In 2019, JJ Abrams’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker served up a string of emptily familiar set pieces as it brought the curtain down on Episode IX – the final instalment of a sequel trilogy. Ever since, fans of the furiously divisive penultimate instalment, The Last Jedi, have argued that The Rise of Skywalker’s original co-writer/director, Colin Trevorrow, would have delivered a far more rewardingly risk-taking finale had he not left because of “creative differences”. Now, Trevorrow, who graduated from the Sundance prize-winning indie fantasy Safety Not Guaranteed to directing the behemoth Jurassic World in 2015, gets another shot at closing out a blockbuster trilogy in adventurous fashion. Yet perhaps chastened by his bruising experiences on Star Wars, he has gone for the Abrams option following a formula in which surprises are few, plodding is the order of the day and safety is absolutely guaranteed.
Jurassic World Dominion picks up four years after the events of JA Bayona’s visually inventive Fallen Kingdom (co-written by Trevorrow), which ended with Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Ian Malcolm heralding the beginning of “a new era” – a neo-Jurassic age. In this strange new world, where monsters have been sprung from their island cages and spread across the globe, mankind and dinosaurs must coexist, an anomalous circumstance previously explored in such varied films as the famously ahistorical One Million Years BC and the apocalyptically stupid A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell.
Also coexisting are the stars of the original Park trilogy (Sam Neill’s Dr Alan Grant holding a candle for Laura Dern’s conveniently single Dr Ellie Sattler) and the new World instalments (nuclear couple Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt serving as surrogate clone parents), all reunited in variety-show fashion. As for Goldblum’s “chaotician”, he’s now working as “in-house philosopher” for Biosyn, a smilingly sinister genetics organisation (the clue’s in the name) whose Elon Musk-like founder (Campbell Scott) has been so preoccupied with whether he could use bioengineered locusts to control the world’s food market that he didn’t stop to think if he should (plot spoiler: he shouldn’t). So nostalgia reigns as eco-catastrophe beckons, beasties rampage and our heroes pull together to save the planet – and hopefully discover their true selves in the process.
The original Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World, were both adapted (albeit loosely) from source novels by Michael Crichton and directed by Steven Spielberg, giving them a kind of built-in quality control. Since then, things have been less surefooted, with the original trilogy ending not with a bang but a whimper in Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III. The subsequent Jurassic World movies often feel more like theme-park rides. When Dr Malcolm opines “Jurassic World? I wasn’t a fan”, the audience’s meta-chuckle isn’t entirely ironic.
It doesn’t help that Dominion spends a good deal of time trying to figure out what story to tell and which genre (or country) to tell it in. One minute we’re in a sub-James Bond chase sequence through some scenically overcrowded streets and markets; the next, Pratt is driving a motorbike into the back of a plane, reminding us how much better Tom Cruise did this stuff in the Mission: Impossible films. There’s also a sly nod to Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent, some Indiana Jones caving nonsense involving Neill’s hat, and a large amount of running around secret lair sets that seem to have been recently vacated by Austin Powers’s nemesis, Dr Evil.
On the plus side, Goldblum does what he does best; moving his hair, face and body in a mysterious way as he turns even the most mundane line into a voyage of verbal discovery, distracting our attention from the fact that his character (whose sole job seems to be to tell his employers that they are making a terrible mistake) makes no sense whatsoever. The effects, which once again mix animatronics with computer graphics, are serviceable if unremarkable, lacking the awe (and indeed the heft) that made Spielberg’s original such a nail-biting game-changer. As for composer Michael Giacchino, he seems to have the mundane measure of it all, trowelling on the “piano-says-sad/strings-say-exciting” motifs in solidly indifferent workaday fashion. Ho hum.