The sixth Jurassic Park film, Jurassic World Dominion, gives itself a lot of work to do – and it struggles to juggle its many story points.
Right then. Some necessary plot catch-up. At the end of the fifth Jurassic Park/World movie – Fallen Kingdom – dinosaurs were no longer contained to a park. They were roaming in the world, and, well, what the hell was going to happen next?
The answer to that question is: a lot.
The sixth film – Jurassic World Dominion – that also rounds off the Jurassic saga as we know it, gives itself a lot of business to get through. It tasks itself with rounding off threads from the first three films, as well as those from the second three films. It needs to introduce a new Corporate Bastard Company (TM), ten or so new dinosaurs, as well as set up a fresh plot for this movie too. Plus, it tries to end the arcs for a lot of characters. And it’s got to recap enough of what’s gone before to allow someone to come to it with no foreknowledge of earlier films.
It’s a heavy load, and inevitably, the film strains under the weight. It’s apparent from the first 20 minutes that the storytelling burden is a difficult one, as things get off to a very, very, very, very, very (very) slow start. Granted, this is the film actually at its most relaxed, allowing us to spend time with dinosaurs roaming freely, yet it also begins to feel like a very posh Powerpoint presentation of previous plot points. Rolling news recap story beats going right back to the 1993 original movie, but on the plus side – spoiler – we learn that Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady has finally completed his log cabin too. I can’t have been the only one wondering.
Only once all this has been done can the film properly get going, and its multiple narratives launch in earnest. I didn’t check my watch, but it feels like a good quarter of an hour just to get to that point. Still, we move forward: on the one hand, we have Pratt’s Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Clare, now custodians of teenager Maisie, and velociraptor Blu. They’re trying to live off the grid but, as you might guess, don’t succeed.
Then there’s returning trio Ian Malcolm, Ellie Sattler and Alan Grant – Jeff Goldblum (in something that’s a little more than a fleeting cameo, following his blink or you’ll miss him moment in Fallen Kingdom), Laura Dern and Sam Neill – who all find themselves in the headquarters of new Corporate Bastard Company (TM). That’s run this time by Campbell Scott’s character, and he’s your standard takeaway sociopathic CEO, styled to look a bit Steve Jobs-y.
In the midst of all of this, B D Wong is among the other returnees as Dr Henry Wu, wearing a rather fetching cardigan.
(It’s also worth noting that the computers powering everything this time around run on Microsoft systems rather than Linux, so they were asking for trouble).
Shit, as it does, hits the fan, and when the film isn’t juggling with the dense amount of storytelling it has to do – there are new characters here too, and a big story arc I’ve not even mentioned – it takes some swings.
In much the same way that predecessor Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom finally broke free of the dinosaurs contained in a theme park and/or island formula by unleashing the critters in a haunted house, here co-writers Colin Trevorrow – who also returns to direct – and Emily Carmichael scatter them all over the world. This is a globetrotting adventure, bursting with ideas, nods to other films, the occasion horse, and some very effective moments of horror.
This is an important step. It’d be easy for the Jurassic Park films to turn into ongoing photostats of each other, presenting different variants of ‘here’s some dinosaurs in a contained space, and things are going to be go wrong.’ There’s a tiny bit of that in Dominion, but it’s nowhere near the film’s main thrust. In much the same way that Fallen Kingdom tried to shake the formula up and go against hive expectation, so Dominion does the same.
Guttingly, in this case it doesn’t really work.
Too often, there are conversations ongoing, plot points moving forward and characters coming in and out. It gets to the point where the film feels more like being in a queue for a theme park ride, than the actual ride itself.
That’s not to say there aren’t some smashing set pieces – a bit near the end involving a ladder could happily stand in the first film – but there’s little build to them. Consider how in Jurassic World, the big new attraction – the Indominus Rex – was explained and teased before you saw the bugger. Here, the new biggest dinosaur we’ve ever seen warrants a couple of lines of dialogue before it pops up. There’s little impact to the spectacle. The crumbs to the big moments are sparse. It feels like a case of there’s a dinosaur, now run from it.
There’s no shortage of ideas, and it all looks spectacular of course. Furthermore, Colin Trevorrow is a whiz at directing big blockbuster moments. But – and it’s a sod to write this, given the length of the film’s credits and how many brilliant people worked on it – we take that for granted now. There are hat tips aplenty to previous moments in the franchise too, and to other movies (horror fans are not shortchanged there). Effort has clearly been put in. But like many franchises before it, the longer it’s gone, the bigger it’s become. The stakes have outgrown an individual film.
Go back to the genius of the original Die Hard, after all, was that it was one man against a dozen or so terrorists. The final Die Hard was one man trying to save the world. It’s inherently less interesting. The same applies here. Jurassic World Dominion is a very, very busy film, where the filmmakers have clearly tried to give fans as much as they can (right down to those returning characters). Yet it’s overloaded, and by a lot.
And whilst the last half hour is arguably it (finally) motoring close to top gear, Dominion absolutely feels the weight of its near two and a half hour running time. To the makers’ credit, they’ve gone for ambition over simplicity. They’re refused to rerun the same formula. They’ve just not really come up with anything to top it.
It’s been, as the poster to the original teased, a story 65 million years in the making. As it turns out, it’s just one without a satisfying final chapter.
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