At two hours and twenty-six minutes, JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION is as hefty as the ginormous terrestrial behemoths that feature prominently in it, and it is just as ungainly. It lumbers along using the intertia of its sheer mass to propel along a story that is as dedicated to calling out classics as it is to advancing the increasingly thin plot options available to a franchise that has, like so many before it, gone to the well one two many times.
It is several years since Jurassic World on Isla Nublar was destroyed, and since then dinosaurs have not had an easy time of it in a world for which they did not evolve. Neither have the humans for that matter, what with dinosaurs being no respecter of humankind’s primacy on the planet. That has not stopped yet another fabulously wealthy guy, Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) at the head of a questionable corporation (Biosyn), from trying to bend dinosauria to his own ends. He claims it’s to use their paleo-genetics to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other illnesses that have led so many other cinematic scientists to hubris-driven poor decisions. Dodgson (shades of Lewis Carroll), though, is anything but an altruistic dreamer. He has an agenda that includes cornering the world’s food supply with bio-engineered crops and locusts as big as corgis.
That’s where Jurassic veteran Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) comes in. She has moved on from those heady days battling dinosaurs with paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to researching the ills of industrial farming. But when those swarms of super-sized locusts hit, Alan is, oddly, the person she turns to in order to help her prove that Biosyn is responsible for reverse engineering the bugs. Aside from their distaste for any Biosyn-created crops to lead her to that conclusion on her own, she’s also been in touch is another Jurassic veteran, chaos-theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who has become Biosyn’s in-house philosopher.
Meanwhile, and because we can’t let the last few films in the franchise just hang, we’re also brought up to date with former Jurassic World corporate cog Claire Deering (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her steady, Owen Grady, the once and future raptor-whisperer. When not rescuing dinosaurs from the evil clutches of poachers and illegal breeders, they are also caring for Maise Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the cloned granddaughter of Jurassic Park’s founder. If you haven’t seen any of the other films in the franchise, don’t worry, there is a great deal of expository dialogue to cover you. Hence why Biosyn wants to kidnap Maise, or as Lewis thinks of her, his intellectual property, not to mention the parthenogenic offspring of Owen’s favorite raptor, Blue.
Yes, that is a lot of plot. No, it doesn’t all dovetail together seamlessly, neither does it all make sense. For the first half of the film, we are treated to an ersatz, and distinctly downgraded, Bond film, complete with a den of iniquity, an arch-villaness (Dichen Lachman) in couture white that never show the dirt during showdowns, and mercenaries shooting with tepid abandon in the sunny streets of Malta. Introducing raptors into the mix, even those trained to kill on command instead of for food, does not help. The action sequences are tired, ahem, retreads of chases committed to film since the 1960s. The knife-fight in a dinosaur death-match arena also, oddly enough, seems far too familiar, despite the way dinosaurs dispatch the principal mercenary with symmetrical choreography. That part of the film does serve to introduce us to Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), the owner/operator of a dilapidated air freight plane. She also ushers in the Indiana Jones/Han Solo portion of our film. No, she doesn’t wear a fedora, that would be Alan, but she’s every bit the distaff version of those iconic Harrison Ford characters. You keep waiting for her to tell Owen not to be cocky.
It is, of course, just a matter of time before all these characters end up at Biosys HQ in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy. This is where Biosys keeps their (legally owned) dinosaurs because an island would just make too much sense when it comes to keeping them away from the humans and vice-versa.
Never mind. The films drones on with Ellie and Alan’s amateurish ploys to penetrate the most secure levels of Biosys HQ without Lewis’ right-hand man, Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie) noticing, even as Claire and Owen, feeling the full weight of their parental responsibilities, also attempt to get into the impenetrable HQ itself, and without an invite from Ian.
Amid the exposition (hey, here’s why BD Wong’s character is so depressed, in case you forgot), there are call-outs to the first Jurassic Park with jeeps in peril, hi-tech systems going haywire, and dinosaurs chasing humans and somehow, no matter how swift, large, or carnivorous, ever catching any of them. Well, not the main ones, anyway. At one point, when facing down what is described as the largest carnivore to ever walk the planet, Owen actually punches it in the face and gives it pause.
To their credit, everyone involved takes it all very seriously. Ms. Howard even eschews the spike heels on which she insisted in her earlier endeavors in favor of very sensible hiking boots both at the mountain hideaway where she and Owen are sequestering Maise, and once she’s off on her rescue mission. If only the writing were not so insipid. if only the camera did something other than swoop in heroically when our heroes are on screen. If only the flick moved along quickly enough to help us overlook the massive plot holes and just plain idiocy of its plot points.
So, who wins here? That would be Campbell Scott, who performs the best hissy fit ever of a rich guy not getting his way. Close second, Jeff Goldblum, who rises above it all with a brittle irony that may be his character, or may be his own subversive commentary on the cinematic miasma around him. Or maybe a bit of both.
JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION does offer up a panoply of extinct creatures in all their glory, even capturing the poignance of apatosauruses wandering forlornly in the Rocky Mountains. That one scene may be the best in the entire effort. The rest brings nothing fresh, though, in all honesty, the sight of corgi-sized locusts swarming while aflame has a certain aesthetic beauty, if not a novel one. Most irritating is the tacked-on ecological message that is alternately underexplored and glib. I understand that there is only so much that you can do with rampaging dinosaurs (and the occasional therapsid) menacing the same cast over and over again, but with this kind of budget, there’s no excuse for not making a better effort. Or even a competent one.