I Saw Jurassic World: Dominion So That You Don’t Have To

Posted: June 11, 2022 in Critical Hit
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Warning: total spoilers.

Jurassic World: Dominion is not a good movie. Let’s get that out of the way up top. Given how terrible the first two Jurassic World movies were, I wasn’t expecting it to be, and yet I felt the need to see it anyway, just to make sure. Possibly this coloured my perception of it from the outset, but generally speaking, I’m not a person who purposefully sets out to hatewatch things, as I’d much rather be pleasantly surprised by an okayish film than proven right by a dud. I will, however, spitefinish an aggravating film in order to justify writing about it afterwards, and having sat through all 146 minutes of Dominion – unlike my mother, who walked out of our session and went home after the first five minutes because it was so goddamn loud – I feel the need to save others the time and money of doing likewise.

At every level of execution, Dominion is sloppily made. It has the feel of a group project where only one person was really trying, leading everyone else to coast along on their coattails without stopping to consider whether their work itself, for all the effort put into it, was actually any good. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the dinosaurs themselves, which ought to be the best thing about a goddamn dinosaur movie, but which in Dominion are woefully underwhelming. There’s nothing inherently wrong with mixing practical effects and CGI – in fact, done well, the results can be spectacular, as per the original Jurassic Park film – but here, the inconsistency is maddening. The practical effects look rubbery and cheap, but even that wouldn’t matter if they had any soul; instead, they have less personality than the titular 90s sitcom Dinosaurs and are considerably less memorable.

The dinosaur CGI, meanwhile, is really only good for two things: dramatic, distant landscape shots of dinosaurs in the modern world, and very slow closeups. Put them in motion, however, and the animals end up with a weird, furze-edged blur to them, as if they’ve been clumsily greenscreened in circa 2003. Every scene with fast-running raptors – and there are a number of these – looks like a video game cutscene where your custom-built player-character is moving through a pre-rendered environment: there’s that constant sense of something fake being imposed on an a setting rather than being part of it, and for a film with this sort of budget, that’s inexcusable. Nor have any lessons been learned from the first two films regarding a consistent sense of scale: the dinosaur sizes wax and wane depending on the camera angle, changing from moment to moment in such an egregious fashion that even my nine year old noticed. And to top things off, the climactic dinosaur-on-dinosaur fight scene – tacked on and plot-pointless though it is – looks like it was shot in a gymsock only sporadically lit by a pen-light: you can barely see anything, and when you do, it’s shaky to the point of incoherence.

With veteran names like Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill returned to the cast, you might hope the acting was good, but it’s not. With the exception of a few bit players, the performances are uniformly flat, a failing I’m inclined to lay directly at the feet of director and EP Colin Trevorrow. In addition to directing the first Jurassic World and executive producing Fallen Kingdom, Trevorrow has writing credits for all three films, and frankly that goes a long way towards explaining why they never get any better. Trevorrow’s dialogue is flat, his pacing abysmal and his plotting worse; that he also manages to get consistently stilted performances out of some otherwise talented actors makes him the quadruple threat no-one asked for. As with the dinosaurs, he also doesn’t know how to shoot people in anything other than closeup or running at a distance, presumably because letting the characters inhabit the space for more than two seconds at a time would require him to use functional, character-developing dialogue and a basic understanding of how to block non-action sequences. Given Hollywood’s propensity to let mediocre white men fail upwards, however, this doubtless means Disney will snap him up for the MCU or Star Wars, so it’s hard to feel too bad for him.

Another constant issue was the sound, which – look. Possibly the obscene volume of the action scenes at our session, which chased my mother out of the cinema and had the rest of us watching with our hands over our ears, was the fault of our local cinema. I’ve been there many times before – recently, even, to see Top Gun: Maverick, which to my great annoyance is a superbly constructed film – and never felt like my eardrums were being blown out, but perhaps today was an exception. Whatever the case, the dialogue was normal, but the music and sound effects came through at a volume that could shatter glass, and while the cinema might bear some blame, the clear disparity between the two felt very much like a sound balancing failure, such that if I’d been watching it at home, I suspect I’d have been constantly turning the volume up for the dialogue, then ratcheting it down again for the action scenes. 0/10, do not recommend.

And then there’s the actual plot.

After a completely pointless, never-to-be-revisited opening scene in which a giant prehistoric sea-crocodile eats a fishing boat in Alaska, Dominion kicks off with what can only be described as a shitty YouTube video recap of the previous two films. As a background montage of what’s meant to be phone-camera footage of regular people encountering dinosaurs plays, a journalistic voiceover explains why dinosaurs have been walking among us for the past four years while also mentioning “by the way, we think there’s a human clone of a lady called Charlotte Lockwood walking around somewhere, only she’s missing,” without ever explaining why this relates to dinosaurs or how anyone knows about her, because in-universe continuity is for the weak. As dinosaurs are now apparently a global problem, with underground genetic engineering and illegal breeding farms cropping up everywhere, we also learn that a company called Biosyn has emerged to do Good Dinosaur Science and is relocating rescued animals to a scenic sanctuary in the Italian mountains, where they can live safely while also being studied for Beneficial Medical Research Purposes. Biosyn is run by a man named Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), which is a callback to the original Jurassic Park, where “Dodgson” was the guy who paid Dennis Nedry to smuggle dinosaur DNA samples out in a shaving cream can. Presumably, this is meant to be the same guy many years later, but as that’s never confirmed and has no real bearing on the plot, it doesn’t actually matter. We get a glimpse of the journalist giving the voiceover walking through some trees as she explains all this, and then she, like so much else in this film, is never seen again.

Cut to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) engaged in a midnight heist to rescue a random baby dinosaur from an illegal breeding facility. Some action happens as she and her buddy flee, and we see that she’s still in touch with Franklin (Justice Smith) from Fallen Kingdom, who now apparently works for the CIA’s dinosaur division (yes, really). Cut again to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) as he lassos a random parasaurolophus from horseback, because that’s absolutely a thing you could do without dying. Dinosaur acquired, he proceeds to… I don’t know, hand it over to the dinosaur rescue people? It’s not really clear, and the rest of the herd just goes running off, so there’s not really any point to it except once again Making Chris Pratt Look Cool And Manly. Not to kinkshame anyone, but between this, Owen Grady Looking Like Rough Trade From A Vintage Coke Ad By A Motorcycle in the first film and Owen Grady Building A House By Hand (While Sweating) in the second film, it feels a little like Trevorrow has a particular masc fantasy he’s a little bit obsessed with, and which he perhaps might want to consider working through in a venue other than film. I dunno, man, I’m just spitballing.

Next up, we’re reintroduced to Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), aka Clone Daughter, now aged fourteen, who’s apparently been living in a rustic cabin in the woods with Claire and Owen as her parents for the last four years, because I guess that makes sense. The creepiness of the fact that they took her illegally and have kept her out of school and away from other people, let alone anyone her own age, is completely glossed over as fine, because they’re keeping her safe, you guys! Nor are we invited to wonder how this weird little family unit works; the fact that Claire and Owen weren’t even a couple four years ago goes unacknowledged, while Claire herself has morphed from a highly-strung, child-free CEO in heels into a homesteading mother and partner in flannel who rescues dinosaurs on the side with zero difficulty because the plot requires it of her. Maisie chafes at her confinement, but that’s ascribed to her being fourteen and moody instead of, you know, a kid in a fucked-up situation. Also, Blue the velociraptor is here, and she’s had a baby Blue, even though that should be impossible! But oh noes! A nefarious Dinosaur Bad Guy has followed Owen back from one of his dinosaur hunts and spotted both Maisie and Baby Blue, and is planning to kidnap them!

And then, because this film doesn’t have enough balls in the air, we cut randomly to Texas, where Dr Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) has been called in to investigate after a plague of giant locusts attacks an independent farmstead and eats all their crops. The neighbouring farm, however, remains untouched – because their crop comes from Biosyn seeds. Keen observers might wonder why Satler, who was a paleobotonist in the original film, is now being called in for locust attacks; the answer, as best I can tell, is Because Reasons, with base notes of Studying Extinct Plants Is Basically The Same As Studying Alive Insects, It’s All Science, Just Roll With It. Naturally, then, the only way for Ellie to prove that the giant, provably prehistorically-engineered locusts come from Biosyn – that is, the only company known to be dicking around with dinosaur DNA and whose crops are the only ones the locusts don’t eat, where the fuck else would anyone think the locusts came from – is to join up with her paleontologist ex, Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and use her in with chaotician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who now has a gig with Biosyn, so she and Alan can break into their labs and steal a matching DNA sample to prove where the locusts came from. Because this is clearly a job for them, and not, say, any of their journalist or government agency contacts. Obviously.

Back in Rustic Cabinlandia, Maisie and Baby Blue have now been kidnapped, because Maisie disobeyed and went outside on her own! Her protective kidnapper-parents were right after all! So Claire calls up Franklin at the dinosaur CIA, who tells them that the kidnapper is named Rainn Delacourt (Scott Haze), and that there’s a sting operation afoot to catch him doing illegal dinosaur stuff, which they should stay out of; he also explains that they have an inside man at Biosyn named Ramsay (Mamoudou Athie). Naturally, Claire and Owen ignore Franklin – or possibly he helps them during this bit; my attention was phasing in and out due to the terrible sound balancing – but either way, they head off to Malta, meet up with Owen’s old dinosaur-taming buddy Barry (Omar Sy), who we met briefly in Jurassic World, and then infiltrate a black market dinosaur bazaar, which, as we’re in Malta, looks exactly as stereotypical as you’d imagine. We’re also introduced to Kayla (DeWanda Wise), a pilot who takes Baby Blue to Biosyn and, in the process, catches sight of Maisie at the airstrip, so that when she then encounters Claire at the dino bazaar and realises she’s looking for her daughter, she feels obligated to help.

With Maisie nowhere in sight, Barry and Owen spot Rainn with a random evil henchlady, Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman), who was responsible for transporting Maisie and Baby Blue for Dodgson, but who is now trying to offload some genetically modified raptors which h ave been trained-slashed-engineered to attack anyone she indicates with her special laser pointer. Do the raptors come from Biosyn? Who knows! It doesn’t matter! Santos is only there so that when Barry and the sting operation interrupt the deal, she can flash her little laser on everyone to instigate a big dinosaur chase scene, while other for-sale dinosaurs end up on the loose. (Rainn is summarily eaten by said dinosaurs, but not before Owen gets him to admit that Maisie is at Biosyn. You’ll forgive me if I’ve got the order of events slightly backwards, but this section in particular was both very loud and structurally incomprehensible.) Thus armed with the knowledge of Maisie’s wherebaouts, Owen runs away from raptors on a motorbike while Kayla and Claire do the same in a truck en route to the airstrip. (We get a glimpse of Barry arresting Santos, and then neither of them are ever seen again; as for what befalls the random civilians left to fend for themselves in the face of sudden dinosaur carnage, who knows? The movie certainly doesn’t!) This culminates in Owen riding his motorbike onto the moving plane just before it takes off, complete with an angry dinosaur falling into the ocean, and then we’re off to Italy!

Meanwhile, Ellie and Alan have met up with Ian Malcolm at Biosyn to try and do an espionage. Ian gives them the special key-bracelet that’ll let them into the labs where the locusts are held, while elsewhere in the same facility, perpetually shady geneticist Henry Wu (BD Wong) is explaining to the captive Maisie that actually, she’s not quite a clone after all. Instead, Charlotte Lockwood, who was apparently a brilliant scientist, contrived to give birth to Maisie as part of her research and also because she wanted a kid, and then, on learning that she (Charlotte) had an incurable genetic disease, altered all of Maisie’s DNA so that she wouldn’t have it. This is why Henry wants to study both Maisie and Baby Blue, who is now named Beta: if he can master their genetic power, he’ll understand how to use genetics to wipe out the evil locusts, which are now mutating and breeding at an alarming rate. None of this makes the least bit of sense, nor is it clear why Henry, who has been cheerfully on the side of evil corporate science for several movies now, has suddenly grown a conscience, but he is wearing a very large brown cardigan with oversized lapels, which surely counts for something.

Unmoved by any of this, Maisie releases Beta and escapes into the facility, where she runs into Ellie and Alan, who have just had a traumatic encounter with some giant locusts. As they plan their escape, we cut back to Kayla, Owen and Claire, now on approach to Biosyn. As Dodgson is made aware that Kayla is carrying extra passengers, he disables the ADS – Air Defense System – which is some sort of electronic Thing that keeps the pterodactyls from flying above a certain height. Right on cue, their plane is attacked by an angry quetzalcoatlus, which prompts Owen to strap Claire into the only parachute and send her off into the sky, where she is immediately menaced by angry flying dinosaurs before falling into a carnivore-infested forest. Owen and Kayla crash the plane on a frozen lake and have to contend with a feathered raptor of some sort in order to escape and look for Claire, who is also having some dinosaur-related issues; at the same time, Ramsay has helped Ellie, Alan and Maisie onto an underground train-thing, but Dodgson has it stopped when he realises Ian has abetted their locust-bothering. This forces them to get out and make their way through the old amber mines, which – of course – also contain dinosaurs.

Dodgson takes this moment to fire Ian, who gives a big exit speech about how evil Dodgson is without actually mentioning the secret locust project. Double agent Ramsay then equips Ian to go save the others, which culminates in Ian fumbling about trying to input a gate code while Maisie, Ellie and Alan are menaced by dinosaurs; unbeknownst to any of them, Ramsay does the actual code-changing back at base after seeing their peril on CCTV, which I guess makes sense. Shortly afterwards, Owen and Kayla find Claire in time to rescue her from an angry dilophosaurus – this is Foreshadowing – and are then fortuitously united with the other escapees when their jeep rolls down a hill. Back at Biosyn and unaware that the good guys are all together, Dodgson decides to get rid of his locusts by having the whole lot set on fire. However, it turns out – and I cannot believe I’m about to type this – that the locusts can survive while on fire, so that when the burning lab’s contents are vented into the sky, a massive swarm of burning locust fireballs is released into the forest. This causes everything else to be on fire, which means that Dodgson has no choice but to use the special neural implants in all his dinosaurs (because this, too, is apparently a Thing) to make them come to safety at the facility.

As our heroes try to get back to base so that Owen can save Beta – having promised Blue solemnly that he’d rescue her baby, because sexist chivalry apparently now extends to dinosaurs, too – they encounter an angry giganotosaurus blocking their path. As a burning locust flaps weakly by, the gigano eats it; this ought to be unremarkable, except that, minutes later, Ian spears another burning bug on a stick, waves it to distract the gigano a la the original movie, and then throws the whole thing into its mouth, which – and again, I cannot believe I’m about to type this – causes the fucking dinosaur to breathe fire. Like, significantly more fire than the locust was ever on, and yet nobody comments on this! It just happens, because this is a Colin Trevorrow movie and why the fuck not, apparently. More peril ensues, and then they get into the tunnels leading back to the main facility, where Dodgson, having realised that his evil schemes are unraveling, tries to run off with Ramsay and is shocked – shocked! – when Ramsay reveals himself to be a good guy after all. Strangely, this confrontation does not result in Dodgson trying to attack Ramsay, or even so much as restrain him. He’s just… allowed to walk out, and then Dodgson escapes himself to the underground train-thing, heading for the airfield.

Now back in the facility, the good guys encounter both a remorseful Henry, who explains his plans for stopping the locusts and is therefore allowed to come with, and a significantly more useful Ramsay, who knows how the park systems work. Then they split up: Kayla to get a plane, Owen, Alan and Maisie to get Beta, Claire and Ellie to turn off the power so that the ADS has sufficient power to turn back on (because something something emergency power routing something) and Ian and Ramsay to hold down the fort and look pretty. Kayla gets the plane, Owen gets Beta (while teaching Maisie and Alan how to do his patented Hold Up Your Hands To The Dinosaur So It Obeys You trick) and Ellie and Claire wade through a server room inexplicably full of dead and dying locusts to turn off the power, which causes Dodgson’s train-thing to shut down. This prompts him to run into the tunnel until dinosaur noises make him retreat, at which point he is unceremoniously killed by a trio of dilophosaurus while a shaving-cream-shaped canister rolls away from his hand – see! He met his end just like Nedry in the original Jurassic Park! What a callback moment!

With the ADS reactivated, Kayla comes to pick everyone up. There’s just one problem – all the dinosaurs were neurally commanded to return to the facility because of the raging forest fire, so our heroes have to dodge them to escape! This culminates in the obligatory fight between a t-rex and a giganotosaurus, which you could simulate by putting a couple of plastic dinosaur toys in a hamster ball and rolling it down a hill in the dark, during which Henry sustains a mild arm injury, and after which Ellie and Alan make out a little, because Ellie and the husband with which she apparently had two now college-aged kids have split up, and so why not. And then it’s done: everyone gets away, the t-rex wins and roars triumphantly (because of course it does), and we’re treated to a random voiceover from nowhere – I don’t even think it’s the same voiceover from the shitty YouTube journalism bit at the beginning – telling us that Ellie and Alan went on to testify against Biosyn, Henry did his Locust Science and released an infected bug to kill all the other bad ones, the UN designated the Italian valley a world sanctuary, and now humanity has to learn to coexist with dinosaurs. There’s a few very pretty distance shots of dinosaurs in various environments – parasaurolophus running with wild horses, rhamphorynchus nesting on a high rise building, a stegosaurus on the savannah – and that’s it. There’s no closure about what Maisie is, whether anyone’s sill after her or where she gets to go now (other than, presumably, with Claire and Owen), nobody wonders what happened to Dodgson (whose motives were never more than gestured at as Basic Rich Guy Hubris), and there’s no mention of dinosaur containment elsewhere: just roll credits.

What a fucking waste.

But, to be fair, there are two things I liked about Dominion: the feathery raptor dinosaur that Owen and Kayla encountered, which actually looked pretty decent, and the fact that, as stupid as the plot was, it still wasn’t as sexist as the original Jurassic World or as willfully idiotic as Fallen Kingdom. Okay, two and a half things: there’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inference that Kayla is queer and has a history with Denise, the random Biosyn worker who tells Dodgson that her plane has unauthorised passengers on it, but otherwise, it’s just two and a half hours of dreary, worse-than-formulaic pablum. Even my nine year old, who enjoyed the other two movies, came out of this one complaining that it was too loud, too long, the dinosaurs were all the wrong size and that what happened to Dodgson was stupid, and if you cannot successfully entertain a nine year old who loves dinosaurs with your big budget dinosaur movie, then who the fuck is it even for, Colin?

Point being, if you want to see a shiny action film this summer, I would recommend literally anything else. Everything Everywhere All At Once is absolutely flawless, but if you’re really desperate to revisit a decades-old franchise for the nostalgia value, try Top Gun: Maverick – yes, it’s a spectacular work of US military propaganda starring a known Scientologist, but at least it has the decency to include real planes doing real aerial stunts, a tight yet emotionally complete script and a banging soundtrack, and I’ll take that over shitty dinosaurs who can’t decide what size they are and Chris Pratt’s smugly punchable face any day of the week. You’re welcome.

Comments
  1. Andrew says:

    “Lewis Dodgson” – a mashup of Charles Dodgson and his pseudonym Lewis Carroll? Sounds like an awful waste of Campbell Scott

  2. […] FOZ DIDN’T DIG IT.  This title tells you what Foz Meadows thinks of the new movie: “I Saw Jurassic World: Dominion So That You Don’t Have To”. BEWARE […]

  3. […] FOZ DIDN’T DIG IT.  This title tells you what Foz Meadows thinks of the new movie: “I Saw Jurassic World: Dominion So That You Don’t Have To”. BEWARE […]

  4. Joy Pixley says:

    Reading this was much more fun than –it seems– watching the movie would have been. Thank you for sharing! I read it aloud to Bill over dinner, since he didn’t get to meet you on this, his latest trip, and this is the next best thing. 🙂

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