin Trevorrow directed World, co-wrote Kingdom, and here returns to complete his trilogy, which is ironic considering he was removed from the last Star Wars sequel because Lucasfilm got cold feet after The Book of Henry (2017) was a catastrophe that made everyone doubt him. Universal nevertheless rehired him for Jurassic World: Dominion, which at least means the World trilogy has a cohesive vision behind it (even if you don’t like it), unlike how the Star Wars sequels didn’t have a plan from the beginning and the producers cowed by fan outrage.

It’s been four years since the events of Fallen Kingdom and dinosaurs are now uncaged and roaming the planet… but Dominion has little interest in tackling that situation beyond a few newsreels about pterodactyls nesting atop skyscrapers and a mosasaurus attacking a fishing trawler. Instead, the story is split between two groups of characters representing the two Jurassic trilogies: erstwhile velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is living with his girlfriend Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the mountains, raising human clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) as their own daughter and protecting her from organisations for whom she represents a revolution in science; and elsewhere, Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) investigates the emergence of giant locusts she believes have been genetically modified by a company called Biosyn to eradicate rival crops. And this may lead to world hunger and the extinction of the human race.

The two stories slowly converge after Maisie is kidnapped by Biosyn operatives, who also steal a baby raptor belonging to Blue (the moderately “tame” creature Owen trained at Jurassic World), and Ellie decides to sneak around Biosyn for evidence of crimes with the help of old flame Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill), where they both run into mutual friend Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). It’s a sweaty way to set up the story and it’s almost an hour before Dominion gets around to its first action set-piece—a motorcycle chase through the streets of Malta, evading raptors trained to kill.

The curious thing about Dominion is how the story and the motivations of the characters aren’t driven by the dinosaurs. Biosyn’s CEO Dr Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) is the main villain, visually inspired by Apple’s Tim Cook, but the underlying problems facing Ellie, Owen, and Claire concern deadly locusts and two kidnappings. The dinos are more of a background issue causing problems along the way, particularly during the climax at the Biosyn HQ (which is set inside a doughnut-shaped compound that doubles as a sanctuary for recaptured dinosaurs). And yes, many duly escape, as tradition dictates with the Jurassic franchise.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Laura Dern emerge from Dominion the best, as both their characters have clear and believable reasons to be involved in these proceedings. Claire is utilised far better than she has been in the previous World movies, even if the reason for that is assigning her the overused motivation of becoming a bad-ass mother trying to rescue her imperilled daughter. In contrast, Pratt’s lack of romantic chemistry with Howard, coupled with his bland ‘action man’ persona (that really only stretches to his physique), makes this the weakest use of Owen so far. Guardians of the Galaxy is the only successful role Pratt has delivered in movies, as Peter Quill is a lovable idiot trying to be the romantic action man figure and mostly struggling with the demands. When he plays things straight in these Jurassic World films, it doesn’t work because he’s innately wired as a comedic actor.

The excitement of having the three original stars of Jurassic Park (1993) back was a wonderful marketing tool, but there’s not much magic in seeing them return. They simply get involved with little to no fanfare (and it bewilders me that Dr Grant is still digging up fossils in a world where dinosaurs now exist again), and beyond brief moments when Michael Giacchino’s score reprises John Williams’ iconic theme the nostalgia isn’t deployed well. Dr Sattler, Dr Grant, and Dr Malcolm also aren’t exactly on the level of Luke, Leia and Han Solo, as the dinosaurs have always been the real stars of the show. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that Goldblum makes the best impression because he’s handed the funniest lines.

The dinosaurs themselves, despite being less essential to the story, are again brought to life as well as one expects 30 years after ILM blew everyone’s minds with the 1993 movie. The magic of what Jurassic Park meant to filmgoers has dissipated so much that it’s no longer a marvel to see photorealistic dinosaurs moving around on the big screen, of course, but I was pleased to see a wider variety of beasts in this instalment. The fan-favourite velociraptors and T-Rex make returns, along with some dilophosaurus, but we also have newcomers like the aerial quetzalcoatlus, the long-clawed therizinosaurus, and a feathered pyroraptor that can also swim. The action sequences they’re involved with are usually entertaining and Trevorrow creates some memorable visuals—like a shot of Claire holding her breath underwater, inches away from a dinosaur lurking above the surface.

Overall, Jurassic World: Dominion is better than Fallen Kingdom because it does something different and has a better variety of creatures and spectacle, plus the added appeal of getting the legacy characters back for what feels like the last movie in this saga. It’s difficult to see how more Jurassic films could justify their existence, although perhaps one focusing on how dinosaurs become a bigger issue for mankind (which this movie was expected to focus on) might be an avenue worth exploring.

However, Jurassic Park is much like Jaws (1975) in the sense it was a revolutionary movie that changed cinema forever, and every sequel is doomed to languish in its brachiosaurus-sized shadow. A lot of people will hate Dominion for taking things down such an unexpected path (an ecological disaster threatened by locusts and not dinosaurs), and for how Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael’s (Pacific Rim: Uprising) screenplay doesn’t make much sense and bizarre choices are the norm. But this certainly isn’t Jaws: The Revenge (1987) levels of abysmal for the sixth in a long-running franchise, it’s just a run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster from a franchise that was once the apex predator of its ilk.

USA MALTA | 2022 | 146 MINUTES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

frame rated divider universal

Cast & Crew

director: Colin Trevorrow.
writers: Colin Trevorrow & Emily Carmichael (story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow, based on characters created by Michael Crichton).
starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, DeWanda Wise, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Mamoudou Athie & Campbell Scott.