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Jurassic World Dominion tries to turn Jurassic Park into Indiana Jones

It’s an overstuffed, genre-hopping monster, but at least the thrills are there

Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, and Laura Dern stand together in Jurassic World: Dominion Image: Universal Pictures

There’s a moment late in the new sequel Jurassic World Dominion where a dinosaur fight is about to unfold in front of a whole bunch of people who might each reasonably claim that they’re the main character of the ongoing Jurassic Park series. “This isn’t about us,” says Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill). He’s entirely correct; unlike the similarly late-period sequel to a Steven Spielberg monster movie, the dinosaurs haven’t developed any Jaws: The Revenge-style personal vendettas. The major spectacle of Dominion — what makes it a worthy big-screen experience — comes from watching dinosaurs inhabit the human world, much more so than tracking the fates of any particular humans they happen to encounter. Dr. Grant seems to understand this.

And yet the fact that Grant, nominal hero of the original 1993 mega-hit Jurassic Park, appears in Dominion at all suggests that someone, somewhere believes that the humans of this series matter. More importantly, they’re meant to matter to an audience that cherishes Jurassic Park enough to cheer for dialogue and images that reference it — even though it’s that movie’s Spielbergian craft that makes it a classic, rather than its catchphrases or big moments. (Or something close to craft, anyway. Jurassic Park isn’t exactly Jaws, even though it’s a similarly tense movie with a genuinely compelling human dimension.)

So after sporadic participation in previous sequels, here again are Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and Dr. Alan Grant (Neill) in his fusty imitation of an Indiana Jones fedora. Here too are Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), and Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the main characters from the now-completed Jurassic World sequel trilogy. Some fans will doubtless consider this a lopsided team-up. It’s become a popular online game to ask whether anyone even remembers the Jurassic World characters’ names, or what they do in their movies besides training velociraptors to respond to a raised hand (Pratt) or running through a jungle in heels that one time (Howard).

Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Chris Pratt, and Bryce Dallas Howard all do their best Steven Spielberg gape-in-wonder-or-maybe-horror-at-an-offscreen-thing pose Image: Universal Pictures

But are the original Jurassic Park characters actually detailed and vivid, or did they simply appear in one of the most famous and popular films of all time? Malcolm has the advantage of Jeff Goldblum’s unmistakable speaking rhythms, and Sattler seems especially smart because she’s played by Dern. While Neill is a terrific actor and a welcome presence, Grant mostly just has that fedora. And Grant and Sattler are such buttoned-up characters that their romance is already in the low-key comfort stage by the first movie, and washed away off screen before Jurassic Park III.

Jurassic World Dominion makes an attempt to push those background elements to the fore. In retrospect, the whole trilogy seems like a broad attempt to follow the lead of Grant’s hat by making the Spielberg-originated Jurassic Park movies look a bit more like the Spielberg-originated Indiana Jones movies: spectacle with an action-ready human guide. Hence Pratt’s Owen Grady, a two-fisted man’s man who trains raptors, rides a motorcycle, and spars with his unlikely love interest, Claire. Dominion opens with Owen and Claire in a state of wary peace, living off the grid and getting along with each other, but clashing with Maisie, the surrogate daughter they decided to protect after the events of 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Besides revealing that Maisie is a clone of her scientist mother, Fallen Kingdom also wrapped with dinosaurs being unleashed upon North America. Dominion reveals, via a clever NowThis news video full of morbid slapstick, that they’ve spread around the world. For the first time, humans and dinos have been forced to truly coexist. In response, a company called Biosyn (an old competitor of original dinosaur-makers, InGen) has set up yet another dinosaur sanctuary, in a vast compound in Italy.

A woman in a surgical mask tends a cage full of tiny dinos in Jurassic World: Dominion Image: Universal Pictures

But Biosyn and their leader, Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) — who dedicated Jurassic Park fans might remember from a meeting where his patsy, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), blurted out his name in a public place — have more in mind than strict conservation. They’re very interested in Maisie’s whereabouts. They’re also looking for Beta, the baby raptor birthed by Owen’s old pal Blue. They’ll be tampering with genetics right up until the end of the world, which Malcolm keeps warning everyone about.

This is only the merest setup for the 150-minute Dominion, essentially a loose-ends sequel to Fallen Kingdom and a band-reunited legacy sequel to Jurassic Park, both of which eventually converge into a single, overcrowded movie. The weirder, wilder half has Pratt and Howard channel-flipping through a variety of dinosaur-augmented genres: Here’s Owen playing cowboy, herding dinos from horseback. Here’s rogue environmentalist Claire standing in a Nomadland shot of the plains. Here’s both of them fighting through the streets of Malta (including a secret Mos Eisley-like dino market!) in The Bourne Velociraptor.

For a while, Dominion seems so loopily alive with the possibilities of getting out of the original island park that it becomes — like Fallen Kingdom — far less scene-by-scene predictable than many of its predecessors. An equivalent to Indiana Jones with dinos remains elusive. But Spielberg’s monster-movie id, best represented by the 1997 Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World rather than the classier original, is alive and well. (And the Indy connection remains, in that The Lost World was basically Spielberg’s ’90s version of Temple of Doom.)

In Dominion, Grant, Dern, and Goldblum skulk around yet another high-tech facility adjacent to yet another dino-filled refuge. Colin Trevorrow, who co-wrote and directed the first Jurassic World, co-wrote the second, and returns to direct here, has too much reverence for the original Jurassic Park to resist a return trip to the jungle, even if it’s a different jungle. Maybe he has too much reverence for the original, full stop. Dominion is full of callbacks and curtain calls, and he eventually becomes so consumed with showcasing a combination of old-favorite dinosaurs (animal and human) alongside brand-new threats that he starts running out of space to build actual setpieces. Which is too bad, because the ones he does assemble are mostly great fun, full of special-effects work that doesn’t feel green-screened into the Uncanny Valley.

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) does his stupid “talk to the hand” dinosaur-taming trick on a leashed hadrosaurus in Jurassic Park: Dominion Image: Universal Pictures

Admittedly, Trevorrow doesn’t match the Spielbergian flair for compositions that J.A. Bayona brought to Fallen Kingdom. Bayona is the only Jurassic sequel director so far to even semi-approximate Spielberg’s innate talent for image-making. Trevorrow is more workmanlike, and when Dominion’s giant cast unites, their presence requires a degree of blocking skill that seems beyond his reach.

To be fair, it might elude Spielberg, too; his Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull suffered from similar crowd-control problems in its final half hour. But the group scenes in Dominion have the particularly awkward tenor of a party where people aren’t sure what to say to each other, even when the script insists that they’re all connected and regard each other with reverence. (The tedious ongoing flattery of Pratt’s Owen Grady continues here.)

So why is Jurassic World Dominion still satisfying, in spite of its bloat, its shameless pandering to past franchise installments, and its utterly ridiculous notions, like Grady promising Blue that he’ll retrieve her baby, even though Blue forever seems moments away from ripping him open and feasting on his insides? It all has to do with Trevorrow’s supersized version of what all the Jurassic movies so far have offered: the uneasy, half-giddy, half-doomy sensation of boarding a theme park ride on the precipice of an apocalypse.

Dominion leans into the notion of a sci-fi dystopia doubling as an old-fashioned monster movie, something Universal knows a thing or two about. Like a ’50s B-movie, Jurassic World Dominion pauses to pontificate about humankind’s place in the evolutionary chain in between sequences that deliver the teeth-gnashing goods. If we have to wade through some silly, pandering nostalgia to get to this pleasingly vast dinosaur playground, so be it.

Jurassic World Dominion opens in theaters on June 10.