Jurassic World: Dominion Provides Exhilarating Action And Expositional Slumber In Equal Measure

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Jurassic World: Dominion is the sixth installment of the beloved dinosaur action-adventure franchise that has cost $714 million – including this film – to make and has earned over $5 billion dollars to date before this one opens in the U.S. market. It's safe to say that's an excellent return on investment. But more important to most moviegoers than the bottom line of any film’s final financials is the joy we all get from seeing these giant long extinct dinosaurs thrash and rampage wherever they wish on the biggest theater movie screens in town. Seeing these monstrous lizards instantly refills the viewer with our childhood love of these terrible beasts that we all seemed to share in our collective youth. I know I certainly would have liked to have been a paleontologist, long before I could even spell that word. I still can name a fair number of dinosaurs on sight., no need to Google anything. Had everyone's favorite director, Steven Spielberg, come up with Jurassic Park before he had produced Raiders of the Lost Ark with his director bestie, George Lucas, who knows? I could be digging up dinosaur bones instead of writing this review. But Raiders fostered an interest in archeology which I would come to discover doesn't pay nearly as well as paleontology. Long story short, I've spent most of my working life writing for banks of all places, and for nowhere near the money I could have made digging for old giant lizard bones. Maybe I will yet – it still pays better than film criticism! 

According to the most trusted source of information in the world -- the Internet -- Jurassic World: Dominion brings the final curtain down on the franchise. That's probably the case for this cast, but never say never in Hollywood. It likely won't take too much convincing for someone to say, "Hey, let's relaunch Michael Crichton's world of dinosaurs, based on his novels that sold millions of copies – it could make our studio half a billion dollars, easy! Everyone loves dinosaurs!" Money is king, folks. That's why Paramount keeps making Transformers movies that pretty much always suck…Paramount doesn't care when they make between three quarters of a billion dollars and over on each lousy film. 

But let's take the good folks at DreamWorks/Universal Pictures at their word and assume this is the end of the Jurassic Universe. That means it's time to say goodbye to the heroes of the Jurassic Park franchise: Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Ian Malcom (the always priceless Jeff Goldblum); and those of the Jurassic World franchise, raptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Other returning characters include young human clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon, dinosaur rights activist Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), hacker Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), dino wrangler Barry (Omar Sy), scientist with questionable ethics Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), scientist with even more questionable ethics -- and leader of the corrupt dino-pharmaceutical giant Biosyn -- Dr. Lewis Dodgson, who was last seen in 1993's Jurassic Park, now recast with the often subtle coolness of Campbell Scott. He plays Dodgson as a Steve Jobs type of misunderstood genius, promising to use his "ethically sourced" dinosaur specimens not for profit but for the greater good of humanity. Yeah, right, as if! And Pterodactyls might fly out of his butt! Notable new additions to the cast for the include hotshot smuggler with a guilty conscience Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), dinosaur and human trafficker Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman), and Dr. Dodgson's right-hand man Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie).

Director Colin Trevorrow, who wrote all of the screenplays for the Jurassic World films and also directed the first film of that "second'' franchise, returned to the helm for Jurassic World: Dominion. The results are a polarizing mixed bag of occasionally exhilarating moments of top-notch action and suspense interspersed between tedious exposition scenes. (REASONABLY SPOILER FREE REFERENCE HERE!) As probably shown briefly in one of the film's trailers, there's a motorcycle chase scene featuring Owne Grady demonstrating Evel Knievel-like two-wheeled motorbike skills while being chased down by weaponized Velociraptors! If only the rest of the film was as edge-of-your-seat exciting like that. Explaining how evil BioSyn is or how we need to learn to coexist better with the other species on this planet or face extinction ourselves just felt so unnecessary even if he’s kind of right. We’re all just here to see the dinosaurs, remember? People on either side of me at my screening were heard snoring at various times during the movie's 2 hours and 7 minutes runtime which actually feels longer due to the pacing problems. Snoring audiences are never a good sign at a suspenseful action movie screening. 

The action sequences were stellar and far more terrifying than in the previous films, boosted in part by the infusion of a dynamic new character and perhaps in some part by Trevorrow's return to old-school dinosaur animatronics. The more traditional method of special effects can be costly and sometimes more difficult and even dangerous to control during filming, whereas CGI is very safe to use. I don't know how to find the numbers to prove the comparison, but I find myself wondering if there's much cost savings to be found these days either way, when utilizing a fleet of animators, all likely at union wages, is likely just as expensive as building scale replica dinosaurs with articulated jaws, arms, legs, tails, etc. However, anyone who has seen the Star Wars prequels can tell you that you'll likely get a better performance out of your actors when they can react to a several story monstrosity of steel looming over their heads, rather than ask them to emote opposite a piece of tape or a Post-It note on a pole or a section of the wall that indicates where Jar Jar Binks' face would be drawn in during post production. If Sir Alec Guiness hated Goerge Lucas' directorial style in Star Wars: A New Hope, imagine his Sith-like level of hatred of having to swallow his Shakespearean training on a green screen set and teach the philosophy of the Force to various 3M products. But I digress...

Chris Pratt continued his reasonably undefeated streak of playing the winsome and resourceful hero role, utilizing shooting and driving skills that would make Jason Bourne or James Bond proud. And don't forget that Owen Grady has the near-druidic ability to communicate with highly intelligent (or so science tells us) Velociraptors. Beat that, 007! But wait--DeWanda Wise might actually be the better action hero here, despite some dubious character flaws you can probably just sleep through. She can run and gun just as well as Pratt, but is also as fine of an aircraft pilot as you'd ever hope to find when giant pterosaurs can shred your plane without a moment's hesitation. She's a cool character that I would enjoy seeing get a spin-off action-adventure franchise of her own, though they'd probably have to explain the lack of dinosaurs in such a spin-off if this is indeed the end of the Jurassic Universe. Perhaps her character arrived a little too late, or perhaps she would be the perfect character around which to build an entirely new Jurassic Universe 2.0? 

On a totally different level, young Isabella Sermon has all of two roles to her credit and they just happen to be Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom and Jurassic World: Dominion. Not a bad first couple of gigs to have at the top of her acting résumé! I thought she played the part of a confused teenage clone pretty well, and I defy anyone to disparage her acting talents otherwise! How many teenage clones do you know that you could draw acting inspiration from? I feel like there’s going to be a segment of the public who will whine incessantly about another damsel in distress role in this age of the easily offended. In this kind of film, someone was going to need to be rescued at some point. It’s a given. Maisie makes the most sense in service to the story. She’s more than just a girl caught between a dinosaur and a hard place, she’s a walking scientific anomaly. And besides, once you see the film, (TINY SPOILER ALERT!) you’ll see that she does more rescuing herself than the other way around.

I also wanted to point out that the role of Ramsay Cole could have been portrayed as a dull, lifeless corporate drone played just as easily by a robot from the special effects department, but Mamoudou Athie really turned it into something more. I'll say it right here, so everyone can bookmark this page for future reference: Mamoudou Athie could be the next Chadwick Boseman. I've just got a feeling about him, the same as I had when I first saw Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42. Athie could be that good. Come back in about five years after Athie has had a couple of leading roles under his belt and we can talk about how right I am on this prediction. In the meantime, somebody get Athie on either Jon Favreau’s or Kevin Fiege's radar, bronto…er…pronto! 

ATTENTION! BIG SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU DON'T WANT TO HAVE THIS PART OF THE FILM RUINED BEFORE YOU'VE SEEN IT, BOOKMARK OUR SITE AND COME BACK TO US WHEN YOU'RE READY!  The above is probably all most people need to know if they're reading this to decide if they want to see Jurassic World: Dominion or not. If this is your stop, thanks for reading! For the diehards out there, what follows is my personal issues with the Jurassic Universe films. They are not likely reasons shared by many, so if you wish to read further, please understand that. Thanks in advance. 

Ready? Set? Here we go!

Now that you've seen this movie, you know that Dr. Dodgson goes out like Wayne Knight's original Biosyn slimeball, Dennis Nadry, right down to the species of dinosaur that eats him and that old spycraft/corporate espionage favorite, a can of Barbasol Shaving Cream with a false bottom for smuggling highly valuable dinosaur DNA in. The bad guys always get their comeuppance in the Jurassic Universe, and the heroes never die, or even really get grievously injured…barely even a scrape…ever.

I kinda hate that. 

I find it a little -- no, make that extremely -- convenient and twice as unbelievable that every hero or quickly reforming-on-the-fly ne'er-do-wells survive anywhere from one to four movies' worth of close encounters with prehistoric monsters (Drs. Henry Wu and Ian Malcom each appeared in four Jurassic Universe films). I don't think most moviegoers will even begin to contemplate how infinitesimally small the odds would be for a human to survive an encounter with a creature from the late Cretaceous or Jurassic historical eras. Ask me to suspend my disbelief and buy into the resurrection of the dinosaurs? I'm perfectly willing and able to do that. That's actually not too scientifically implausible. I know, it's an extreme longshot, but don't troll me on this – there are actual real life scientists actively trying to return woolly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers into existence using DNA from modern species to fill in the blanks in the prehistoric genomes. See? Biosyn didn’t need such heavy handed set-ups – we all know corporate-controlled science labs are doing that kind of stuff for real, right now! But I find it hard to put away my analytical mind for a couple of hours and accept that not one of our heroes ever loses a limb or their life after so many run-ins with these giant lizards! Just running among a herd of benign herbivores such as Parasaurolophus or Nasutoceratops would be an insanely dangerous course of action. Running for your life with a T-Rex on your tail? The best you can hope for is that it tries to catch you with their laughably useless stubby little arms, but more than likely, you're getting chomped in half by the most awesome killing machine Earth has ever known. And somehow that only ever happens to the most vile of characters in the Jurassic Universe. 

On the heroic side, only Chris Pratt's Owen Grady possesses a believable skill set for survival, with newcomer DeWanda Wide's Kayla Watts running a near dead heat with him. Aging scientists such as Neill's Dr. Grant, Dern's Dr. Sattler and Goldblum's Dr. Malcolm have tremendous knowledge of dinosaurs which could certainly help bolster their survival odds but they're still...well...old. I don't know what ages these characters were purported to be in the Michael Crichton novels, but I think it's a safe bet that they are generally close to the ages of the actors portraying them. Sam Neill is now 74. Laura Dern is still relatively spry at 55 years young. The incomparable Jeff Goldblum will celebrate his milestone 70th birthday in October (From one Jeff to another, happy birthday in advance, Mr. Goldblum! Maybe we can plan to do an interview around your birthday? Have your people contact my...well, me. I can't afford to have people.) Two septuagenarian scientists and a middle aged paleobotanist are going to continually outrun and outsmart giant apex predators like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Giganotosaurus and the Velociraptors? Even for a science fiction action flick with occasionally dubious science, that's just too far of a stretch for me.

In truth, I'm probably the only person you'll know and almost certainly the only film critic you'll read that has a problem with all of the heroes coming out of this unscathed. It goes all the way back to the scene in the first Jurassic Park where the kid is climbing down the electric fence when Dr. Sattler turns the power back on. That's as close as this franchise ever gets to killing anyone who doesn't deserve it. I know, I get it. It would be horrendously unsavory for a family-oriented summer blockbuster to kill off a child. I'm not a monster, it’s nothing personal against this fictitious boy. But I am a realist when it comes to my science fiction. Growing up, my father worked on high voltage equipment for the local power company and I heard all sorts of grisly stories about what happens to critters and humans in that type of scenario. Obviously they'd never shoot that sort of ultra-realistic outcome in a franchise launched by Steen Speilberg, and you'd probably be hard-pressed to find any similarly gruesome depictions of what high voltage does to the human body in the horror movie genre (I wouldn't know, I don't watch horror films, don’t bother sending me your top human electrocution scene lists). As soon as that scene played out I was completely removed from my suspension of disbelief. Nope. I can’t buy it. That's not what would happen. Again, dinosaurs coming back from extinction, that I can get behind. Young Tim, played by Joseph Mazzello, surviving that shock from the fence? Never. Sorry Tim, but you should be pushing up the daisies for the T-Rex to trample upon.

And now we've reached the end of the Jurassic Universe saga, five films later, and still nobody has died by accidentally getting stepped on, swatted like a hanging curveball by an immensely strong dinosaur tail, or heaven forbid being gobbled up by a panicked Therizinosaurus, or as everyone will no doubt be calling them after seeing this film, the "Edward-Scissorshands-osaurus." Good God Almighty, WWE referees take harder bumps at non-televised house shows than these so-called heroes do facing freakin' dinosaurs! C'mon, Trevorrow! Can't we have our science fiction fantasy with a healthy side order of realism? I think that realism makes good fiction better. Okay, Tim can survive if he must, but surely a Stegosaurus could have stomped on, say, Barry? Or, dare I say it, Dr. Malcolm? If this is it for the franchise, is there any point in saving everyone? It weakens the heroes of the franchise if the only risk they face is the chance that they could perish. That chance seems pretty small considering how often these people face certain death and never actually die. These heroes don't succeed because they're particularly good at what they do. They succeed mostly by contrived plot devices and sheer dumb luck.

And that's all I have to say about that! Thanks for sticking around, if you did.

Jurassic World: Dominion is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 7 minutes. It opens June 10th officially but I see showtimes already for the St. Louis market on June 9th.

3.0 / 5.0