Friday, June 10, 2022


Used to be, when you got to the Part 6 of your movie series it was a bunch of random nonsense with basically no one from the original involved. Now it has to be styled as a Grand Finale with as many original cast members as possible, and lots of talk playing at the idea that this convoluted culmination was a logical possibility all along. It weighs a movie down, forcing it to contrive moments like a character from 1 and 3 sitting down with a character from 5 and acting like she knew her when she was a baby. Okay. Used to be, when you made a dinosaur picture, you kept things fairly simple—somehow, dinosaurs have returned. And now people have to deal with that. You don’t even have to go back to Harryhausen or King Kong for that beautiful simplicity. That was enough for the first few Jurassic Parks. (To that point, Spielberg’s original remains such a paragon of tightly crafted and visually astute big budget thrills, that we’ve long since stopped hoping a sequel could ever match it.) Now, though, this prehistoric creature feature has to be engaged in deep lore, connected through a dozen little references, and building to a potential End Of Life As We Know It. Ah, apocalypse, that old standby of what feels like every blockbuster of the last dozen years. It makes a movie like Jurassic World Dominion overstuffed and, not under-baked, but so over-baked and under-stirred that instead of a smooth, tasty blend, you somehow taste every component ingredient as you chew it over.

The movie may be bursting with references and exposition, but the series, under the guidance of writer-director Colin Trevorrow, has written itself into a tough spot where it has to get weighted down to move forward. Last time, 2018’s Fallen Kingdom, ended with dinosaurs finally fully escaped off the island and becoming the ultimate invasive species worldwide. Quite a cliffhanger. This one picks up by handwaving it a little, skipping over that potential awesome spectacle by saying, eh, we got used to it for the most part. The truly troublesome herds are shipped off to a remote mountain research facility in Italy. It’s here that a science company is fiddling with dino DNA, having secretly engineered a plague of locusts to take out competitors’ crops. This is what catches the eye of the original cast members (Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum) who are dragged back into this whole thing to investigate. It’s fun to see them, all in fine form, and quite a contrast to the other returning cast members, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard from these last couple. They play a raptor trainer and a dinosaur right’s activist, respectively, and in three movies have accumulated roughly a tenth of the rooting interest that the older cast got in their first scenes thirty years ago. The movie keeps the two casts on separate tracks for most of the movie, as the younger players are chasing after their kidnapped adopted daughter (Isabella Sermon). You may recall that last time they saved a little girl who was an experimental clone of a dead scientist. See how this series has gotten so convoluted?

The wonder, then, is that the movie roars out from under this weight and delivers some actual pulp thrill in its outsized spectacles. The screenplay by Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael may clunk along connecting dots and communicating mostly in undigestible expository dialogue instead of finding ways to communicate ideas visually. But the ideas for action are pretty good, and decently assembled. These include: super-locusts swarming some farm kids; raptors chasing vehicles through the streets of Malta; a cool mercenary pilot (DeWanda Wise) facing off against these terrifying giant lizards by land, sea, and air; and our heroes sneaking through labs, tunnels, corridors, and finally, a forest fire, dodging dinos all the way. Trevorrow is a much better filmmaker now than he was when he made the first Jurassic World, a movie that was more hectic, crowded, and busy than it was well-judged from a visual sense. In Dominion, these action sequences have some momentum and legible direction, pushing along the characters from one plot point to the next with a high-energy rumble and tumble, crash and splash, that matches the needs of the moment. If you just want to see some familiar faces run around with big dinosaur spectacle, well, here they are.

I didn’t have a bad time for most of the time, as I enjoyed the enormous effects of it all. But in the back of my head I was suspecting that I didn’t care about these empty figures and oversized stakes as much as I did the far smaller, simpler, clearer, and more gripping ones back in ’93. (That’s why the clone girl, as weird a swing as it may be for the series, is a more interesting emotional hook than the end of the world. Go figure.) Thus, each sequence works pretty well, and it’s carried along by its size and speed, but cumulatively lands with a thud. It is, in other words, a proficient and enjoyable time in the moment. I was happy to have seen it, even as I found myself walking out, the full impact sinking in, feeling like the Talking Heads, asking myself: how did we get here? This sort of blockbuster should someday feel as dated as the bloated epics at the end of the studio system in the middle of the last century—loaded with technical prowess of high artifice, with good actors playing at phony, and talky, outlines of real ideas against a backdrop of excess. Feels like maybe this could be the end of the line to this sort of thing. Guess that makes it a dinosaur, too.

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