Jurassic World: Dominion: Extinction Event, by Tyler Smith
When you walk into Jurassic World: Dominion, the question isn’t whether or not the film will be stupid. Given the previous films in the latest trilogy, that much goes without saying. The question is just how stupid the film will be. Sadly, the latest Jurassic World is so shamelessly nonsensical – and yet so laughably obvious – that it genuinely boggles the mind. As the story unfolded and each new plot point was revealed, I sat aghast at the thought that this could ever be considered a legitimate movie. It’s more of a collection of half-baked – and unrelated – story ideas thrown together into one mind-numbing cacophony. Like the creatures contained within it, this film is unnatural; a capitalistic calculation with little thought given to the eventual, horrendous outcome.
The story takes place several years after the release of genetically-engineered dinosaurs into the world. As one might expect, many of the dinosaurs are a menace (like the aquatic mosasaurus that capsizes a crab fishing boat, in one of the film’s few effective sequences), while others are ruthlessly poached and exploited. Leading the charge in dinosaur research and experimentation is the monolithic company Biosyn, led by Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). The company’s interest in genetics extends beyond dinosaurs to the breeding of swarms of giant locusts, which consume all but Biosyn crops. Investigating this unusual phenomenon are Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill), tipped off by the irrepressible Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Elsewhere, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) attempt to protect Owen’s beloved velociraptor Blue, as well as their recent ward, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), herself a genetic clone, from Biosyn’s clutches. All roads eventually lead to the company’s dinosaur sanctuary, where threats loom around every corner.
If this story seems like a lot to keep track of, it’s primarily because the film is trying to be everything at once. It is cobbled together from bits of the Mission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, and Indiana Jones films, keeping the pulse-pounding action sequences at the forefront of every scene. Unfortunately, while the film is busy trying to imitate these other films, the one thing it forgets to be is an effective Jurassic World movie.
Though these films have always been primarily about spectacle, these movies have always featured memorable characters played by reliable actors. And while none of the subsequent casts of characters can compare with that of the original Jurassic Park, we have been treated to some nicely over-the-top performances from veterans like Pete Postlethwaite, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Geraldine Chaplin, James Cromwell, and Ted Levine. Here, though, the characters are little more than placeholders, their actions and motivations treated with a shrug and rarely elevated by the actors, whose performances can best be described as “workmanlike”.
Unsurprisingly, the exception is Jeff Goldblum, who is given good material as Malcolm and understands exactly how to play it. Gone is the action hero of The Lost World, replaced with the know-it-all philosopher we saw in the first film. Goldblum breathes some much-needed life into every scene he is in. Similarly, Campbell Scott, as Dodgson, finds some mercifully-offbeat notes to play. Scott portrays our antagonist as a nebbish-yet-charismatic visionary, reminiscent of Bill Gates. Dodgson is often a monster, but also seems a bit surprised and bewildered by his own ruthlessness. He adds actual human layers to an otherwise-uninspired character, and the film is better for it.
While it’s not a surprise that most of the human characters have been diminished to near-irrelevance, what shocked me was how perfunctory many of the dinosaur scenes are. With a few notable exceptions, these scenes seem to just be going through the motions, establishing a threat, throwing in a few near-misses, then moving on. This happens over and over again, with only the occasional moments of real terror or awe. Iconic dinosaurs are treated with all the weight of an extended cameo, which is especially egregious when we’re expected to suddenly care about them, as when the tyrannosaurus battles with the newly-introduced Giganotosaurus, which is the biggest carnivore in history. This new dinosaur is meant to be a sort of ever-present threat, but we regularly forget that it exists at all, as opposed to the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III or the Indominus Rex in the first Jurassic World. The film regularly refers to the Giganotosaurus as the “apex predator” of the dinosaur sanctuary, but its actual appearances are rarely treated with any real stakes, thus breaking the cardinal rule of filmmaking: “Show, don’t tell”.
Unfortunately, the film spends much of its time telling us quite a bit, with scene after scene of shameless exposition (kicking things off with a news story that literally just explains what anybody living in a world of dinosaurs would already know). This is inevitable, I suppose, as there are so many story elements to establish, but it doesn’t make it easy to sit through. There were several times when breathlessly-revealed plot points were met with genuine chuckles in my theater.
As expected, the film has some fun action sequences, but that’s not that notable these days. Breathtaking CGI action has become the norm; it’s a strong story, memorable characters, and overall tone that give it resonance, and this film is lacking in all three. There are plenty of films that require us to turn our brains off in order to enjoy them, but Jurassic World: Dominion requires much more. It’s not enough for your brain to be off; you have to be brain dead.