When Top Gun: Maverick dropped a few weeks ago it gave me a whole lot of hope. The era of the “legacyquel” has risen, playing on returning performers to nostalgic parts in the hopes of bringing butts back to seats for the theatrical releases. While Pete Mitchell’s return to the skies turned into an undeniable triumph, Colin Trevorrow’s sequel trilogy to the Spielberg-produced (and mostly directed) original films has been met with mixed results. Much of that is due to its utter self-awareness and lack of ability to avoid the pitfalls it seemed to be lampooning. While the first film is merely an entertaining misfire, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom went from an eco-disaster flick to a buddy cop comedy starring Chris Pratt and a Velociraptor against a genetically altered dinosaur with Bugs Bunny powers in a gothic haunted mansion and somehow that worked. The film ended with questions about cloning, environmental disaster, and the meshing of a dead ecosystem with our modern world.
Jurassic World Dominion is about none of these things.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) have been living off the grid to some degree. Northern California is now a snowy dinosaur hub that the rest of the world isn’t sure what to do with. Dreadnoughtus roam through logging companies, Atrociraptors are bought and sold on the black market, and the Mosasaurus is bothering fishing vessels off the coast. The couple splits their time dino-wrangling, with Grady doing so quite literally while Dearing is breaking into underground breeding facilities to save young dinosaurs. Their adopted daughter, Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), is in hiding because genetics company Biosyn (Evil Inc.) is hunting for her. See, she’s the first human clone, and her original altered the DNA so she’d avoid genetic disease. This means her cells are the key to unlocking all life on Earth and, well, tech genius billionaire Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott in a great turn, replacing Cameron Thor since he’s a certifiable monster) wants those genes to exploit. Oh, and the trio from the original film (Laura Dern, Sam Niell, and Jeff Goldblum) is back for some shenanigans with ancient locusts.
It is an absolutely audacious choice to go from dinosaur action silliness to an espionage thriller that is essentially, “What if Elon Musk kidnapped a child and accidentally wiped out most of the world’s food supply?” It’s a biotech thriller, but on multiple occasions it doesn’t even have the decency to feature dinosaurs. There are shining bright spots, particularly a bit of mishegoss in a dino black market in Malta, but those are few and far between in a franchise that long ago ran out of steam. Do we care about any of our heroes? Sort of, but that’s because it’s not Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, or even Ian Malcolm that are back – it’s the performers. We’re excited to see them, often in almost the exact same costume they wore for Spielberg’s classic, and that carries some of their scenes even when the new crew can’t hold their own. It’s bold to swerve so hard, but it just feels like the problems we got with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker all over again.
It’s still fun to look at dinosaurs, and watching these often-feathered creatures stomp around human civilization is fun. This was the concept promised in the trailers, in the last film, and by the director – Colin Trevorrow. It’s not what this film is about and that’s the ultimate slap in the face to those going out opening weekend. You’ll get some excellent dinosaur kills (a Carnataur snatching a man off of a segway is super delightful) but I just can’t defend most of this mess. It’s an entertaining mess, but a mess all the same. If the snippets of dino action can’t be enough for you then I’m afraid you’re going to be pissed.
Jurassic World Dominion is a hodgepodge of elements that don’t sing in tune, but there’s something fun about watching a trainwreck. It has the audacity to just go and go and go, keeping us in seats long after the desire to leave has set in and only feeding us just enough entertainment to make us shrug in acceptance. This isn’t a film so much as an endurance test, and while the audience may stick around the franchise is out of steam. I had fun with it, but I don’t know who else will.
Jurassic World Dominion is currently in theatres.