Skip to main content

Jurassic World Dominion review: Dinosaur doldrums

After five films that collectively earned more than $5 billion and a trio of Academy Awards, if there’s one thing the Jurassic Park franchise should be good at by now, it’s giving audiences plenty of exciting dinosaur-fueled action in each installment. After all, the dinosaurs are the real stars of the films, aren’t they? It might seem like that should go without saying, but Jurassic World Dominion appears to have missed the message.

The concluding chapter in the Jurassic World sequel trilogy might be full of fun reunions for the franchise’s characters, but in pushing dinosaurs to the background in favor of a more conventional, action-adventure ensemble feature, Jurassic World Dominion abandons too much of what made the franchise so reliably entertaining.

On familiar stomping ground

The cast of Jurassic World: Dominion stares up at an approaching dinosaur.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) from a script he penned with Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim: Uprising), Jurassic World Dominion picks up four years after the events of the last film. Dinosaurs roam the Earth again after the destruction of Isla Nublar, and humanity is struggling to coexist with the resurrected creatures from its past. When yet another company looks to exploit the dinosaurs for financial gain, the scheme brings together various characters with plenty of experience with each of the parks — both the recent iteration and the original islands — to deal with another dino-catastrophe.

It’s a familiar formula that has been successfully repeated throughout the franchise over and over again, with a mix of groundbreaking visual effects and set pieces that find new, creative ways to put the human characters in peril while delivering a satisfying — and surprisingly unique — experience in each chapter of the saga.

Dominion breaks from that tradition, though, with a film more focused on its talented cast of actors hailing from both the original, franchise-spawning 1993 film and the recent trilogy. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum reprise their roles from the original film, while Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard also return for the latest adventure. Various other actors from both the sequel and original trilogies return in supporting roles, with each of them getting an on-screen nod or two in a film that often feels more like a reunion tour than a fresh adventure.

A dinosaur approaches two characters on the ice in a scene from Jurassic World: Dominion.

The five aforementioned actors make for a crowded cast, but Dominion does its best to move them around and mix them up in varying combinations, letting characters from the franchise’s past and present play off each other in some entertaining ways. Bringing Neill and Pratt’s characters together, for example, creates the opportunity for some funny exchanges about the pair’s differing approach to handling the dinosaurs in their respective adventures. Still, some of the film’s most amusing moments come from Goldblum, who has no trouble stepping right back into the role of snarky mathematician Ian Malcolm, whose commentary on the events unfolding around the cast walk the fine line between in-character observations and self-aware recognition of the franchise and what’s made it so popular.

Franchise newcomers Mamoudou Athie and DeWanda Wise also deliver strong performances, with Athie doing a remarkable job of holding his own alongside Goldblum and giving his character a lot of depth in limited scenes, and Wise making a strong case for herself as a bona fide action hero when given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, it says a lot about Jurassic World Dominion that the film’s highlights all center on the ways it finds to get the cast together, and not the dinosaurs.

A dinosaur movie with not enough dinosaurs

The cast of Jurassic World: Dominion tries to avoid the jaws of a dinosaur attempting to reach them.

Despite the presence of top-tier actors in nearly every installment of the franchise, the dinosaurs — and the myriad ways the characters have found themselves awed, hunted, and even killed by them — have always been the films’ most reliably memorable elements. The Jurassic Park (and later, Jurassic World) films have done so well, in fact, that the franchise has essentially held exclusive rights to big-budget dinosaur blockbusters for two decades now. That’s rare, and the franchise’s ability to stake such an unchallenged claim on the dino-disaster genre speaks volumes to how well it handled the dinosaurs in its films over the years.

The dinosaurs take a back seat in Dominion, though, often used as narrative commodities or MacGuffin-like plot devices than living, breathing creatures instilling terror in everyone around them. They exist in the background of Dominion, rarely seeming all that threatening — and when they do come into play in the story, they tend to be elements the characters navigate around rather than survive. Outside of one brief, harrowing scene featuring Howard’s character hiding underneath the surface of a lagoon as a dinosaur sniffs the water inches above her, the film largely lacks the sort of signature, tension-ratcheting moments that were hallmarks of past films — whether it’s a shaking glass of water that heralded a dinosaur’s arrival in the original trilogy or characters in a see-through gyrosphere getting caught up in a herd of stampeding dinosaurs in 2015’s Jurassic World.

Losing its edge

Jurassic World Dominion | Trailer 2 [HD]

Whether this shift in tone is a conscious effort to downplay the dinosaurs in favor of the human characters or simply a function of the franchise’s evolving mythology — which now has dinosaurs living among humans throughout the world — the dinosaurs in Dominion have lost their edge, and the film is far less exciting without the spark of terror they typically bring to the story. Sure, they’re still big and capable of terrible carnage, but even when the characters themselves are forced to get up close and personal with them, the sense of danger simply isn’t there, in most cases. And when the characters never seem scared, Dominion never makes a strong case for the audience to be scared for them, either.

It’s not a bad film, ultimately, but Jurassic World Dominion has big, dinosaur-sized shoes to fill when it comes to capping off the modern trilogy — and perhaps the franchise, for all we know. That the film seems to have sidelined its dinosaurs in this chapter of the saga is a pity, because the massive beasts have always managed to steal the spotlight in prior installments, regardless of who’s on screen. By investing all its attention in the human characters at the expense of the dinosaurs, Jurassic World Dominion feels like a half-formed film, and not the fond farewell to the franchise it’s intended to be.

Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World Dominion is in theaters now.

Editors' Recommendations

Operation Seawolf review: nice Nazis? No thanks!
Dolph Lundgren holds onto a pipe inside a U-Boat in a scene from Operation Seawolf.

At a time when anti-Semitic extremists are storming the U.S Capitol, running for office, and declaring war on Jewish people via social media, it might not be the best time for a movie that expects you to sympathize with Nazis. And yet, that hasn't stopped Operation Seawolf from sailing into theaters and on-demand streaming services this month.

The film, which follows the crew of a German U-boat during the waning days of World War II, casts Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV) as German war hero Capt. Hans Kessler, who's ordered to lead the Nazis' remaining U-boats on a desperate (and likely fatal) mission to attack the U.S. on its own soil. As he and his crew make their way toward New York City in one final bid to turn the tide of war, Kessler finds himself struggling with both the internal politics of the ship and his own sense of duty as the Third Reich crumbles around him.

Read more
Conversations with A Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes review: killer’s words yield little insight
A superimposed image of Jeffrey Dahmer in Conversations with a Killer.

It’s spooky season this month, and that means the atrocity mine is currently being plundered by content creators across America. The three-episode docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes, directed by noted documentarian Joe Berlinger (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost), is Netflix’s second project tackling the infamous cannibal/necrophiliac/serial killer to debut in a matter of weeks. It follows Ryan Murphy’s 10-hour miniseries drama, Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. This Dahmer double dose mirrors the barrage of Ted Bundy content that Netflix put out in early 2019, following up the Zac Efron-led drama Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile with the docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (also directed by Berlinger). 

As was the case with Bundy, Netflix is convinced that a multipronged examination of Dahmer could lead to a better understanding of his psychology and motivations, teaching viewers warning signs or expanding our capacity for empathy. Or maybe they recognize that people are addicted to unspeakable tragedies and will do anything they can to maximize viewers’ compulsion for true crime? Attempting to satisfy on all accounts, The Dahmer Tapes oscillates uneasily between character study, social commentary, and pure shock value, landing somewhere in between all three.
In Dahmer's own words

Read more
Amsterdam review: An exhausting, overlong conspiracy thriller
Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington walk through a lobby together in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam could have been forgiven for being a lot of things, but dull is not one of them. The new film from writer-director David O. Russell boasts one of the most impressive ensemble casts of the year and is photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, one of Hollywood’s premier cinematographers. Beyond that, its kooky premise and even wackier cast of characters open the door for Amsterdam to be the kind of screwball murder mystery that O. Russell, at the very least, seems uniquely well-equipped to make.

Instead, Amsterdam is a disaster of the highest order. It’s a film made up of so many disparate, incongruent parts that it becomes clear very early on in its 134-minute runtime that no one involved — O. Russell most of all — really knew what it is they were making. It is a misfire of epic proportions, a comedic conspiracy thriller that is written like a haphazard screwball comedy but paced like a meandering detective drama. Every element seems to be at odds with another, resulting in a film that is rarely funny but consistently irritating.

Read more