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Jurassic World Dominion review: Yikes!

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Dir: Colin Trevorrow. Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong, Omar Sy. 12A, 146 minutes.

Jurassic World Dominion, which doles out fan service like it’s being held at gunpoint, features a shot of Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) tearing her sunnies off in wild disbelief. We are, of course, meant to think of the very same moment in Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park when she and Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) first set eyes on a real-life dinosaur. It was also the first time audiences ever saw them, in all their cutting-edge, computer-generated glory. What a perfect evocation of pure awe – a way to encapsulate the technological prowess being paraded about the screen, wrapped in the pure simplicity of movie magic.

In Dominion, when Ellie repeats the action, she’s looking at… drum roll... an empty cornfield. Genetically modified, chihuahua-sized locusts have been destroying crops across the midwestern United States. The only fields left unaffected are planted with seeds engineered by Biosyn Genetics, the company that sent Wayne Knight’s villainous Dennis Nedry to steal embryos from Jurassic Park in the first film. And so Ellie decides to get the gang – the gang being Alan and Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) – back together to conduct a little corporate espionage. We lucky audiences, in 2022, get to hear a pop culture luminary like Ellie Sattler talk about how Ian “slid into [her] DMs”. Yikes.

Meanwhile, the leads of the Jurassic World movies, velociraptor cowboy Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), are busy chasing after a kidnapped Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a human clone of the daughter of one of Jurassic Park’s original founders. At some point in all of this, dinosaurs make an appearance. But is this what anyone wanted?

Dominion is the final entry into a trilogy that, at no point, ever knew what it was doing. It’s been like watching a cook completely butcher a recipe, before manically pouring in spice after spice to try and fix it. If there’s one thing that defines the Jurassic World movies, it’s indecision – on the part of Colin Trevorrow, who directed both the first and third instalments; in the script he co-wrote with Emily Carmichael; and present in almost every performance on screen. All we’ve ever seen are the crumbs of ideas for better Jurassic films that no one ever had the boldness of vision to commit to.

In Jurassic World, Vincent D’Onofrio’s character threatened to militarise the velociraptors. Dinosaurs with guns? Cool, they should have done that! In Fallen Kingdom, Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong, who spends Dominion sitting around looking miserable in a cardigan) spliced together dinosaur genes to create the doubly ferocious Indoraptor. Mutant dinosaurs? Cool, they should have done that! By the start of Dominion, the dinosaurs have been unleashed from captivity. Dinosaurs among us? Cool, they should have done that!

And, yet, this film can’t even make it halfway through its runtime before introducing a new, only slightly improved Jurassic Park hidden somewhere in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains – a Biosyn campus where captured dinosaurs are transported to live out the rest of their days. The only way to really enjoy Dominion is to hold tight to those small sparks of imagination. And there are a handful of truly great sequences, alongside an admirable commitment to the original film’s blend of animatronics and CGI animation.

There’s a car chase in the middle of Malta where a velociraptor gets absolutely decked by a metal pole. Some genetic fiddling introduces the feathered and more scientifically accurate Therizinosaurus to the pack – a nightmarish creature with Babadook claws. DeWanda Wise, as pilot Kayla Watts, slips so easily into the Han Solo-esque, reluctant hero role that it’s frustrating she’s been introduced so late in the trilogy.

Jurassic Park has always had a mean streak, an inkling that these prehistoric predators had arrived as a form of cosmic punishment, ready to devour heartless bureaucrats even while they cowered inside portaloos. The newer films have only ever hesitantly flirted with the idea. Fallen Kingdom had its brief, haunted-house-meets-dinosaurs sequence, without ever delivering on the full horror of talons and teeth. Here, the locusts have the potential to replicate the squishy revulsion of the giant bugs in Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, if only Dominion wasn’t so stubbornly bloodless.

Nothing quite highlights the lack of identity in the Jurassic World trilogy than when its new characters are forced to stand face-to-face with the original trio of Dern, Neill, and Goldblum. They’re all delightful. Goldblum, especially, seems to have been given permission to spend most of the film making fun of whatever’s happening on screen. They might be here purely for fan-demanded wish fulfilment, but they’re also a stark reminder of why Spielberg’s film worked so well. Yes, it was always about the dinosaurs, but their wonder and dangers were always measured through the eyes of smart, grounded, capable people. That’s never been the case for Jurassic World.

Laura Dern and a really big dinosaur in ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ (Universal Pictures)
Laura Dern and a really big dinosaur in ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ (Universal Pictures)

Dallas Howard, despite being the human personification of a cup of warm cocoa, is never allowed to be more than something vaguely matriarchal. Pratt, scraped of every last bit of charisma he’s expressed in Guardians of the Galaxy or Parks and Recreation, is an empty vessel of American masculinity – he genuinely says “go on, get” to a dinosaur at one point, and carries around the world’s tiniest knife as if that would be enough to down a T rex. The heteronormativity of it all is so thick it feels oppressive, even when Wise’s Kayla gets thrown a couple of vague references to her bisexuality.

When the old and new characters finally team up, John Williams’s classic theme rears its head. I suppose we’re meant to feel as if this is some great union, but it looks more like a few fans have been granted a photo opp. Though Dominion marks the end of the Jurassic World trilogy, I can’t imagine this is the last we’ll see of the franchise. As they say, life finds a way. Hopefully next time they’ll have actually figured out what they’re doing.

‘Jurassic World Dominion’ is in cinemas from Friday 10 June

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