Tuesday 21 June 2022

REVIEW: Jurassic World Dominion


I don't really get the poor reviews Dominion is getting. I can absolutely agree that a sixth film in the franchise was unnecessary, but then, no sequels were ever really necessary or could hope to match the original Jurassic Park. Even Chrichton's The Lost World struggled to justify its existence in that respect, and the film version even more so. Dominion is about making a comment on the modern world and the commodification and exploitation of science, and the lengths to which those on the top of the capitalist world will go to to ensure their own dominion. That's what it's about, but it's not what it's for. It's there because we want to see characters we like running away from dinosaurs, because that is entertainment.

So no, I don't get the vitriol, because Dominion kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. On a purely visual level, there were elements here that surpassed anything that has gone before in the Jurassic Park saga. The raptor chase through Valetta – utilising the Atrociraptor mainly, I feel, for the cool name – is a fantastic juxtaposition of visuals and a truly breathtaking action sequence. Sights of dinosaurs sloping into town, a Brontosaurus blocking a highway because it just doesn't know where it's found itself, are beautiful (and far more effective than the T. rex-does-Godzilla attempt of The Lost World). The impossibly vast Quetzalcoatlus – inflated beyond even the giraffe-sized creature's natural scale – providing a hazard to aircraft is what this series is all about. Plus, we finally had proper feathered dinosaurs, the imaginary science of the films catching up with the real science of palaeontology, which has revolutionised our understanding since the novel was originally published.

It was fitting for the film to bring back the original three leads of Jurassic Park. I've said it before, but it's never really, truly a Jurassic Park film without Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant (one of the reasons I have a soft spot for the much maligned Jurassic Park III). Some viewers disliked that Grant, now old, bearded and solitary, is a rather lost figure at the beginning of the film, but it's absolutely fitting that he would gravitate back to the familiar world of fossil hunting, the last bastion of the world before dinosaurs walked again. He retains strong chemistry with Laura Dern's Ellie Satler, who gets to shoulder most of the trio's half of the film. Satler was always the most impressive of the characters when it came to surviving in the Park, and it's only right that she gets much of the limelight here.

Having been wasted in a cameo in Fallen Kingdom, Jeff Goldblum gets to play Dr. Ian Malcolm for real again. While he does, as always, play himself, Goldblum is able to make Malcolm into a character again with a genuine reason to be involved, instead of just a celebrity stop-off of quirky delivery. This half of the film, which stays resolutely away from the other side for much of the runtime, gives the old guard a chance to shine, without the newbies overshadowing them. There's able support from Mamoudou Athie as Ramsay Cole, the turncoat PA and communications head at Biosyn, who puts in a classy performance. Making Lewis Dodgson the villain was a clever idea. While it was a shame to have to recast him (but look, no one is going to work with Cameron Thor, if he was even out of prison in time to film it), Campbell Scott makes for a suitably nefarious billionnaire. Linking him back to the character who was barely seen but was ultimately behind the chaos of the first film is a great touch, especially since Dodgson was such a major character in the novels. Here, he comes across as less of a scientist than in the books, and more an evil Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Which is to say, a Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk.

Frankly, the classic characters overshadowed the Jurassic World crew. Chris Pratt still remains a likeable presence as Owen Grady, but by now his Velociraptor whisperer schtick is getting a bit old. Still, he handles the action scenes excellently and has great chemistry with Isabella Sermon. As the teenaged clone Maisie Lockwood, Sermon steals her scenes: a gobby, angry posh girl with an entirely justifiable chip on her shoulder due to her unique and unexplained past. Bryce Dallas Howard does well as Claire Dearing, especially in her action scenes where she portrays a tangible desperation (the slow escape from the Therizinosaurus is one of the most nail-biting moments in the franchise), she lacks chemistry with Sermon and, surprisingly, with Pratt.

DeWanda Wise, on the other hand, has palpable chemistry with Pratt. So much so, in fact, that the only way to keep her character Kayla from falling into Owen's arms is to make her gay. Kayla could be a stock action film character – she's a daredevil pilot, a criminal finding her principles again, etc. – but Wise has enough charisma to carry the part off and make her a success.

Are there problems? Of course there are. While keeping their storylines linked but separate for so long helps, the film does feel overstuffed two sets of heroes: six adult leads and one child is a lot to juggle. This means some elements feel a little cut short: Grant and Satler's revival of their relationship seems a bit forced, and Maisie's discovery of her mother is swamped by the many other elements jostling for attention. The monstrous locusts work as an immediate threat, but not a world-ending catastrophe. Surely even a company as powerful as Biosyn would be investigated if their crops were the only ones not being threatened by this sudden and impossible strain of genetically-engineered insects?

The fight between the Giganotosaurus and T. rex is presented as being a climactic moments, but neither has had much impact on the film by that point, and so feels unearned. While there's something more to it if you know that this is the same T.rex Grant, Satler and Malcolm faced in the original film, nothing is made of this in the film itself. In the end, I was cheering more for the poor, blind, herbivorous Therizinosaurus than either apex predator, but the final fight fell flat. The similar battle between T.rex, Indominus rex and the Mosasaurus, that this was clearly meant to evoke, worked far better, even if it was more far-fetched (even the utterly mismatched Spinosaurus vs. T.rex fight in JPIII was better).

There are some huge logistical problems with the set-up, of course. Supposedly, all these dinosaurs are roaming loose after they escaped from the house at the end of Fallen Kingdom – really, all of them? Even the Brontosaurus that clearly couldn't have fit in there? Even the Mosasaurus that lives in the bloody sea? Dr. Wu's redemption is nice, but far too easy, with the final end of the film feeling anticlimactic.

In spite of those hard-to-swallow pieces, this was a cracking dinosaur movie. Anything that presents a dinosaur black market, complete with dinosaur smugglers and trained raptor attack dogs, in the bowels of the Maltese capital, with a truly gorgeous, beaten-up old Carnotaurus as the main attraction, is a winner in my book.

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