The original Jurassic Park, like it or not, isn’t just about dinosaurs. As film nerds such as myself will delight in telling you, there is only 15 minutes worth of dinosaur footage in the entire film. Of course everyone remembers the iconic dinosaur moments, but the reason these stick in the memory is because the film itself is structured in an incredibly measured, well-judged way.
All of this is to say that I’m not a huge fan of the Jurassic World series, which is unabashed in its pursuit of sheer spectacle over anything deeper. Jurassic World Dominion is the closing chapter, and to its credit it does at least deliver on this side of things, with numerous dinosaurs not seen onscreen before, although it falls short in almost every other area.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ended on the most dramatic game changing conclusion of the entire series, with the surviving Isla Nublar dinosaurs escaping from containment and left to cohabit with the human population. It’s an audacious ending for a series that has generally resets at the end of each instalment, and opened up the sequel for endless potential storylines as humanity adapts to “the new normal”. Unfortunately director Colin Trevorrow fails to capitalise on this premise and quickly reverts to a much more conventional story structure, with a sinister organisation breeding dinosaurs in yet another secret lab.
Of course the biggest selling point of this entry is the return of the three core cast members from the original Jurassic Park. Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum all slip right back into their characters, and even if the story slightly loses track of them, it never feels as if they are phoning it in. (BD Wong is also there, but even the original characters have forgotten about him).
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the Jurassic World regulars, who feel like they are barely trying – Chris Pratt is the worst offender here, giving what might be his most humourless performance, and while Bryce Dallas Howard is strong, her character gets some of the worst lines in a film full of dull, ironically detached dialogue.
Thankfully there is one new character to root for. DeWanda Wise is a great addition to the cast as the smuggler mercenary pilot who grows a conscience. She’s wonderfully deadpan and infinitely more engaging than the heroes – she also has much more palpable chemistry with Pratt than his erstwhile love interest, which is itself a problem.
The sequence in the dinosaur black market in Malta is by far the stand-out part of the film, culminating with a thrilling motorcyle chase, and Trevorrow utilizes some beautifully evocative shots of dinosaurs interacting with urban habitats, but this only makes the experience more frustrating. There are inspired moments but these are brushed aside in favour of a story we’ve all seen before.
Where the film shines is in the sheer variety of dinosaurs on display. Ten year old me was absolutely delighted to finally see a Quetzalcoatlus and a Dimetrodon onscreen, and the unique design of other dinosaurs like Therizinosaurus (with the surreal long claws) is refreshing and genuinely creepy. The whole film is curiously bloodless though, with a notable lack of dinosaurs actually eating people. Instead we get scene after scene of the characters encountering dinosaurs and escaping – it never feels like any of them are in real danger.
Despite the narrative issues, Jurassic World Dominion is worth seeing on the big screen. The IMAX presentation might not be on the same level as Dune or Top Gun: Maverick, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Dinosaur roars and booming footsteps make a huge impact, to the extent that you can feel your seat rumbling beneath you. It’s a pity then that the action primarily consists of close-ups and quick cuts, never fully taking advantage of the framing and big screen experience in the same way Spielberg did in the original film.
Jurassic World Dominion is convoluted, unoriginal and singularly fails to live up to the ballsy cliffhanger of the previous film, but what it does is achieve a sense of spectacle – the dinosaur effects are admittedly breathtaking, and it’s a joy to see such a wide range of dinosaurs on the big screen, it’s just a shame the story itself is so uninspired.
Jurassic World Dominion is out now in IMAX cinemas