An early scene in Jurassic World: Dominion finds Drs. Grant and Sattler (Sam Neill and Laura Dern) watching dinosaurs from their descending chopper. “It never gets old,” Grant intones and, as much as I want to scoff with cynicism, he’s not wrong. It’s not just Neill’s always impressive arched eyebrow or Michael Giachinno’s reliably excellent score that makes the scene work. It’s the dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs are cool, and movies about dinosaurs are cool. Stephen Spielberg made a masterpiece with the original Jurassic Park, but he didn’t have to do that (and couldn’t do it again, if The Lost World is any indication). Put a bunch of dinosaurs on screen, and my inner child will think you’ve made a great movie.
So how did Colin Trevorrow mess this up? Trevorrow directed Jurassic World, perhaps the best example of a movie that is utter garbage except for the fact that it has dinosaurs and dinosaurs are cool. And yet, Jurassic World: Dominion seems to think that we’ve come to see everything except the dinosaurs.
Sometimes, it works. I’ll admit to thrilling at seeing Neill and Dern rejoin Jeff Goldblum. Even if the actors quickly slip back into their well-worn stage personas and sleepwalk through the material, I like those personas and the nostalgia makes me happy.
But instead of even scoring easy points with a fan-favorite cast, Jurassic World: Dominion fills the story with all sorts of faces, diminishing the power of the few characters who work.
The movie’s big bad is Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott, taking over from Cameron Thor), who viewers may remember as the bucket-hatted man mocked by Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) in the first film. His corporate espionage not stymied by Nedry’s death in the first film, Dodgson has become CEO of a powerful scientific firm Biosyn. How Biosyn came to be and what, exactly, they do is never terribly clear, but they’ve hired B.D. Wong’s Henry Wu, the evil cloning scientist of the Jurassic World trilogy, for a project involving dinosaurs and giant locusts.
Through Wu, Dodgson has also taken an interest in young Masie (Isabella Sermon), a cloned girl introduced in the previous film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Now grown to a surly teen, Masie lives with the heroes of the new trilogy, Jurassic World president-turned-dinosaur-rights-activist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the raptor-trainer who the movies take very great pains to assure is very cool. When poachers in the employ
Tired? Well don’t give up yet, because there’s still an international espionage sequence involving exotic animal trader Santos (Dichen Lachman), rogue pilot Kayla (DeWanda Wise, the only character who really pops in the movie), Fallen Kingdom side-characters Zia (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin (Justice Smith) finding new purpose, and more. And, again, giant mutated locusts.
Trevorrow takes back the director’s chair after ceding it to J.A. Bayona for Fallen Kingdom, and it’s a serious downgrade. Where Bayona brought a lyricism to the first half of Fallen Kingdom and genuine horror chops to the haunted house sequence in the second half, Trevorrow can’t seem to handle the over-abundance of ideas conjured by him and his co-writers (story co-written by frequent collaborator Derrick Connolly and screenplay co-written by Emily Carmichael). The film combines aspects of a family drama, spy flick, tech thriller, and adventure movie, but handles none of them well.
Where Trevorrow seems distracted as a writer, he comes off as lackadaisical as a director. For all of its flaws, Jurassic World had its share of well-composed action sequences, such as the oft-discussed pteranodon attack that ends with a mosasaur lunch. Throughout the scene, the camera cleanly followed the action, ensuring that viewers understood the threat facing the characters.
But here, Trevorrow makes bizarre choices that, at best, disrupt the flow of action and, at worst, render the narrative incomprehensible. A largely exciting chase sequence through Italian streets seems cool, especially with a raptor snapping at Claire. But Trevorrow too often uses shot/reverse shots to convey the action, giving us one image of Claire swiping at the camera followed by another of the raptor chomping at the camera. We rarely get wide shots showing us the relationship between the two characters, which completely deflates all tension.
These problems happen not just on a scene level, but in the overall story. Plot points feel haphazard, as do the character relationships. Most notably, Scott plays Dodgson as a Steve Jobs-type CEO with a strong personality, given to odd ticks and social faux-pas. It’s a strong choice and potentially interesting to watch, but none of the other characters respond to him as if he’s doing anything odd. Scott seems to exist in a totally different movie, which is a problem when the film wants us to care about Dodgson’s relationship with a supporting character.
With all this going on, you might notice that I haven’t talked much about the dinosaurs. Across the board, the dinosaurs look great, enhanced by Trevorrow’s decision to use practical effects as much as possible. Even better, the movie brings in some interesting creatures, including feathered dinos therizinosaur and pyroraptor, as well as returning animals the T-Rex and raptors. Surprisingly, Trevorrow even restores a sense of wonder to the creatures in an early sequence involving an apatosaurus on a construction site.
Given the power and beauty of the scenes in which humans interact with dinos, and the novelty of seeing dinosaurs in the real world for the first time (save the ending of The Lost World), you have to wonder why in the world Trevorrow and co. would decide to locate the action in another contained space, this time a dino rescue instead of an island. But that’s just one of the many strange and dissatisfying choices this movie makes, from making giant locusts and clone girls the plot drivers to having Grant and Statler do espionage.
For Jurassic World: Dominion, Trevorrow found the one way to make a bad movie about dinosaurs: focus on everything except the dinosaurs.