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Mini-review of Jurassic World: Dominion

I’ve noticed lately that movies, series, books etc. often leave me with a lot of thoughts after finishing them, so I’m beginning to now write them each down into a sort of informal mini-review format. The first one will be Jurassic World: Dominion. I’ll keep the biggest spoilers behind spoiler marks, but you might still want to watch the movie before reading further.

JWD has a lot happening, I’ll just start by saying that. We have Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), now living together with their adopted kid Maisie Lockwood (Isabella “Izzy” Sermon). Additionally, there’s Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) working as some sort of philosopher for the big evil corporation Biosyn, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) still unearthing dinosaur remains, and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) who wants to look at some weird giant locusts she just heard mention of. And of course there’s Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), still doing his research into DNA related technology. Then throughout the film they’re all brought together, and of course they also have to outrun a bunch of big and scary dinosaurs.

Curiously we don’t get much “everyday life with wild dinosaurs” content like the previous movie promised us, but maybe they found out it proved to be a difficult key point for the plot. Instead, we get a few scenes at the start, describing the new reality. Afterwards, the dinosaurs are once again gathered in a closed area with few options for escape, providing a great location for life-threatening action for our main characters.

At the start of the movie we get a good dose of emotionally interesting scenes with Maisie and her new parents Claire and Owen. Maisie is 14, and struggling to accept that all the restrictions her parents have put in place are to protect her, seeing as she’s still a valuable asset to the bad guys (although exactly why is one point the movie struggles to get across). She’s been largely kept inside the last four years, and wants to explore. Naturally she’s kidnapped, and her parents need to rescue her. Then they’re on their way across the world.

Sadly we don’t get anywhere near this amount of emotionally complex scenes later on. There are a several cute ones, like when Maisie commands a baby raptor in a curiously Owen-like way, but they are often not explored fully, and the movie quickly moves on, not really having time for addressing what’s happened. Maybe it makes sense given their often dangerous situation, but I’ll have more to say about that in a bit.

Back to Ellie Sattler and her crop-destroying locusts. She naturally (from the perspective of bringing the team back together) seeks out help Alan Grant, busy as ever with excavations. After some curious findings that may link the locusts to the big evil corporation Biosyn they travel to their headquarters on invitation from Ian Malcolm to find out more. And so they’re on their way too.

In a not-very-surprising move (and by that I don’t mean it’s necessarily a bad move), they all end up in the same place. A place naturally filled with dinosaurs they have to run from. You’ve got the regular giant herbivores, the small and harmless carnivores and the giant apex predators. Several of them in the same valley in fact, a somewhat important plot point in the movie. Naturally there’s a T. Rex, but also a Giganotosaurus, and the new kid the Therizinosaurus. Which is terrifyingly creepy, with its uncannily long nail-claws. I can’t remember whether it was an herbivore or a carnivore in the movie (dinosaurs in this genus have been both), but it’s supposedly extremely territorial so it makes little difference. It will kill you not matter what. And as always, the dinosaurs are impeccably made from a technological standpoint. They feel real and scary despite being made out of thin air, which never fails to astonish and fascinate me.

Now to the movie’s biggest downside, which I’ve already mentioned a time or two: there’s so much happening in the movie that it feels like we’ve been robbed of several excellent peaceful and/or emotionally complex moments that feel like they could have been there. There’s simply too much happening for the two and a half hours it lasts. I’m not complaining too much, there’s a lot of good stuff in the movie too. But much of it seems like it was never used to its full potential. Take the locust sub-story. It’s used mostly as an excuse to bring Grant and Sattler together and to the same place as the rest of the people. By the ending of the main part of the movie, the problem still remains to be solved. And the scene with Claire and Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) at the beginning? I’m actually not sure what purpose it serves, besides giving a tiny bit of backstory to the world and explanation for the character of Franklin further on. It does provide supporting backstory during the events that happen just before they all meet up, but that part of the movie already feels detached from the rest, and honestly it’s probably way longer than it needs to be, in spite of a cool action sequence involving Barry (Omar Sy), who now works for the French intelligence services.

In short, the story of the movie is a bit of a mess, and there’s just too much happening for there to be much breathing room. I get that it’s largely an action movie, but it still feels like there’s a lot of unused potential there. Maisie and her relationship to her new parents, the dynamics of Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and Ian Malcolm meeting again after a long time, and even Grant and Sattler being quite famous and well-known to the cast from the earlier two films. These topics are all somewhat touched on in a few scenes, but there could be so much more.

Especially with Maisie, Owen and Claire, as we never completely see the family challenges they faced being solved. How does Maisie handle and accept finding out she actually had a mother, who just happens to be genetically identical to her? Aside from that retcon being quite unexpected and honestly a bit weird (since it seems so contrarian to the last movie), it doesn’t feel like they really use it for what it’s worth. Maisie struggles a bit with it, but we don’t really get to see how it affects her relationship with Claire. Does Claire feel replaced by Charlotte, now that Maisie had a mother all along? It seemed like Maisie struggled a bit seeing her as a mother (more so than accepting Owen as a father) because of her uncertainty towards Charlotte. While they do reconcile, not all questions are answered. If this retcon was deemed necessary for the sub-story with the locusts, it should have played a larger part in the movie, and not feel like an afterthought. If it instead was meant to add emotional complexity, it should have been explored further, as I don’t feel they completely manage to justify it either way. It simply feels a bit rushed.

Overall though, the movie was enjoyable, although as you can probably tell I can’t avoid being annoyed at the wasted opportunities. The movie is very much open-ended, and if not for the fact that the trilogy is now finished I would very much feel like there could be more movies, if only to explore the storyline of Maisie Lockwood and the like.

As it stands, the movie does have good action sequences, and several great new characters such as Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie), along with returning characters like Barry (which we saw last in Jurassic World from 2015) and Henry Wu. And then there’s the very much Tim Cook-like corporate CEO character of Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), which deserves a mention as well. As long as you don’t expect it to perfectly explore the emotional complexities of the characters (which I didn’t really do either), it’s a good and fun film to watch. If all you’re looking for is the typical Jurassic action of people being chased and occasionally eaten by dinosaurs though, the movie should be perfect for you too.

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Patrick Sletvold

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