Remember the water-ripple scene from “Jurassic Park?”
That image of a shuddering cup – stark and terrifying – captured the awe of seeing dinosaurs in a way no previous film could deliver.
Gone are the days when CGI raptors can fill us with awe. Still, 2015’s “Jurassic World” brought dinosaurs back as a sizable menace. The reboot has aged remarkably well, even if the immediate sequel, “Fallen Kingdom,” squandered that goodwill.
“Jurassic World Dominion,” the third film in the second trilogy, thinks “more is better” in almost every way.
- More heroes!
- More cool dinosaurs!
- More subplots!
It leaves us woozy and eager for the saga to take a knee. Even the return of the three heroes from the 1993 original can’t make “Dominion” anything more than a busy franchise extension.
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as Owen and Claire, the mismatched heroes from “World” now settled in as a happy couple.
Except now the dinosaurs who brought them together in “Jurassic World” are … everywhere. They’ve transcended oceans and country borders like a certain virus, and you can see a prehistoric beast in your neighborhood if the timing is just right.
That’s assuming you live through the encounter.
It’s a fascinating setup that might be better served by a serialized format. Instead, “Dominion” drills down on a single, meandering menace. Oversized locusts are ravaging farms across the globe, and a massive food shortage is inevitable.
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Enter Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), the heroine from “Jurassic Park” whose background as a soil expert overlaps with the locust threat. She corrals her old beau and research partner Alan Grant (Sam Neill, who looks puzzled to be here from start to finish) to learn more about the invasion.
That leads them back to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the third member of their dino troupe. He’s part of a Big Pharma company called Biosyn with possible ties to the food crisis. Campbell Scott, channeling Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, is the visionary behind the group, and we’re told in near-record time he can’t be trusted.
Why bother with a mystery when we’re here for raptors, right?
This critic is exhausted just setting the plot in motion, and that isn’t everything we need to know from the jump.
Owen and Claire are the surrogate parents to a sullen teen (Isabella Sermon) from “Fallen Kingdom” whose DNA holds its own secrets.
All the various plot threads do intertwine, but only in ways that give director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow (who helmed the excellent “Jurassic World”) a chance to show off his CGI treasures.
“Dominion” doesn’t go five minutes without a dinosaur scampering across the screen. More often than not, they’re chasing one of our collection of heroes, a group including newcomer DeWanda Wise as a Han Solo clone.
There’s an undeniable nostalgia boost seeing Dern, Neill and Goldblum again, and each has aged as gracefully as Mother Nature allows. It’s still filled with, “oh, aren’t you the famous so-and-so” dialogue and other meta moments that stop the story cold.
Grab a reunion brew off screen, team.
And the third time we hear a variation of the moldiest action trope, a hero barking, “HOLD ON!” to his or her mates it felt like a parody.
The script, credited to Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael, teeters between pedestrian and pure cringe. The challenging themes riffed on in past “Jurassic” films get name checked here, but don’t expect anything fresh or revelatory. This is Sequel 101, and dang if they don’t stick closely to that formula.
Dern is the liveliest of the bunch, while Goldblum isn’t given enough weighty riffs to merit his screen time.
Trevorrow keeps the pace at breakneck speed, which reaps one bravura sequence mid-movie that’s almost worth the price of admission. Our heroes are on the run, again, but the exhilarating pace and sharp edits give the sequence a jolt.
It’s why we pay good money for summer blockbusters.
That intensity never lets up, even if the ingenuity flags. The novelty of seeing humans outrun dinosaurs again, and again, lets us know the dramatic stakes are minimal, at best.
By the time the third act, arrives, exhaustion has set in. Let’s wrap it up, folks. You’ll struggle to remember why the heroes are running hither and yon, and that’s never a good sign. This story can’t sustain that bloated running time modern blockbusters require.
The film opens with promise, showcasing a thrilling water attack and, later, Owen roping dinos like so many restless Mustangs. That sense of adventure slowly seeps from the film as the various plots emerge.
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The film’s creative team attempted to paint “Dominion” as another woke affair in the press. The results are mixed on screen, although the progressive content doesn’t drag down the adventure.
It’s clear, though, that the stars’ hunger to send a message outweighed telling a story for the ages.
Wise’s wisecracking pilot meanders into Mary Sue territory, and the script rushes her story arc in a way that does her a disservice. Still, she’s not lecturing her fellow heroes and Wise packs enough screen presents to make her addition a net plus.
Sadly, the franchise’s signature humor is in short supply, as is the notion that female characters don’t have to be as uniformly brave as the fellas. One sequence finds Dern and Howard recoiling at a locust swarm.
They quickly shrug it off to go back to Commando Mode.
Howard and Pratt, the stars of the “World” trilogy, get much less screen time in “Dominion.” They still manage a few heartfelt moments together, making the reunion gimmick briefly feel like a mistake.
It’s odd to see the couple who spent three movies fleeing dinosaurs try so hard to save every last one. And can we retire Blue, the raptor who Owen trained in the first film? It’s a dinosaur, for crying out loud, not a scene-stealing puppy.
Owen’s training shtick is similarly tired. Every time he holds out his hand to control a raptor it gets sillier. Just don’t try his maneuver with your neighbor’s dog. It may not end well.
We’re at the point in the “Jurassic World” franchise where the snickers outweigh the intentional laughs.
HiT or Miss: “Jurassic World Dominion” is paint-by-numbers entertainment, and that’s a shame given the saga’s significant legacy.