Jurassic World Dominion is the perfect Jurassic Park sequel in that it does what all of the films in the series have: tease interesting science fiction concepts with world-changing implications it has no interest in beyond set up for its next inventive set piece. Bombastic, long but frequently thrilling, Jurassic World Dominion succeeds at what it sets out to do but its ambitions are low.
After teasing the next logical leap in the series ‘rebirth of dinosaurs’ narrative — the escape of dinosaurs from their island habitat into the wider human world and how that is handled — the series pulled the trigger at the end of Fallen Kingdom when young Maisie Watts (Isabella Sermon) released all of the surviving dinosaurs into North America to breed and supposedly decimate the ecosystem.
The next step from there, we’d presume, is a culture trying to figure out what to do about the dinosaurs — recapture, kill, round up, protect cities, protect food supplies — all the logical and ethical quandaries the series has tiptoed around since the first film. And like that first film, Dominion is not at all interested in actually grappling with them, just mentioning them occasionally to add a patina of thought to a standard monster adventure.
Sure, there are feints at it. We catch up with park executive turned eco-crusader Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) rescuing captured dinosaurs from poachers and there moments here and there where the beasts are dropped into the regular world that seem like the could be the beginning of something.
Returning director Colin Trevorrow has some clear images of this new world in mind — horseback riders chasing a herd of dinosaurs across a frozen tundra, giant underwater beasts sinking a fishing ship, a foot chase with velociraptors across crumbling Mediterranean roofs — but most of them are dispatched with early on in order to return Jurassic World to its natural habitat; an isolated, forested preserve where scientists study and or exploit the beasts.
Jurassic World Dominion‘s spiritual animal is not a dinosaur but an ouroboros, forever eating its own tail. Rather than force its characters to grapple with the ethical implications of whether the animals should be allowed to exist or not or if the world has moved on without them, it creates a new plot about prehistoric locusts destroying the world’s food supply that the dinosaurs are at best adjacent too but rarely the center of, primarily to accomplish the films’ goal of bringing the original Jurassic Park adventurers back into the fold.
With real dinosaurs out in the world Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Niell) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) have found themselves with less to do and more time on their hands to think about the roads not taken in their personal lives, at least until the mercurial Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) warns them of a mysterious billionaire (Campbell Scott) collecting the dinosaurs for some nefarious purpose in the mountains of Italy.
A mysterious billionaire who may have been behind the catastrophe of the original Jurassic Park and who also wants Maisie for similar vague purposes. All roads lead back to the beginning in Jurassic World.
The large cast and desire to wrap up all major storylines and character beats from across the series means quite a bit of plate spinning in the early going as the story bounces back and forth between Owen and Claire’s search for their adopted daughter and Alan and Ellie’s investigation into the nefarious Biosyn corporation.
None of which stops it from bringing back as many side characters from previous go rounds — from Claire’s reluctant hacker aide (Justice Smith) to Owen’s old training buddy (Omar Sy) — as well as introducing new ones like DeWanda Wise’s mercenary pilot with a heart of gold, multiple new villains, and some truly amazing new set pieces.
Trevorrow clearly loves the image of Grady on his bike racing the raptors but transplanting it to Malta and splashing into the middle of a busy city and onrushing traffic creates exactly the feel of old made new Dominion is consistently seeking. But no sooner are weaponized velociraptors with laser targeting systems introduced then they are stuffed back into their pens to make room for the next thing.
Dominion wants to have its cake and eat it, too, leaving the plot unfocused beyond the need to get to either the next set piece or the next recreation of a famous Jurassic Park moment. By the time a Tyrannosaurus Rex is walking past a circular window literally recreating the series’ iconic logo, it is very clear what the film is all about and it’s not digging into the heart of the premise. Jurassic Park the series has always been a surface-oriented adventure and its sequels are very much the same, only more so.
As far as endings go, Jurassic World Dominion is one but there’s not much more to say than that. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, just a little empty. But even if the song remains the same, it was a good song to begin with and nothing here dampens that, it just reminds us mostly what we liked to begin with.
Some terrific set pieces and the return of characters we’ve grown to know and love helps a lot even if it keeps anyone from really doing something with the concept. But by this point what else is anyone expecting from a Jurassic Park sequel?
JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION REVIEW SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10
Now playing in theaters, Universal Pictures‘ Jurassic World Dominion is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, some violence and language.
Joshua Starnes has been writing about film and the entertainment industry since 2004 and served as the President of the Houston Film Critics Society from 2012 to 2019. In 2015 he became a co-owner/publisher of Red 5 Comics and in 2018 wrote the series “Kulipari: Dreamwalker” for Netflix. In between he continues his lifelong quest to find THE perfect tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich combination.