“This isn’t about us.” The words arrive late — much too late — into “Jurassic World Dominion,” an underimagined, overlong goodbye to this phase, at least, of a blockbuster franchise that’s overdue for extinction. The speaker is making an obvious point (it’s about the dinosaurs, stupid), but also, in context, a pretty disingenuous one.
Once upon a Michael Crichton-loving epoch — exactly 29 summers ago, when Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” conquered the box office — these giant prehistoric reptiles effortlessly stirred our collective awe, terror and wonderment. But those days now feel as distant as the Late Cretaceous epoch, and this sixth series installment, ostensibly another Mother Nature cautionary tale, feels awfully human-centric and human-driven. For better and for worse, it is about us.
What this means, practically speaking, is that you’ll spend much of the movie’s 147-minute running time watching seven or eight co-protagonists running around another mad scientist’s dinosaur farm, where bioethical boundaries are once again crossed and security measures are once again doomed to fail.
Chris Pratt is back as that genial raptor whisperer Owen Grady, as is Bryce Dallas Howard as his dino rights-defending better half, Claire. The more exciting news, if you can call it news, is that Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum are reunited for the first time since 1993’s “Jurassic Park” — a fan-service coup that almost compensates for the dim reality of how little they’ve been given to do.
From a narrative standpoint, the most important figure here is Owen and Claire’s adopted daughter, Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the 13-year-old product of a human cloning experiment whose precious genetic code may hold the key to human survival. And survival is key, now that the dinosaurs have broken past their various man-made barriers and migrated all over the planet.
After the relentless claustrophobia of the previous film, 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” there’s a certain relief in seeing these creatures free to roam the planet they once ruled; witness the majestic sight of a friendly, wrinkly apatosaurus experiencing what appears to be its first taste of snow.
That striking image aside, it’s a grave new world indeed. Fishing boats are capsized by creatures from the deep. Winged pteranodons attack from above without warning, and it’s a pter-rible sight indeed.
A deep-pocketed biotech firm called Biosyn has stepped up to provide the dinosaurs with a high-tech mountain sanctuary, and just in case you thought that might be a good thing, the company is run by an eccentric megalomaniac (a perfectly hissable Campbell Scott) whose name, Lewis Dodgson, will jog every “Jurassic Park” fan’s memory. And if all that weren’t enough, a plague of genetically modified giant locusts has descended on farms and fields, threatening to wipe out most of the world’s food supply.
Maybe it’s my entomophobia talking, but in a movie about dinosaurs, it’s funny that it takes a swarm of oversize insects to induce even the mildest case of the shivers. Still, for a while, “Jurassic World Dominion” holds your attention, and it does so less insultingly than 2015’s franchise reboot “Jurassic World,” a vapid, hugely profitable foray into blockbuster filmmaking for its director, Colin Trevorrow.
After contributing to the script for 2018’s mildly superior “Fallen Kingdom,” Trevorrow is back at the helm for “Dominion” and clearly determined to engineer his own nostalgia-tickling clone of a grandly old-fashioned Spielberg entertainment.
That’s a tall order, but Trevorrow and his co-writer, Emily Carmichael, do an initially serviceable job of keeping the story’s many unwieldy parts in diverting motion. Much of the first half plays like a globe-trotting espionage thriller, as Owen and Claire get swept up in a kidnapping, a raptor-napping, car chases through the streets of Malta and a brief glimpse inside the ever-growing dinosaur black market, which is sadly not called “Dinos ‘R’ Us.”
The genre template is obvious, but for a “Jurassic” arc, it’s almost novel. It also generates the movie’s one remotely thrilling sequence, involving Owen, a couple of friendly-as-they-sound Atrociraptors and a rusty beater of a plane piloted by the whip-smart Kayla Watts (a very welcome DeWanda Wise).
Meanwhile, the movie busies itself getting the original “Jurassic Park” gang back together, staging a tentative romance between scientists Dr. Ellie Sattler (Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Neill) under the least romantic possible circumstances (genetically modified giant locusts!), and then shipping them off to Biosyn’s remote facilities for some undercover snooping.
There’s fleeting pleasure in these scenes, especially once John Williams’ original theme kicks in and that merry theoretician of chaos, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), shows up, wisecracks at the ready. But this is also where tedium sets in, long before the finish, as all the good guys — which is most of the cast, including Mamoudou Athie as a conflicted Biosyn employee — wind up on a long and repetitive collision course, in which scene after scene plays out with zero wit, tension or surprise.
OK, that’s not entirely true. It is surprising, or at least dispiriting, to see an actor as nimble as Omar Sy (“Lupin”) wasted in a few forgettable action scenes. Sadder still is the reduction of a once-proud antagonist, Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), to a series of self-flagellating “Oh, God. Sorry I unleashed a plague of genetically modified giant locusts” monologues.
For all that, and despite Dodgson’s unambiguous villainy, “Jurassic World Dominion” plays at times like a feature-length biotech promo, anchored by the sight of young Maisie contemplating her own miracle-baby origins and a lot of earnest encomiums about the power of genetic engineering to save us all.
It’s about us, in other words, notwithstanding the movie’s imbecilic “Circle of Life”-style hymn to the wonders of interspecies coexistence. And because it’s about us — well, us and the genetically modified giant locusts — the dinosaurs themselves fade even further into insignificance.
It’s astonishing how little tension or even momentary menace Trevorrow is able to mine from individual action sequences, how tame even T. rex now seems in its late-franchise dotage. The mix of practical and computer-generated effects used to bring these behemoths to life has evolved by leaps and bounds, but their ability to stir and scare us — much less provoke even a moment’s thought — is a thing of the ancient past.
‘Jurassic World Dominion’
Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of action, some violence and language
Running time: 2 hours, 27 minutes
Playing: Starts June 10 in general release
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