Colin Trevorrow’s return to the director’s chair for the (alleged) final installment of the ‘Jurassic’ saga opens with a fake NowThis video. The zippy edit splices together footage from what Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm dubbed the emerging “neo-Jurassic age” at the close of the prior film as humans coexist uneasily with escaped dinosaurs. This prologue works well as a convenient “previously on ‘Jurassic World’” memory jog for those who forgot to look at the Wikipedia plot summary for “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” And thanks to a news anchor’s commentary, it also establishes some real ideas for the film to explore surrounding ecological and genetic responsibility for people, corporations, and governments alike.
Give “Jurassic World Dominion” 30 minutes, however, and the film all but forgets those cerebral elements. The sequence is but a tantalizing appetizer for a familiar main course of action-adventure fast food. It’s fun to take in, sure, but likely to lead to a grumbling stomach later. Once Trevorrow gets through re-introducing where multiple generations of franchise figures are now, he scraps any hint of brain in favor of brawn. He’s quick to backslide into the safety of Spielbergian tropes – chiefly, the surrogate families that form in the face of peril to protect each other when all else around them fails.
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In ‘Dominion,’ that family is an extended one … and overextended. In addition to the present series’ leads of Chris Pratt’s rugged researcher Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard’s pugnacious preservationist Claire Dearing, the film welcomes back the three chief figures from the 1993 original. Never mind that there’s no internal logic within the story to bring back the two dynamic doctors, Sam Neill’s Alan Grant and Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler, in addition to Goldblum. The film makes “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” look like a paradigm of narrative integrity for finding some plot justification to resurrect its original trio from mothballs. They appear here because it just feels like what the audience wants, or perhaps the only remaining move for a series that painted itself into a nostalgic cul-de-sac.
It ultimately does not matter why Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm come back. This is a series structured around visceral feelings, not intensive reasoning. Trevorrow takes his time merging their side adventure with the main storyline of “Jurassic World Dominion,” where Owen and Claire seek to rescue a baby velociraptor and the cloned teenager Maisie (Isabella Sermon) from the clutches of a nefarious poacher in league with the shady company Biosyn. By the time they all sync up to evade danger and protect what matters to them, the legacy characters have ingratiated themselves into the new series to the point of feeling organic. When it comes time to fend for survival, it’s fun to have the dream team alongside the new crew for the action, terror, and everything in between.
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The big issue is that the film does not raise the stakes accordingly to adjust for their presence. There’s nothing particularly cataclysmic at risk in “Jurassic World Dominion” that would warrant all these additional hands on deck. The returning trinity contributes to overstuffing the movie, and at 146 minutes, that bloat is palpable. Trevorrow and co-writer Emily Carmichael vastly overestimate the audience’s affection for simply seeing these revived characters interact once more. They lose sight of the franchise’s key to success for far too long: it’s the dinosaurs, stupid.
While Trevorrow’s films have little to add to the behemoth cultural touchstone forged by Spielberg nearly three decades ago, they manage to satisfy as solid imitations. It’s almost refreshing to see “Jurassic World Dominion” abandon the pretense that it’s anything other than reheated leftovers. Whether cynically or shrewdly, Trevorrow recognizes that the audience for this threequel does not have the appetite for new material. They want him to shut up and play the hits so they get a hit of the rush they remember from ages past no matter how diluted the dosage. At least he’s straightforward with his intentions to give them exactly what they want: direct rip-offs of images and sequences from the original film with composer Michael Giacchino doing his best recreation of the swelling John Williams score.
And he’s not wrong to stick to what has a proven track record of exciting fans. With the exception of one ‘Bourne’-inspired chase sequence across Maltese rooftops and alleyways, ‘Dominion’ flops every time it deviates from the tried-and-true formula. Campbell Scott’s menacing biotech CEO with an eerie resemblance to Apple’s Tim Cook is a dud of a villain, and the film does not even bother explaining what motivates his bizarre and erratic behavior. None of the new dinosaurs in the menagerie stand out because they stretch belief; the CGI creatures look as if Trevorrow just let the VFX team go hog-wild creating the bizarre amalgamations of reptiles. If something in the film does not ladder up to the base DNA code of cross-generational cooperation to survive the onslaught from another species, it just doesn’t work.
Though Trevorrow consistently casts his gaze backward, this is a movie of the now. “Jurassic World Dominion” is the endgame of a studio system addicted to recycling known commodities. There’s no pretense that the well-known packaging of a franchise needs to serve as a Trojan horse for novel ideas or artistry. Movie nostalgia can now just be an end unto itself. When Spielberg utilized the tools of cinema to invoke a state of childlike wonder for a mythic past, he was eliciting a sense of wonder from viewers meant to transform them into children once again. A generation later, Trevorrow employs those same techniques to reduce them into mere consumers.
Like a Spider-Man pointing meme doomed to continue eternally, ‘Dominion’ points to the terrifying possibility that nostalgia might serve as a renewable resource for Hollywood. (Ironic, given the fossil-fueled power of ‘Jurassic.’) Trevorrow gives audiences what they want – or, at the very least, what the studio bosses at Universal think they want. But at what cost? [C]
“Jurassic World Dominion” arrives in theaters on June 10.