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Jurassic World Dominion Review: Not So Dino-Mite

  • Creative action sequences
  • Solid supporting work
  • The old team is back together
  • Lazy series cliches don't leave much wiggle room

Recently, I told a 7-year-old I was going to see the new "Jurassic Park" movie, and she asked what those were. I told her they all have the same basic plot: Humans make dinosaurs, put them in a zoo, marvel over how beautiful they are, and then the dinosaurs break out and eat the humans. "And they never learn to stop doing that?" she asked.

Six movies later, and the answer is still no. This time, it's "Jurassic World Dominion," and it serves as a sort of family reunion between the old dummies and the new dummies — okay, to be fair, these are usually the people warning those around them to stop making dinosaurs for zoos, but Chicken Little is more persuasive, apparently, than this entire bunch who've been collectively claiming the sky is falling since the heyday of MC Hammer. "Dominion" is precisely what you're signing up to get — if you want scene after scene of Chris Pratt holding up his magical hand and characters finding a moment of peace, only to look up and find a CGI dino about to engage them, buy your ticket and take the ride.

As far as sixth movies in franchises go, "Dominion" has more life to it than you'd expect. It's fun to see "Jurassic Park" stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum back together (and there are cute jokes about, say, the latter's tendency to unbutton his shirt), there are some surprisingly well-orchestrated adventure sequences (one, with Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire crawling on hands and knees to escape, is a standout), and the film is rife with little-known supporting stars (BD Wong, DeWanda Wise, Dichen Lachman) scarfing down scenes like a velociraptor chasing reptiles.

"Dominion" opens with an entire world that has been turned into a zoo. Flying dinos make nests atop skyscrapers, kids play with baby dinos in parks — but this feels about as useful as a T. Rex's tiny arms, because such co-habiting has also resulted in increased car accidents, random stampedes and of course, the occasional chomp. Sure, dinosaurs roaming the Earth alongside people seems like a good idea in theory, until a Carcharodontosaurus treats your kid like a boneless buffalo wing.

There's also ... locusts? These mutated nasties may seem like minor threats compared to massive dinos, but the biblical baddies are multiplying and easily swarming from one country to the next, and the audience is told on multiple occasions that if they are not stopped, we're all gonna end up extinct.

Talk to the hand

Into this reality is thrust more characters than a film adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel. From the new films (2015's "Jurassic World" and 2018's "Fallen Kingdom") you've got Chris Pratt's don't-call-me-Indiana Owen Grady and Howard's no-longer-in-high-heels Claire Dearing; from the OGs (1993's "Jurassic Park," 1997's "The Lost World," and 2001's lazily-titled "Jurassic Park III"), you've got Dern's Ellie Sattler, Neill's Alan Grant, and Goldblum's smarmy Ian Malcom, all amusingly wearing what are essentially the same clothes. The dinosaurs may have evolved, it seems, but their desire for khaki and cargo pants has not.

For most of the film, these storylines run on parallel tracks. Owen and Claire are attempting to recover young Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who has been kidnapped and flown halfway around the world; a plucky pilot (Wise) makes the traveling party a constantly-imperiled threesome. The film keeps cutting between this storyline and that of Sattler and Grant, who are determined to take down the locusts with some sly help from Malcolm. Both these storylines orbit around Campbell Scott's Lewis Dodgson, an ethically-dodgy innovator so clearly supposed to be Tim Cook that you half expect Donald Trump to cameo and refer to him as "Lewis Apple."

Eventually, all these characters converge, and this is where the film gets really interesting. Multiple reaction shots offer the opportunity to study how six very different actors all stare "in amazement" at the same CGI focal point; Goldblum smirks, Pratt looks like a kid on Christmas morning, and Dern smolders. The best part of any "Jurassic" movie — when one expert explains to another expert which dinosaur they've just encountered, offering "Dinosaur Train"-like trivia for our benefit — is teased a bit when Pratt and Neil both deliver the same line, acknowledging they essentially served the same plot purpose 20 years apart. Such humor goes a long way in a film where we are expected to believe dinosaurs have been trained to kill anybody marked by a laser pointer, to the extent that they will pursue them endlessly, over countless miles.

Algae, that's a big dinosaur

Are you still in? Then "Dominion" is a movie you'll want to see, supposedly wrapping up the series (until, at least, the next generation's reboot, which will have Goldblum managing a walker with one hand, his shirt buttons with the other) in an impressive collection of tense sequences that can feel more Hitchcockian than Spielbergian. The aforementioned scene with Howard crawling (and then submerging herself in a gross-looking algae pond) is a nail-biter, as is an impressive motorcycle chase with Pratt and a running-across-frozen-water pursuit of Pratt and Wise.

In a "Fifth Element"-like twist, we eventually learn that Maisie Lockwood is the key to saving humanity, with a code ingrained in her DNA that can somehow stop the locusts. The villains want to get a peek under her hood so they can stop the locusts; the good guys want to keep her safe so they can ... also use her DNA to stop the locusts; she's totally willing to submit her DNA. Why these groups can't set aside their differences and collectively stick a needle in the girl's arm is unclear, other than it would make the film about 15 minutes long.

BD Wong, so good recently on both "Mr. Robot" and "Awkwafina is Nora From Queens," steals the show in a handful of scenes as the not-so-evil evil scientist who helped make this mess. As an actor, Wong has a terrific way of bringing playful charm to a scene that makes it unclear whether you want to hate or hug him, whether he's sincere or stoned. His involvement is far and away the best callback to the original series. It's also good to see Campbell Scott again, who has an explosive scene going toe-to-toe with Goldblum that serves as a reminder of his intense talent (and that of his father); Wise and Lachman (as a dinosaur-commanding baddie) also dominate in tough, no-nonsense female roles hard to imagine existing in a '90s "Jurassic" film.

Is "Dominion" a "good" movie? By this point, these films have become to dinosaurs what the "Fast and Furious" films are to cars. Dinos and car chases are intrinsically cool, and after a half-dozen movies, you're paying for an anticipated experience, not an unexpected storyline. The most impressive thing about "Jurassic World Dominion" is how much creativity is shoehorned into a formula that permits so little of it.