Whatever cosmic fate befell the dinosaurs, it’s hard to imagine their demise being worse than this latest — and allegedly final — chapter of the six-film Jurassic franchise.
A series that has always had its humanity — and eaten it, too — the long-dormant franchise bellowed back to life with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World (2015), a deeply cynical film about cynical theme-park practice that nonetheless featured many people being satisfyingly chomped, pecked and swallowed — the very reasons, let’s face it, that these movies can be so much fun.
Its follow-up, JA Bayona’s horror-tinged Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), drew out the series’ underlying, giddy misanthropy — or at least its critique of human hubris — to end on a literal cliffhanger in which dinosaurs were finally let loose on the world to menace a distinctly, fittingly Spielbergian suburbia.
Chaos was on the menu, and it was exciting.
Jurassic World Dominion, which returns the middling Trevorrow to the director’s chair, wastes no time in dashing those expectations.
In a lazy opening montage, news reports inform us that yes, dinosaurs have caused a few deaths and minor traffic accidents, but on the whole they seem to be widely tolerated minor irritants — or worse, subjects for poaching, black-market dealing, and nefarious pharmaceutical interests.
There’s nary a Triceratops hosting an evening talk show nor a T-Rex running for local government, elements which would seem like no brainers for even the most basic screenwriter.
Instead we find Chris Pratt’s one-time raptor wrangler Owen Grady and his partner, Bryce Dallas Howard’s park administrator Claire Dearing, hiding out in the Nevada mountains with their adopted daughter, Isabella Sermon’s now-teenage Maisie Lockwood — the clone girl from Fallen Kingdom whose DNA holds some kind of secret connection between humanity and its reptilian counterparts.
In an early, almost touching scene, Pratt, sporting a lumberjack shirt and riding horseback, wrangles a Parasaurolophus in a Valley of Gwangi-like moment that might have made Ray Harryhausen smile.
Meanwhile, the series’ latest avatar for unchecked capitalism and gene-splice-meddling, a company called BIOSYN, have unleashed a plague of genetically modified super locusts on the world’s farming crops, for reasons that are so ill-conceived and ultimately irrelevant to the action that they require little explanation.
Their boss, Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), is the Hollywood villain du jour — a futuristic-grey-wearing, Zuckerberg-adjacent tech magnate who even the most uninitiated viewer knows will get his reptilian comeuppance.
When BIOSYN goons capture Maisie, they lead Owen and Claire — together with mercenary pilot Kayla Watts, played by DeWanda Wise — on a chase that takes them to the company’s facility in Italy, where the bulk of the movie’s action takes place.
Rather than accommodate the thrill of a worldwide dino rampage — Fallen Kingdom’s promise to break the series’ familiar template — Dominion shrinks, effectively repeating the same old beats by restaging Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, right down to the climactic T-Rex-versus-adversary showdown.
Because this is the concluding series in a franchise inaugurated by Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, all the way back in that relative time of wonder, 1993, Dominion must also find ways to crowbar original stars Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum into proceedings — which it does with a minimum of fanfare and a maximum of shoddy dialogue, forced plotting and contrived emotional threads.
Dern’s Dr Ellie Sattler, now a convenient expert in locusts, and Sam Neill’s paleontologist Dr Alan Grant, are tipped off by a mole inside BIOSYN, where Goldblum’s leather-clad Dr Ian Malcolm is taking a lucrative pay cheque as the resident rockstar chaotician. Their reunion has all the emotional spark of three actors who’ve barely met each other, let alone co-starred in one of Hollywood’s most iconic blockbusters — which doesn’t stop the filmmakers attempting to force an autumnal romance between Sattler and Grant, nor laying on thick snippets of John Williams’s Jurassic Park theme in a transparent effort to spark the audience’s emotional response.
With its tangle of dull plots, under-utilised characters and ham-fisted swings at ecological metaphor, Dominion is distractingly busy but never compelling.
It really is startling how poorly imagined and executed this movie is, especially considering the weight of expectations, nostalgia and the series’ own cinematic precedent — who could forget the dazzling and groundbreaking thrill of the imagery in Spielberg’s first film, which invited the audience to share in its genuine awe.
Though they’re rendered in the handsome, computer-generated late style of the franchise, the dinosaurs mostly feel secondary, inserted as low-level obstacles whenever the filmmakers run out of human intrigue — which is often — or when they stop to remember that, just maybe, the big lizards are what the audience is here to see.
Sequences like a motorcycle chase though the streets of Malta feel like offcuts from a second-unit James Bond sequence, while clashes between an Allosaurus and a T-Rex — or a should-be-spectacular Quetzalcoatlus duel with a plane — are merely tossed off among rote action that has little sense of dramatic rhythm.
Every dinosaur encounter feels like a shrug, de-fanged of suspense, terror or anything approaching a sense of amazement that these ancient beings are casually roaming the earth.
If the film’s characters aren’t even in thrall to the dinosaurs, what chance does an audience have?
Actors of the calibre of Dern and Neill are left to mouth perfunctory lines and hope that their cloned 1993 outfits — and sunglasses-removing gaping — might summon something resembling audience goodwill, while Goldblum, so essential to the first film’s human spark and sass, is left with a succession of clunkers that curdle his charisma into tired schtick.
“Jurassic World?” Goldblum wonders at one point. “Not a fan.”
It’s one of the screenplay’s many pitiful attempts at meta-humour — and one that comes off as inadvertent self-critique.
If this is the best a franchise tentpole can do, bring on the meteor.
Jurassic World Dominion is in cinemas now.