There is a superbly tense sequence in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World: Dominion. Co-protagonist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is crawling through the undergrowth while a hulking feathered dinosaur with absurdly long blade-like claws sniffs the air in search of her. She creeps into the marsh water as silently as she can as it stalks behind her, and holds her breath underwater while it listens out for her presence. It is technically well-staged and wonderfully frightening – except of course that the dinosaur in question is a Therizinosaurus: a herbivore believed to have used it claws to gather and cut grasses and reeds to eat.
The scene is emblematic of the problems with this now-concluded second Jurassic Park trilogy, and its climactic third episode. There are some fantastic action sequences in Dominion, along with a number of smart ideas and entertaining dialogue, and to be entirely honest anybody who outright loathes the picture is frankly looking for reasons to hate it. Viewers seeking a watchable combination of marauding visual effects and human actors running for their lives can find fun in this. It is only if anybody is seeking something more than that will the problems start.
This is certainly not the worst Jurassic instalment ever made – that prize still goes to the jaw-droppingly lazy Jurassic Park III – but there is also a good chance it the most disappointing. The film does much that seems like it should be great, such as bringing back original franchise stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, or trying to tie together plot threads from the original Jurassic Park. There are also plenty of outstanding new dinosaurs to behold, and an impressive variety of feathers at last. The promise of dinosaurs arriving in the continental United States, teased since 1997’s The Lost World, is finally met.
The biggest problem with Dominion is not that its ideas are bad. It is that it would be so easy to improve each of them. There is a lack of consideration throughout that suggests its writers (Emily Carmichael, Trevorrow, and Derek Connolly are credited) were phoning things in. There is an unavoidable sense that ‘good’ was supplanted in the minds of its makers by ‘good enough’. One key giveaway is the film’s length: 147 minutes in cinemas, and 161 on home video. There is no need for a film of this nature or with this plot to run so long. It is as inefficient as it is lazy. Yet here are, and it is really up to the individual viewer whether their love for voracious predators outweighs their love of acceptably competent filmmaking.
Jurassic World protagonists Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing remain painfully thin paper cutouts. Grady in particular has transformed from a two-dimensional hero in earlier films to a honest-to-god bundle of laughable quirks: in Jurassic World I found his tense stand-offs with trained velociraptors, hands raised to challenge them, rather neat. In Dominion he does it constantly – even with a pair of allosauruses he has never met, let alone carefully trained. Characterisation and character development is thin across the board. Campbell Scott does his best as the film’s primary antagonist Lewis Dodgson, although the fact he is the same character as the Dodgson in the original Jurassic Park is irrelevant to anyone except the audience – and even then, only the trivia-obsessed ones. On a similar level, Alan Grant’s ominous “I remember you” at original park scientist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) is a perversely odd moment, given Grant met him once in passing in a Isla Nublar lab three decades ago. It is all intended to spark nostalgia in the audience, and never seems relevant to the characters or plot. Dodgson even takes the time, when alone in his room, to pick up and examine the beat-up fake shaving cream can lost by Dennis Nedry at Jurassic Park. How did it get from a muddy stream in a hurricane to a shelf in northern Italy 29 years later? What relevance does it have the story being told? It doesn’t matter, and Trevorrow doesn’t care. It’s not there for the story. It’s there for you.
So ultimately who cares that the Therizinosaurus is a poor choice of predator? Just look at the thing: it is a giant cross between a turkey and Edward Scissorhands, or horror icon Freddy Krueger re-imagined as a cassowary. Accuracy is never the point. It looks cool. There is no need for gestures towards realism in Trevorrow’s world. Spielberg’s two Jurassic films – still the two best ones – went to pains to represent their dinosaurs as animals. Trevorrow simply uses them as monsters. It is a poor choice, and a lazy one, and its biggest achievement in the finished film is that it somehow manages to make dinosaurs kind of boring.
Dominion is a film, in that it has characters in a story, and their journey is depicted on a screen for an audience. There are better films. There are better Jurassic Park films. We deserve to have better films. I did enjoy the bits of Dominion that were enjoyable – but were they worth the time spent sitting through the rest? I worry I am getting too old and cynical for the recycled, endless franchises that Hollywood is trying to offer.