About 30 minutes into Jurassic World: Dominion, out June 10 nationwide, when Chris Pratt's Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing arrive in Malta to disrupt a CIA operation involving the illegal trafficking of dinosaurs, one wonders what franchise, exactly, this is the conclusion to.
Every previous Jurassic Park film was staged entirely or in large part on Islas Nublar and Sorna, respectively, off the coast of Costa Rica. There, billionaire John Hammond's genetically modified dinosaurs were the marquee attractions at high-end theme parks: Jurassic Park and, decades later, Jurassic World.
But in Dominion, the parameters of the dinosaur playpen are those of planet earth itself. To dramatize this expansion, the opening scene takes place on the Bering Sea!
HOLD ONTO YOUR BUTTS, am I right?
The main action of the film goes down four years after the volcanic eruption on Isla Nublar (as seen in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and the subsequent scattering of dozens of species around the world. Humans and dinosaurs now exist, a newsreel explains, in an uneasy and often perilous cohabitation.
Director Colin Trevorrow — who oversaw the wildly successful Jurassic World in 2015 and was slated to direct the final Star Wars before getting the boot — rapidly reacquaints audiences with familiar characters from Jurassic films past, while also trying to establish the narrative thrust of the finale, which is, improbably, as follows: a sinister bioengineering firm called Biosyn has unleashed prehistoric locusts on the world's farms in a conspiracy to monopolize the global food supply.
If that doesn't sound like a Jurassic Park plot, consider also that Biosyn has won a lucrative contract to collect the world's roaming dinosaurs and quarantine them in a valley in the Italian Dolomite Alps, the site of its Silicon Valley-inspired corporate campus. There, wouldn't you know it, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is a lecturer-slash-dissident on the payroll, and Drs. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill) arrive to "tour" the facility.
Sattler is studying the locust issue and has enlisted Grant to help her infiltrate Biosyn in the hopes of collecting incriminating evidence. Meanwhile, Grady and Dearing arrive on a mission of their own, involving the rescue of two genetically unique species.
Once the gang's all together, Biosyn's climatically inscrutable Dolomite preserve might as well be Isla Nublar, because the film settles into a Jurassic Park groove. That is to say, it returns to the narrative beats and predator-prey tropes of the series.
It's no spoiler to say that Dominion is practically a greatest hits album of callbacks from 1993's Jurassic Park, with several identical shots, a carbon copy third-act structure, and countless action sequences loosely inspired by or explicitly modeled after those in the original Steven Spielberg classic.
This might have been a cute fan-service gimmick. Ellie Sattler stands and removes her glasses to view a devastated Texas wheat field, for example, in the same way — indeed, in more or less the same outfit — she stood up from the Jeep and removed her glasses upon first seeing a live brontosaurus.
But this dynamic becomes increasingly annoying as the film progresses — we get it already!!! — at best limiting the finale's ability to stand on its own feet, at worst reducing it to a redundant 1:1 reproduction, designed to get fans talking about their favorite "Easter eggs" or whatever on social media.
30 years later, I still get chills seeing Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler removing her glasses in shock at seeing dinosaurs while wearing a button down shirt tied at the waist #JurassicWorldDominion #JurassicPark pic.twitter.com/e9QbEG9ScA— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) February 10, 2022
But before the Biosyn reunions, the film is frankly bizarre, a Ponderosa salad bar of action franchise inspirations. There's a bomber-jacket-clad American pilot (DeWanda Wise), who feels ripped from Indiana Jones, a Maltese underground dinosaur casino that may or may not be an homage to Star Wars, and a high-octane European motorcycle chase that feels equally indebted to Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt.
And these poor characters! Claire Dearing's evolution from steely corporate executive in Jurassic World to PETA-adjacent dinosaur rights activist was never credible, and the film's early scenes with the Fallen Kingdom supporting cast could have easily been excised from the 2-hour-and-26-minute run time. I still haven't figured out the Owen Grady introductory cowboy sequence, in which he rides on horseback with a herd of dinosaurs and literally lassos one for reasons the film never does bother explaining ("to get it somewhere safe?")
Of the original trio, Jeff Goldblum is the runaway star, though he's deployed by Trevorrow almost exclusively as comic relief — I admit to laughing out loud more than once. (And despite the tenor of this review, I honestly might go see it again because I love Goldblum, and Malcolm is such a hoot.) But the real pity is whatever's happening with Sattler and Grant. It's likely a combination of poor directing and fan-fiction-adjacent writing, but Sam Neill and Laura Dern never gel as they reprise their iconic roles.
The romantic chemistry is nil — lines are delivered in an opening scene so unnaturally that it's difficult to watch — and both the actors and characters seem to resent this pivot to international intrigue forced upon them. These are academics, goddammit, not action stars.
There's no question that Dominion will go gangbusters at the box office. But it remains to be seen how fans of the franchise respond to what is both a significant departure and an almost clonal return.
This story was originally published by CityBeat sister paper Cleveland Scene.